Third world resistance impedes WTO success

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat Dec 4 07:21:03 MST 1999



WTO summit ends in failure

Schell's gamble undercuts police; preparation, leadership lambasted

Saturday, December 4, 1999

By MICHAEL PAULSON and ROBERT McCLURE

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTERS

The world's trade ministers Friday night abandoned their effort to launch a
new round of global trade negotiations, bringing an ugly conclusion to an
ugly week.

The meeting of the World Trade Organization, hampered throughout the week
by sometimes violent protests, broke up just before 10 p.m. when delegates
from 135 nations said they could not agree on an agenda for future trade
talks.

The defeat for the trade ministers -- a major blow to the Clinton
administration -- was a victory for many of the protesters who had marched
in the streets seeking to slow down or stop the WTO's march toward
ever-expanded global trade.

"Essentially, they just could not get the work done," said WTO spokesman
Keith Rockwell.

Rockwell said the talks failed because the size of the WTO, with 135
countries, and a requirement that they operate by consensus, proved too
unwieldy.

He also said the topics discussed in Seattle were too complex to be
resolved in a week, and he said that Third World nations "became furious"
because they were not involved in enough of the negotiations.

Trade delegates blamed the impasse in part on early delays caused by protests.

"It started off on the wrong foot and we scrambled to get into gear," said
Kobsak Chutikul, director-general for economic affairs in Thailand. "We
couldn't get the big picture together."

Ultimately the talks were sunk not by the protesters but by the ire of
delegates from the developing world, who have repeatedly complained that
they were not benefiting from globalization. The United States and Europe
offered preferential trade treatment to those nations, but that was
apparently not enough to soothe delegates from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

But the delegates said that the protests and resulting disorganization set
them back two days. They never recovered.

Delegates were unwilling to stay longer into the weekend because of
security concerns, Chutikul said.

The collapse of the talks does not mean that the move toward globalization
ends; trade officials will gather in Geneva next year and continue to talk
about reducing barriers to trade in agriculture and services.

But the collapse does mean that there is no broad, agreed-upon pact that
would outline what areas of the world economy should be liberalized next.

Smaller and poorer countries have long felt slighted in the WTO, where they
say they are pushed around by bigger, stronger countries. Many Third World
countries view with suspicion initiatives advanced by developed countries,
and this week they complained that they were being excluded from important
meetings.

Third World countries found themselves disadvantaged as wealthy countries
with huge delegations were able to send people to a variety of meetings at
all times of the day. Japan had 88 negotiators in Seattle; the United
States 85 and the Europeans 76. By contrast, Belize, Burkina Faso and the
Congo each had five, while Dominica could afford only four.

"The Third World countries are reeling," said Victoria Corpuz of Third
World Network, a Malaysia-based group working to protect indigenous tribes.

Early yesterday, at a meeting of all delegations, representatives of
African countries reportedly booed U.S. Trade Representative Charlene
Barschefsky. Then in the late afternoon, delegations from Africa, Latin
America and Asia joined together to begin drafting a statement saying they
would not agree to the new round of trade talks, which would throw the
launching of the round into jeopardy.

A joint communique of the Latin American and Caribbean countries on
Thursday attacked "a process of limited and reserved participation by some
members."

Negotiators attempted last night to salvage the talks by agreeing on a very
vague description of what the new round of talks would include -- which
trade negotiators would term a failure -- or by staying late to satisfy the
Third World delegations.

"Maybe it's better to have it more vague, because that opens up the door
for more reviews of these agreements, which is what we want," said Corpuz
of Third World Network.

WTO officials had tried during the day to win over the unhappy Third World
delgates.

"The situation improved today," said Byron Blake, a top trade official for
Caribbean countries.

The agenda-setting ministerial meeting in Seattle this week was
extraordinarily difficult for the United States, which hosted the gathering
at the invitation of President Clinton.

The week got off to a tumultuous start as tens of thousands of protesters,
upset about the WTO's impact on labor, environmental and consumer issues,
stormed the streets. Some of the protests turned violent, and police
responded with tear gas and rubber pellets.

A security scare on Monday forced a delay of the WTO's first-ever
full-scale meeting with critics from non-governmental organizations. On
Tuesday, protesters blocked access to the Paramount, forcing cancellation
of formal opening ceremonies, and to the convention center, causing a delay
in the start of negotiations.

