|A CONTENTIOUS ENDING|
December 3, 1999
HOLMAN: On the fourth and final day of the World Trade Organization meeting, law
enforcement authorities took to streets that mostly were quiet for a second morning
in row. Still, Seattle residents looked back on a long week of protests that resulted
in an estimated $10 million in property damage and lost revenue. |
PROTESTERS: We'll not be silenced.
KWAME HOLMAN: And later today, protesters staged a small demonstration in the convention center press room. A half dozen eventually were arrested. Inside the trade meeting, there also were signs of discord, as yesterday's session lasted through the night. WTO ministers scrambled to draft documents that, if approved by member countries, would be the starting point for a new round of global trade negotiations. Meanwhile, representatives from many developing nations continued to complain of being shut out of substantive talks dominated by industrialized countries and big business.
|Developing countries feel shut out|
CLEMENT ROHEE, Guyana Foreign Minister: We suspect people are cutting deals, and we are going to be faced with a fait accompli at the 13th hour and say "Look, this is what we are presenting to you," and therefore we don't have a chance.
SIR SHRIDATH RAMPHAL, Chief Caribbean Negotiator: I'm concerned that a real tragedy is being played out in Seattle in a very important area of internationalism. This should not be a game about enhancing corporate profits. This should not be a time when big countries, strong countries, the world's wealthiest countries, are setting about a process designed to enrich themselves.
KWAME HOLMAN: At a press conference, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said if discord prevents the 135 ministers from reaching consensus, she would invoke her authority as chair of the talks to negotiate with a smaller group of nations.
CHARLENE BARSHEFSKY, U.S. Trade Representative: If we are unable to achieve that goal, I fully reserve the right to also use a more exclusive process to achieve a final outcome. There is no question about either my right as the chair to do it, or my intention as the chair to do it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today, WTO ministers raced against an evening deadline. Among the outstanding issues: agriculture, notably complaints the European Union subsidizes its exports, even as it limits imports of genetically modified foods from the U.S.; labor, specifically an American proposal to link free trade with minimum worker standards around the world; electronic commerce -- whether transactions eventually will be subject to taxes, or remain tariff-free, as the U.S. prefers; and reform of antidumping laws. Japan and others complain the U.S. should ease fines on imports, such as steel, that are sold in America at allegedly below-market prices. A new round of trade talks, if approved, would last at least three years.
|Setting an agenda|
JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner has more.
MARGARET WARNER: And joining us again from Seattle, as he did twice earlier this week, is David Sanger, economics correspondent for the New York Times.
Well, David, you're less than three hours away from the deadline for agreeing on an agenda for this new round of trade talks. Give us a sense of the atmosphere.
DAVID SANGER, New York Times: Well, Margaret, first, I think that there's a good chance that that deadline will slip. There is still continuing discord on a number of major issues: agriculture, the labor rights issues that we've been discussing all week. And you can sense a bitterness among a number of the negotiators. The developing countries are very bitter that they feel left out of the process. The Americans are quite angry at how many of the negotiations are going. The Europeans and the Japanese still seem to be bickering. Now, some of this, of course, is tactical. As a trade negotiation, sometimes it pays to seem angry. But this has also been an extraordinarily difficult week here for the negotiators, as well as, of course, as down in the streets.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, I understand there is a draft document out and circulating, and I assume you've seen it. How does the U.S. fare on the issues that it cares most about on that?
DAVID SANGER: On the draft document it doesn't do so well, but the draft document is already dated or time stamped about 10 hours ago, and, of course, there's been a lot of negotiating going on since that time. But in that document, for example, the U.S. is forced to allow a discussion of the American antidumping rules. You will remember, Margaret, these are the rules that are often invoked by the Commerce Department in order to deal with under-priced steel from say Japan or China or Russia or Korea. This is a subject the U.S. did not want to be discussing at all. There's no mention yet of labor rights, although it seems likely that there will be in the final draft some dealing with labor, probably a committee that involves the World Trade Organization and a number of other groups - the World Bank, the IMF, and so forth. That's the compromise, of course, that the Europeans have been pressing for some time.
MARGARET WARNER: And on the agriculture issues any hint yet of where they're headed?
DAVID SANGER: I just ran into some of the negotiators that told me that agriculture, which looked like it was going pretty well a few hours ago, is, of course, the sticking point now. And in every one of these negotiations agriculture has always been a big sticking point because it is a huge political issue in Europe and in Japan. European and Japanese farmers are subsidized very heavily by their governments. That's something the U.S. has been trying to get rid of for decades now, and, of course, at every turn governments want to protect that constituency.
MARGARET WARNER: We had several foreign trade ministers on the show last night, and in comments they've made, and other comments they've made in newspaper articles, they seem to suggest - or the subtext seemed to be -- that in a way President Clinton's big emphasis on these worker rights might have been counterproductive. Do you get that sense?
DAVID SANGER: You certainly do. The question is this: Counterproductive for whom? The President was certainly speaking to a domestic constituency - the labor unions who very much want some discussion of labor rights built into any trade negotiations. And remember, after the deal to get China into the WTO a few weeks ago, which labor vociferously opposed, the president at this point and certainly Vice President Gore have an interest in placating the unions. On the other hand, by playing out his hand so much in public, the President certainly alienated a number of the developing nations, the Pakistani ministers were standing up yesterday saying they would rather walk out of the talks, blow the whole thing up rather than allow this to go ahead.
MARGARET WARNER: But in your piece this morning in the Times, I thought I had it right here, you were suggesting that you saw a lot of suspicion among a lot of the foreign ministers there about U.S. motives in general, not just on the labor issue.
DAVID SANGER: That's right. They believe that the United States, as the world's largest economy, is trying to rewrite the rules of the road through these negotiations to benefit the U.S. What's that mean? For example, the U.S. is interested in no tariffs on e-commerce. Of course as one of the Japanese ministers said to me yesterday, you're the Microsoft economy. Of course you don't want tariffs on e-commerce. And a number of other areas -- the environment in tariffs for other high-tech goods. The sense is that the U.S. is very much trying to set the rules in a way that will most benefit American industry. Now, of course, every country tries to do this but because the United States is so large, it generates a lot of resentment when it does it.
|U.S. economic influence|
MARGARET WARNER: But you've been to a lot of the meetings. The theme of U.S. as big bully throwing its weight around is not new. Does it seem worse to you or stronger feeling this time?
DAVID SANGER: It is, Margaret, because you certainly hear it here. You hear it in the context of the most successful economy on the globe now by far, and you're also hearing it to some degree from the people on the streets. That's certainly been one of the complaints of this rather disparate group of protesters. And of course the French, the Japanese, others, have used selective elements of what they've been hearing in the streets in order to bolster their own case.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, David, if something that either the U.S. wants or Europe wants is not included in this official agenda that this meeting is supposed to come up with -- just say on labor or genetically modified foots -- does that mean then that for the next round of trade talks, it is just off the table period?
DAVID SANGER: Well, that is what it means for these trade talks. Of course there are always other venues. There are bilateral deals you can try to strike and so forth. But that's why this is being fought so tooth-and-nail and down to the last minute here, because it is from these documents that the next three years of talks take off. And while this document resolves nothing, if you can't get agreement on what will be discussed, then of course, it limits your options down the road. And that's what the U.S. is concerned about.
MARGARET WARNER: So in other words if in this final agenda it does say that the U.S. will sit and negotiate about reducing its antidumping laws, the U.S. has to do that?
DAVID SANGER: They've got to sit and talk about it. That doesn't necessarily mean they have to give in.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you David very much. And thanks for your help all week.
DAVID SANGER: Thank you, Margaret.