WTO-The World's Still Watching- Sunday comments from brit paper
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- Subject: WTO-The World's Still Watching- Sunday comments from brit paper
- From: MichaelP <papadop@PEAK.ORG>
- Date: Sun, 5 Dec 1999 09:11:44 -0800 (PST)
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This contains 4 items from the OBSERVER - Except perhaps for the second (
a look inside Clinton's psyche) the others are remarkable because they
show how the poorer countries felt empowered enough to stand up to U$ and
Mr Greed bully-tactics.
And perhaps that's what they picked up from the streets of Seattle !!
OBSERVER (London) Sunday December 5, 1999
Britain calls for change after Seattle fiasco
John Vidal in Seattle and Patrick Wintour in London
Britain will lead attempts to reform the World Trade Organisation
following the dramatic collapse of ministerial talks in Seattle aimed at
agreeing a new round of trade liberalisation. The collapse was greeted
with jubilation by protesters who had clashed with police.
They claimed the deadlock was a victory for a more assertive Third World
and a new form of international democracy willing to confront big
But the failure of 134 countries to agree on the agenda for the next three
years has left Tony Blair and Bill Clinton embarrassed, prompting fears
the US will adopt a go-it-alone policy on trade .
A new round of WTO talks was widely hoped by Western governments to
further liberalise world trade and be a 'development round' with
concessions for the poorest countries.
The talks collapsed after African, Caribbean and South American countries
refused to accept the offers made by the rich. The Organisation for
African Unity led the diplomatic revolt complaining that their concerns
had not been addressed and that the West had made no move towards opening
up their lucrative markets by reducing tariff barriers. And they argued
they were being asked to move too quickly to agreements which would
'Reform of the WTO is now seen as a political imperative,' said Stephen
Byers, Trade and Industry Secretary and the leader of Britain's
negotiating team in Seattle. Byers said: 'The failure of the meeting is a
missed opportunity.' He called for reform of its decision-making
procedures, especially the need for all decisions to be reached by
Frantic last-minute negotiations failed to retrieve an increasingly
acrimonious meeting which went critical after negotiators failed to end
the impasse over politically sensitive agriculture and labour issues.
Developing countries were incensed that the 'development round' they had
been promised did not materialise.
US officials tried to put the failure in a positive light, saying the
president refused to back down on issues important to him, and that
negotiations would resume next year in Geneva. Clinton's economic adviser
Gene Sperling said the 'bottom line' was that the US refused to back away
from a demand that the WTO must address labour standards and that US
anti-dumping laws remain off the negotiating table.
OBSERVER (London) Sunday December 5, 1999
Lonely twilight of a President
His friends are abandoning him - and so might his wife. The second term is
set to end in bitterness and remorse, says Ed Vulliamy
The rain was falling in a nasty drizzle, but at least it was falling on
home turf for Bill Clinton - at the Convention Centre in Little Rock,
Arkansas, only a few yards but several years away from the scene of those
tumultuous presidential victory rallies.
The lights had dimmed, the band had finished playing. A crowd of more than
2,000 had gone home and only two dozen stragglers remained.
The time was when Clinton's entourage of minders would have whisked the
President away to his next engagement. But not now - the President of the
United States has to stay behind, soaking up every last glimmering ray of
He worked the line, 'grasping each outstretched hand as though it were his
last', recalls one aide. 'It was a sad, sight - almost pathetic.'
The once effervescent Clinton has assumed an air of deep, isolated
melancholy in his presidential twilight, a mood emphasised by the fiasco
in Seattle last week. Failure to launch a much touted new round of trade
liberalisation talks at the WTO meeting has proved to be just the latest
embarrassment for the host, President Bill Clinton. 'There is no way that
a new round can happen for 18 months,' said one WTO participant. 'It
certainly appears to be a major, major setback for the administration.'
The latest blow has come to a President already clinging to the last of
the stage light as it moves elsewhere.