Protests continued throughout the week, but tougher police action,
assistance from the National Guard and the imposition of a downtown curfew
meant that delegates were largely unaffected by the ongoing guerrilla
theater. Yesterday marked the first protests inside the convention center,
when on two occasions accredited non-governmental officials unfurled
smuggled banners and shouted slogans inside the building before being
collared by police.

The policy debate, always difficult in an organization with as diverse a
membership as the WTO, was protracted and unpleasant. The United States
attacked European and Japanese farm subsidies, Japan attacked U.S
steel-protection measures, and the developing world complained that it was
not gaining any benefits no matter what the WTO did.

The Americans thought they had partial victories in the areas of
agriculture and electronic commerce, but were poised to suffer serious
defeats in their efforts to address some of the criticism of the WTO coming
from within the Clinton administration as well as from a broad spectrum of
public interest groups.

Clinton, who spent about 30 hours in town on Tuesday and Wednesday, threw a
further wrench into the works when, on the eve of his arrival, he told the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he wanted a proposed WTO working group on
trade and labor to develop labor standards that would eventually be
enforceable by trade sanctions. That comment, although welcomed by labor
groups, irritated developing nations concerned that they would suffer as a
result, and Clinton's labor agenda was sunk.

Late yesterday the Americans were scrambling for some sort of face-saving
statement on labor, perhaps in a side declaration to be issued by the WTO.

Clinton yesterday intervened personally to try to rescue the U.S. agenda,
telephoning foreign leaders including Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi
and European Union President Romano Prodi.

The administration was facing another defeat as the WTO was poised to
review the U.S. use of anti-dumping laws, which punish countries for
selling products here below cost. The United States has aggressively used
the laws to defend politically powerful industries such as steel, and had
been adamant that it would not agree even to talk about the subject at the
WTO.

And the United States was losing another fight over opening the WTO itself
to greater public scrutiny by opening tribunals to the public, and by
allowing environmental, labor and other groups to file "friend of the
court" briefs. But the U.S. effort won little support, in part because many
smaller countries fear that allowing participation by non-governmental
organizations, which often are based in industrialized countries, would
further bias the WTO toward the interests of wealthy countries.

Perhaps the most important subject facing negotiators was agriculture, and
most delegates expected an agreement that would please the United States.

The United States, along with an alliance of other nations that are net
agricultural exporters, was pushing for the WTO to negotiate an end to
European farm subsidies, which make it difficult for U.S. farmers to
compete in the European market.

By last night the Europeans had agreed to gradually reduce their subsidy
programs, and were still quibbling over whether the final document would
call for the eventual elimination of subsidies.

Opening markets and leveling the playing field for American farmers is
considered critical to the future of U.S. agriculture, which produces far
more than is consumed domestically. Washington's $5 billion-a-year
agricultural industry relies heavily on exports, with wheat and apple
exports topping $1 billion a year.

Electronic commerce executives were also pleased, mostly because the WTO
did not plan to interfere with them. The WTO agreed to extend a moratorium
on duties on electronic commerce.

"It's a fairly circumscribed work program on e-commerce, but to the extent
it leaves some issues to another day, it is an encouraging development,"
said Robert Holleyman, chief executive of the Business Software Alliance in
Washington, D.C.

And Christopher Padilla, director of international trade relations for the
Eastman Kodak Co., said "Locking in the duty free e-commerce would be a
great accomplishment for Kodak. We won't have to worry about people being
taxed for sharing their pictures on-line."

American business officials in general expected to be content, praising the
WTO for an expected agreement to reduce tariffs on agriculture and services.

"Export subsidies have been gone from manufacturing since the Kennedy
round, (and) they just don't pass the smell test anymore," said Scott
Miller, chairman of the U.S. Alliance for Trade Expansion. "If they launch
agriculture, we've got a round, and then a whole lot of other things will
fall into place."

Environmental groups were far more unhappy as they watched their causes
headed for defeat.

Dan Seligman of the Sierra Club acknowledged that there was little to
celebrate. Still, Seligman was comforted by the high turnout at anti-WTO
demonstrations.

"Regardless of what happens to the negotiations, we achieved our objectives
beyond our wildest expectations," Seligman said.

"The average American simply didn't know the WTO existed on Monday. Just
five days later, the average American has now heard of the WTO, and they
know that it makes some people angry -- some of whom look like they do, and
some of whom they saw on TV carrying American flags."

P-I reporters Rob Gavin, Paul Nyhan, Bruce Ramsey and Dan Richman
contributed to this report.


Louis Proyect
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