Courtesy Reuters

The world economic order born after World War II, to a large extent fashioned by the United States, was based on two fundamental principles-in monetary terms, the principle of fixed parities and the dollar standard (although the dollar was convertible into gold at the request of the central banks); in commercial terms, the principle of non-discrimination and free trade. Practically speaking, the United States was assuming the role played by Britain during its period of greatness. This lasted until August 15, 1971, when President Nixon suspended the convertibility of the dollar. Over the years, we witnessed the fantastic growth and development of the defeated nations, Germany and Japan, and the emergence of the European Community-developments encouraged by the United States. The stupendous economic expansion of the capitalist West is, without a doubt, the most remarkable feature of this postwar period. The even greater expansion of trade (particularly intra-European) appears in this respect to be both a cause and an effect.

Several discordant notes nevertheless were struck. As Europe gained momentum, the United States took offense (e.g., the dispute over the common agricultural policy, attacks against the policy of association with third countries). Meanwhile, some European nations began denouncing the manifestations of American hegemony (the enormous expansion of U.S. investments abroad, growing balance-of-payments deficits) and voices were raised accusing the United States of disregarding the rules of free trade when these did not serve its best interests (e.g., the insistence on the "American selling price" exception in the Kennedy Round).

Another characteristic of the era which began in 1945 has been the emergence of the Third World. From the beginning of decolonization, these nations, which had nothing in common aside from poverty, sought to achieve solidarity. Such hopes, expressed at the Bandung Conference of 1955, were at first frustrated. Yet, more recently solidarity began to emerge. The "Group of 77," formed in 1971 to defend common positions at the UNCTAD Conference in Lima, comprises today about 100 countries and plays a major role in international organizations.

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