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Putting Robert Zoellick in charge of the World Bank, as that anti-poverty organization’s board recently did at the U.S.’s behest, is a bit like making a power company lobbyist the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality – oh, wait, we’ve already done that.

The problem with Zoellick is that he was formerly the U.S. Trade Representative – head of the agency responsible for mercilessly “negotiating” trade agreements or, more accurately, strongarming weaker countries into accepting agreements focused on widening market access for U.S. corporations, often at the expense of their smaller competitors.

A growing number of NGOs, like Center of Concern, believe that U.S. trade policy under Zoellick (and before and after him too) has actually been pro-poverty. Trade agreements have usually ended up forcing poor countries to give up any protections against more powerful competition from the U.S., which pays out billions of dollars in subsidies to our farmers each year. The agreements also force poor countries to allow privatization of their basic services, like water and electricity; they prevent governments from giving any preferential treatment to their own companies and industries; and they eliminate governments’ abilities to control their own development policies. Still, Zoellick continually argued that trade liberalization is “the starting point for greater development, growth, opportunity and openness around the world.” Add: “For rich countries.” (Here’s an overview of what’s wrong with the U.S. trade agenda).

And then, of course, there’s one other obvious question. Since 1985, Zoellick has worked for the Department of Treasury, Goldman Sachs, the Naval Academy, the State Department, and of course, the U.S. Trade Representative Office. Shouldn’t the president of the World Bank be someone who has at least worked at an anti-poverty organization?

Jill Rauh is Senior Program Associate with the Education for Justice Project at Center of Concern, a Jesuit organization promoting economic and social justice. Read more about trade agreements in Sojourners’ recent article, World Market 101.

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