Clinton knows he is about to retire, but also that he is manifestly too
young to do so. At 52, he will be one of the youngest ex-Presidents ever,
too juvenile to dodder around the after-dinner speaking circuit.
What is there for him to do? At a recent fund-raiser he joked that he
might become an actor - it was half-funny. And what of the 'legacy', that
place in history so precious to him as he set out on a second term - only
to see both the term and the legacy sink into the mire of torrid scandal?
Clinton addressed that legacy the other day in the studios of ABC News, on
a piece of untransmitted videotape seen by The Observer, insisting that
the 'personal mistake' he made in what Washington now calls the 'Oral
Office' would come to be seen in a different light one day - a single slip
in a forest of 'other charges that were totally false - bogus, made up'.
ABC canned the footage, the President appearing more possessed than
Sometimes Clinton appears downright eccentric. There was the Sunday
afternoon in October when he went out alone in the rain, just after 4pm,
to play 18 solitary holes of golf. He returned at 7.30pm, well after dark
- on one of the rare weekends that Hillary was off the road and in town. A
far cry from the bumptious rounds with Vernon Jordan, talking women, with
A few days earlier, Clinton had to apologise for calling the Irish peace
negotiators a bunch of brawling drunks. A few days before that, he had
admitted that he believed one of his Secret Service team was going to gun
In interviews, Clinton spits his rage - against new enemies in the media
such as Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, who asked whether the President might
seek psychotherapeutic help in retirement. 'That's a crazy question, Jon,'
thundered Clinton. 'Why are you asking me this question?'
Clinton's aides - past and present - date his melancholy and nostalgia to
the uncharacteristic silence he adopted during impeachment proceedings
this time last year.
'He was remote, he began to lose touch, a touch paranoid even,' recalls
one White House staff member, adding that only the crisis in Kosovo
brought him back to life. Now it emerges that the President exhibited
signs of what one former aide calls 'paranoia and a martyrdom complex'. He
kept a folder of articles on his desk which he called the 'Richard Jewell
File'. Jewell was the former security guard wrongly targeted as a suspect
in the Atlanta Olympic bombing. Aides also talk of the 'self-damage' in
his venomous hatred of Kenneth Starr.
But Clinton's resentment of his enemies is entwined with remorse, say even
his closest defenders. 'He knows how absurd that affair with Monica was,
and what a mess he made of it all,' says one aide. 'He spends a lot of
time engaged in a private battle for forgiveness by his wife, daughter and
friends,' admits another close adviser.
Whether the First Couple would stay together was once America's favourite
guessing game. Now people know more, but care less.
Clinton has already indicated that he has no idea how much time he will
spend at the couple's mansion in suburban New York, where he will be the
househusband to Hillary's own political ambitions.
'It is a divorce waiting to happen,' said a member of Al Gore's team.
'Only thing is, do they care enough about the marriage to go through the
hassle of ending it?'
The official says that Clinton swings between outpourings of affection
towards his wife, and 'resentment, and sometimes like she's not really
But it is not just Hillary and Chelsea whom the President is watching move
on into a world beyond his control - the case of Gore is especially
painful. The Vice-President's campaign to succeed his mentor contains not
a word about Clinton. He has been airbrushed out. There is no mention now
of those weekly lunches, man-to-man, of which Gore was once so proud. Gore
has learnt that central tenet of the Clintonian character: disloyalty. The
willingness to use people, abandon friends and to fight for no one, as
George Stephanopoulos describes the 'hallmarks of Clinton and Clintonism'.
Such behaviour leaves one isolated in the end.
