Fintan O’Toole: Trump and Brexit are products of Sutherland’s success

As a father of globalisation Peter Sutherland leaves a problematic legacy

Peter Sutherland: no one personified quite as clearly as he did the two sides of neoliberal globalisation: its phenomenal energy and its terrible destructiveness. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Peter Sutherland: no one personified quite as clearly as he did the two sides of neoliberal globalisation: its phenomenal energy and its terrible destructiveness. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

After Peter Sutherland successfully concluded the biggest trade agreement in world history in 1994, the US trade representative Mickey Kantor hailed him as “the father of globalisation”. This was hyperbole, but the exaggeration was not gross. Sutherland is one of the very few Irish people who has ever counted as a world-historical figure. He drove deregulation in the European Union when he was commissioner for competition. He then surfed the wave of optimism about the opening-up of world markets after the fall of the Berlin Wall when, as chair of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt) he steered the successful conclusion of its Uruguay round and established the World Trade Organisation. When the global history of the last 40 years is written, he will have an important place in it – a place he carved out with few tools other than his own extremely high abilities.

 Yet if he is indeed to be remembered as the father of globalisation, we cannot avoid the truth that his is a troublesome and deeply troubled child. If he is to be credited with making a key contribution to economic growth in the late-20th and early-21st centuries, the debit side must also be acknowledged. For no one personified quite as clearly as he did the two sides of neoliberal globalisation: its phenomenal energy and its terrible destructiveness.

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