GENTECH archive


WRONG TRADE ORGANISATION - the Seattle fiasco. (fwd)

Dr Sharma <>

This makes me feel quite pessimistic - there's obviously much to be done
before we can see the defeat of Mr. Greed. While 'green room' bullying may
cease because it has been made visible, the pattern for backing verbal
bullying with military action is still available. The U$ may not - in
these enlightened days - send in its own troops, but it has the ability to
provide military weapons for its surrogates to use.

It's an old colonial technique.


From: Dr Sharma <>

  (From: Deccan Herald, Bangalore, India; Dec 18, 1999)

The Message From the Seattle Fiasco

By Devinder Sharma
[The writer is a Delhi-based food and trade policy analyst]

Two days after the Third Ministerial Conference of the World Trade
Organisation had begun at Seattle, I was caught in the mayhem that erupted
after the police fired some teargas shells to disperse the protesters. It
was almost midnight and I was walking back to my hotel in the Capitol
Hill. I took a turn on one of the labyrinthine city streets to find myself
in the midst of the police action.

Protesters of all ages, a majority teenagers, were running away to avoid
the pungent fumes. As I stepped back, I was confronted by a reporter of an
American television channel. Asked, what as a foreigner I thought of the
trade talks in the midst of such massive protests, I replied " While the
strong-arm tactics of the American government in the streets is muffling
the voice of the peaceful protesters, the high-handedness of the American
bureaucracy in the Convention Center is silencing the voice of the
developing countries."

For four days, I had seen the fate of the developing countries oscillate.
The political maneuverings, the ample use of  'carrot and stick' policy,
and the arrogance of the US Trade Representative had made a mockery of
what is perceived to be an economic exercise. In the name of  'free
trade', the entire exercise was to push the political agenda of the US and
the richest trading block, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD), down the throats of the Third World countries. And
despite the massive protests on the street, the Millenium Round too would
have been a fait accompli but for the resistance within.

The democratic norm of one-country-one-vote was thrown to the wind. It
took a series of  'green room' consultations to arrive at a consensus,
which were then placed before the working groups. For instance, at nine in
the evening, twenty countries received an invitation for a  'green room'
discussion on trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPs). Ten of
these countries, including India, Pakistan and Egypt, met two hours later
in a hotel. And by two in the morning, some sort of agreement had reached
on the contentious issue. While the United States had agreed to make
provision to extend the geographical indicators to cover crops like
Basmati rice and Darjeeling tea, in the bargain it had extracted a promise
from Indian and Pakistan to support the formation of the working group on

The Africans were obviously angry. None of the African countries was
invited to the  'green room' diplomacy. To add fuel to the simmering
discontent, the WTO chief, Mike Moore, also held 'green room' parleys with
about two dozen countries, including India, to set the agenda for the
Millenium Round. The Africans were once again kept out. Resenting the
'undemocratic' procedures, the African countries amassed the support of
some 100 countries to express their disgust at the way the talks were
proceeding and threatened to walk out. The African countries, despite
their pathetic economies, had mustered enough courage and support to
thwart the biggest trade talks of the century.

Earlier, the US and Canada had suggested the formation of a working group
on biotechnology with the hope that the genetically modified crops be
included in the agreement on agriculture. This implied that the
genetically engineered food and food products have to be accepted by the
member countries. By the second day, it became clear that at least five
European countries were opposed to the move. A day later, the EU opposing
members swelled to a dozen. But interestingly, the European Commission,
which has the administrative control, was in favour of the working group.
Europe was, therefore, split on the contentious issue of biotechnology.

Europe, on the other hand, was in no mood to reduce its massive subsidies
in agriculture. It had, therefore, presented a 'multi-functionality'
concept arguing the need for subsidies to protect the environment and
wildlife. The US, wanting the EU subsidies to go, was not acknowledging
that the US $ 6 billion export credit that Bill Clinton had provided to
farmers be treated as a subsidy. While it was quite obvious that both the
US and EU were not willing to forgo the trade distorting subsidies, the
thrust of the rich trading blocks was to ensure more market access and
removal of quantitative restrictions that many developing countries have

The biggest casualty of the Seattle fiasco is the failure of India to
emerge as the leader of the developing countries. In fact, from the very
beginning India tried to convey that it should no longer be treated as a
developing country. It has a unique position in the global community
considering its size and the market. The Indian position throughout the
negotiations was, therefore, closer to the American stand. Ostensibly to
win over the Indian polity, President Clinton had even ensured that the
Indian trade minister, Murasoli Maran, be seated on the same table during
a luncheon he hosted for the trade ministers of 135 countries.

The failed Millenium Round has clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of
India. At no stage, whether in the Uruguay Round negotiations or the
Seattle Round, India had demonstrated a will to protect its economic
interests. As a result, India is increasingly becoming a dumping ground
for cheap and highly subsidised manufactured products and foodgrains. Nor
do the developing countries treat Indian as a leader. The trade-off at
Seattle was essentially in the areas which were represented by the CII,
FICCI and ASSOCHAM. Agriculture was being offered as a sacrificial goat to
protect what ever little that remains of the protected Indian industry.
The EU, for example, had agreed not to force for further reduction in
import duties for sugar if India supported its proposal for

The Seattle fiasco has certainly driven the first nail in the coffin of
the WTO. As things stand, it merely is a time-out before the dangerous
game of politico-economy again resumes. Developing nations, including
India, have to take a fresh look at their own position before succumbing
again to the threats. And the civil society has to re-build and strengthen
its approach to take the battle right into the Convention Centres. The
voice of the people need to be heard. No international agreement can
survive if it is not people-friendly. And WTO is no exception.

It is true that WTO is being orchestrated by the bureaucrats and the
neo-classic economists for the benefit of the multinational companies and
the corporate world. We are in an era when all governments, without
exception, have begun to represent only the vested interests of the
industry. In the bargain, the poor and hungry are being further
marginalised. And rightly, as a placard at the protests in the streets
 - "WTO is a Wrong Trade Organisation."


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