The loneliness of President Clinton has become a public as well as a
personal issue. Mike McCurry - who also counted himself among Clinton's
closest friends - ends up questioning 'whether he's fit for office in this
And the majority lay the blame for Clinton's problems on the character of
the President himself. Former (and sacked) deputy chief of staff Harold
Ickes, now masterminding Hillary's campaign, told The Observer: 'The funny
thing about Clinton is that he always did his enemies far more favours
than he did his friends. As a result, he is a man basically without
Now staffers on the President's team say Clinton is earmarking a
disproportionate amount of his remaining time revisiting scenes of former
glories - such as the sentimental journey to New Hampshire, ostensibly to
boost the Gore campaign, but in fact 'to relive his own triumph seven
And his speeches have become private ruminations, oddly metaphysical. He
told a gay rights rally in New York: 'It occurs to me that every one of us
has this little scale inside. On one side, there's the ligh forces, and on
one side there's the dark forces in our psyche and our make-up, and every
day the scale is tilted a little bit one way or the other. And life is a
big struggle to try and keep things in proper balance.'
In Washington recently, Clinton gave a speech that overturned seven years
of pompous talk about 'legacy' in favour of some darker, Shakespearean
musing: 'Public life is poorer when people choose power over purpose,
because they forget we're just here for a little speck of time,' he said.
'And in 100 or 200 years, nobody will remember any of us.'
OBSERVER (London) Sunday December 5, 1999
What went wrong at the summit
Joanna Walters analyses the key notes of discord at what was billed as a
showcase for world commercial co-operation
Sunday December 5, 1999
How the main issues at the World Trade Organisation summit fell victim to
the dazzling array of competing interests gathered inside - and outside -
the convention centre in Seattle:
LABOUR: Bill Clinton personally led the US crusade to include rules on
labour standards in future trade deals, something many protesters at the
Battle of Seattle supported, although calling for environmental controls
to be added. Clinton hoped it would turn the tide against child labour,
worker oppression and trade union bans - and stamp his legacy on the talks
in a bid to ease the blight of impeachment and sexual scandal that haunt
him in his last 'lame-duck' year in office.
But developing nations led by India and Egypt strongly protested, saying
it smacked of protectionism by the wealthy economies. Their opposition
hardened after Clinton talked of sanctions to punish states seen as
AGRICULTURE: The European Union resisted efforts by the US, Canada and the
Cairns Group of 18 agricultural exporting nations led by Australia, to
propose the reduction and eventual elimination of export subsidies. The
EU's opponents see these as an unjustified government prop for inefficient
farming. Europe received indirect support in the shape of Japan and South
Korea, which are pushing to maintain import barriers for rice.
There was also suspicion from the US that European and Japanese efforts to
allow governments to support agricultural schemes to protect the
environment, food safety and rural development were just a cover for
INTERNET : More cock-up than conspiracy in the failure to reach agreement
on extending a temporary moratorium on customs duties on Internet
material. This permits goods and services, such as software, digital books
and music, to be transmitted electronically on the World Wide Web without
customs tariffs being charged.
The US proposed making the ban on duties permanent with little sign of
opposition, but any potential agreement fell victim to the conference
deadline and failure of the wider talks. Despite the failure to extend the
moratorium, US trade officials said it will remain in place until the WTO
ANTI-DUMPING: This is nothing to do with nuclear waste and the environment
but about existing US laws that impose punitive duties and tariffs on
foreign-made products it deems to be sold into its market from low-wage
economies at less than legitimate production costs - thereby damaging
home-grown industries, particularly steel.
Japan and other critics wanted to water down the measures but intense
negotiations, including a personal appeal by Clinton to the Japanese Prime
Minister Keizo Obuchi, failed to lead to an agreement.
SECRECY: The WTO signally failed to satisfy calls for trade negotiations
to be more open and transparent in future.
There was token talk of releasing selected documents, but no significant
moves on issues such as allowing the public to attend WTO judicial
hearings on trade disputes or admitting comments from lobby groups to such
The WTO's reputation for secrecy and elitism - criticised by outside
protesters - was even roundly endorsed within its own ranks when many
countries' delegates were excluded from the final round of talks held
behind closed doors at the convention centre as leading nations tried
desperately, but ultimately in vain, to hammer out a talks-saving pact.
OBSERVER (London) Sunday December 5, 1999
Real battle for Seattle
'This is what democracy looks like,' chanted protesters as they confronted
armies of police firing tear gas canisters and plastic bullets. John Vidal
is on the front line at the World Trade Organisation talks on America's
'Shame, shame, shame on you,' chanted the protesters beyond the lines of
Darth Vader-style police, the armoured cars, the horsemen, the National
Guard and the dogs. The tear gas was heavy on the air, the police were now
firing plastic bullets into the weeping crowd and the Ministerial Round of
the Seattle world trade talks was in crisis.
The opening ceremony had just been cancelled because delegates were being
corralled in their hotel suites. Even the combative US trade
representative Charlene Barshefsky was unable to attend.
On the front line of the protest a small debate was taking place. Two
African delegates were trying to get through the lines of protesters. An
argument was raging. 'Look,' said the Kenyan, 'this round is vital to us.
We need world trade. We need development. We respect that you are standing
up for your rights and are trying to help, but the talks must go on.'
'The protesters were very well informed,' said one of the delegates later.
'I was quite surprised. I thought trade was something no one understood in
The World Trade Organisation has had a truly ghastly week, the sort that
would make governments or cabinet ministers resign. Apart from riots,
rallies and marches against it in at least 20 countries, President Clinton
and senior international figures such as Sir Sonny Ramphal chastised it
for being secretive and closed, and were hinting by Day Two that trade
talks were not the place to discuss many of the issues.
But it was to get far worse for Mike Moore, director general of an
organisation that has always insisted it was 'as democratic as it comes'.
By Friday night all the powerful First and Third World environment,
development and human rights groups were condemning the way the talks were
being powered through by the Americans to protect their own trading
interests - to reduce agricultural subsidies and open up vast new markets.
And more than 40 African, Caribbean and Latin American countries had
united in protest against the way poor countries were being bullied by the
rich and the way their concerns were being marginalised.
An unprecedented rebellion was in the offing.
With just hours left before the talks were scheduled to conclude - and a
deal looking increasingly uncertain - the WTO secretariat went into panic
mode. Press conferences, briefings and backroom discussions were
cancelled. The Americans reportedly tried some last-ditch offers of
bilateral aid in an effort to retrieve any chance of a new round of trade
talks, and put immense pressure on national governments, but it was not
enough to quell the revolt.
For the first time in history the poor countries of the world had told the
rich they weren't playing the First World's game. For the first time,
Africa was united. 'No one combs our hair in our absence,' said a furious
Ugandan, as the talks lurched towards collapse.
In retrospect the signs of collapse were there from the start. By Thursday
the NGOs who had been lobbying both poor and rich countries were reporting
to Stephen Byers, Britain's Trade and Industry Secretary, and the British
del egation leader, that the developing countries were confused and angry.
Byers called them in and was appalled at what he heard. To his credit he
had his bureaucrats advise and brief them. It was, they said, the most
useful meeting they had had all week.
'The best thing now might be for the talks to collapse to the allow the
total reform of the WTO,' confided one of the British delegation. It was a
view increasingly shared by the Europeans. A consensus had grown that the
WTO was giving international democracy a very nasty smell.
So what happened in the real Battle for Seattle? Firstly, the poor
countries were sidelined from the start in the desperation of the
Americans to get a deal. The working groups which had convened to reach
consensus between interested countries in different areas were regarded as
a sham. The chairs were reporting consensus when none existed.
Secondly, the 'green room discussions', the next level of debate, this
time mostly between the rich countries, were excluding the poor. At least
one African delegate was physically barred from attending.
The third issue concerned the style and manner of the US chief negotiator
Charlene Barshefsky who was judged personally offensive, patronising and
insulting. She was booed in one plenary meeting.
And in addition to this the poor countries were appalled by the speed at
which the negotiations were being rushed through, and by the lack of
debate. Not only had many of the world's poorest countries neither the
capacity nor the means to implement even the previous round of talks which
finished five years ago, let alone take aboard a whole new round of
negotiations, but many had barely the means to have a permanent
representative in Geneva where the rolling talks are held.
'These issues are of vital con cern to us,' said a Malawi delegate. We
want a sustainable society. That takes time. There are working groups and
study groups still debating the issues. They must be allowed to continue.'
The Third World was also concerned that genuine concerns about the effects
of another round of liberalisation on trade on the environment, jobs,
cultural and social issues were being seen to be constantly suborned to
pure economic interests. Time after time, agreements that had taken years
to make in other international forums were dismissed or discarded. The WTO
does not recognise the 'precautionary principle', and overrules all other
international agreements. This, together with the perceived agenda-setting
of the talks by big business, is what mostly concerned the
environmentalists and labour groups protesting at Seattle.
The global perception of the WTO is now indelibly stained, say the
hundreds of non-governmental groups who were in Seattle to protest and
observe. Unless it is radically reformed, they argue, it is liable to give
new life to increasingly coherent global dissent. As it is, the WTO has
already unified intellectual opposition and drawn together powerful new
forces in society. Judging from Seattle, the coalition of opposition to
'neo-liberalism' is now growing strongly. Students, small farmers, small
businessmen, the debt campaigners, church groups, students and indigenous
peoples are all finding common cause and linking strongly.
In the Third World, the situation is potentially worse. There,
non-governmental groups are proliferating as poverty increases and trade
liberalisation undermines local economies. More than 500,000 Indians
demonstrated against the WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade, and the agenda of powerful groups such as the Movimento
Sem Terra (the Landless) in Brazil and the Zapatistas in Mexico are
beginning to forge a new global ideology of resistance to corporate
With the WTO to focus on, new networks of opposition to free trade and
neo-liberalism are forming to challenge national governments. 'After the
Cold War, the fourth world war has started,' says Commandante Marcos of
the Zapatistas. The cry is now being heard around the world.
WHILE THE media concentrated on Seattle's riots, the tear gas and the
looting, the demands on the streets of Seattle were not for an end to
world trade but for a fairer and more democratic system. 'They are worried
about a few windows being smashed', said one Filipino leader. 'They should
come and see the violence being done to our communities in the name of
liberalisation of trade.'
'The democratic system is not working,' said Martin Khor of Third World
Network. 'It's bust. It needs more than WTO reform.'
It was a refrain taken up on the streets. 'This is what democracy looks
like,' chanted the crowds who had encircled the city's prison and were
demanding the release of the 500 'political prisoners' arrested last week.
Meanwhile, Americans watched the live broadcasts with a mixture of
fascination and respect. Certainly in Seattle, most people were broadly
supportive of the protesters who did not resort to violence. 'If they are
fighting for justice, that's fine by me. Of course trade should be fair.
We never told the government that it could bully the poorest people in the
world,' said one Seattle shopowner boarding up his store.
And there were incidents that suggest governments should listen carefully
to what is happening at the grassroots when they come to reform the WTO.
The first was the speed of mobilisation of so many disparate interests. A
petition of more than 1,700 groups, mostly from the Third World, was
raised within a day to object to the way the talks were being conducted.
It is believed to be one of the largest and fastest responses ever on a
global protest issue.
The second was a march of more than 5,000 people through the streets on
Friday morning. Led by steelworkers and students, it suggested a new
awareness in groups who seldom campaign on international issues. 'The
students are hopping in the campuses over this,' said a professor of
English at Washington University last week. 'This has all the hallmarks of
being a new generation's cause, just as Vietnam or Civil Rights were for
For the unions, out in great force, the talk was not of protecting jobs so
much as of a growing understanding that the trading system was destroying
jobs around the world. 'I never got on with environmentalists until I
realised we were all fighting for the same thing,' said Dan Petrowski, a
Michigan steelworker who was made redundant four months ago.
What happens now? The most frightening scenario is that the US goes it
alone, steam-rollering its own expansionist trade agenda with bilateral
agreements with willing partners. The result of this would be chaos,
protectionism and the ditching of all environmental and social issues,
more dumping on developing countries, more undermining of local economies.
But the greatest irony is this: if the WTO itself collapses there will be
no world forum for the poorest to at least ventilate their concerns and
protect their own interests.
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