WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO


29 November 1999

The WTO is not a world government and no one has any intention of making it one, Moore tells NGOs

The WTO is not a world government and no one has any intention of making it one. Its decisions are made by member states, and supervising its work are ministers who are all responsible to their respective governments and peoples, Director-General Mike Moore told non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in opening the Seattle Symposium on International Trade Issues in the Next Decade on 29 November.

Mr. Moore said that without the multilateral trading system, "it would be a poorer world of competing blocs and power politics—a world of more conflict, uncertainty and marginalization". He said that "our dream must be a world managed by persuasion, the rule of law and the peaceful settlement of differences".

The full text follows.

A decade and a half ago the Uruguay Round was launched in the face of public apathy. No one can say that about Seattle, that's a deliverable. We have gone from apathy to anxiety and even anger, not just from the demonstrators in the streets, but from people around the world who feel that for too long they have been locked out of the benefits of growth, and from those who fear for their security in a time of uncertainty and change.

If people - especially young people - say unemployment is too high, they are right. If unions want better wages and conditions for working people, they are right. If environmentalists say that growth must be sustainable - and not destroy the planet's ecological balance - they are right. When developing countries say they are not getting fair access and economic justice, they are absolutely right.

First let's be clear about what the WTO does not do. The WTO is not a world government, a global policeman, or an agent for corporate interests. It has no authority to tell countries what trade policies - or any other policies - they should adopt. It does not overrule national laws. It does not force countries to kill turtles or lower wages or employ children in factories. Put simply, the WTO is not a supranational government - and no one has any intention of making it one.

Our decisions must be made by our Member States, agreements ratified by Parliaments and every two years Ministers meet to supervise our work. There's a bit of a contradiction with people outside saying we are not democratic, when inside over 120 Ministers all elected by the people or appointed by elected Presidents, decide what we will do.

The WTO is an international organization that mediates trade disputes, seeks to reduce barriers between countries, and embodies the agreements. As President Clinton said, globalization is not a policy choice, it's a fact. Globalization is being driven above all by the power of technology - by faster and cheaper transportation, by new communications, by the increasing weightlessness of our economies - the financial services, telecommunications, entertainment, and e-commerce that make up a growing share of global trade. It's also driven by common values of freedom, democracy and the desire to share what the world has to offer.

The real question we should ask ourselves is whether globalization is best left unfettered - dominated by the strongest and most powerful, the rule of the jungle - or managed by an agreed system of international rules, ratified by sovereign governments.

How will the global economy be made more stable by undermining its foundation of rules and cooperation? By returning to the same system of regional blocs and trade anarchy that helped plunge us into world war in the 1930's?

How are developing countries helped by shutting our markets, restricting their exports and worsening their marginalization?

How is the global environment improved by retarding growth, distorting prices, or subsidizing the consumption of scarce resources?

Command economies have the worst consequences for the environment, for human rights and for jobs, education and health. And, incidentally, totalitarian countries always pose a greater threat to peace.

How will we find jobs for the unemployed - or homes for the dispossessed - by making our economies and societies poorer? Consider this: exports have accounted for more than a quarter of US economic growth in the United States in the past six years. And almost 20 million new jobs.

The US uses less steel now than 30 years ago. Trade between countries can do no more violence to the environment than trade within countries. Of course, we can do better, that's why you and I are here.

The OECD has concluded that a new round of tariff liberalization would boost world economic output by 3 per cent - or over 1.2 trillion dollars - and that developing countries would benefit most. India's GDP would grow by 9.6 per cent, China's by 5.5 per cent, sub-Saharan Africa's by 3.7 per cent.

I'm not suggesting that the pain and the problems associated with technological and economic change are not real. They are. And we must address them with the appropriate domestic policies: that's the function of governments.

Remember when the Berlin wall came down, when Nelson Mandela walked to freedom, when the last imperial European Empire collapsed, when the Colonels returned to their barracks in South America. From the Congo to Cambodia, Poland to Chile, we all celebrated these universal values of freedom. No one condemned globalisation or the ideals of freedom. Why is it when the smoke clears, people chose freedom? And now these same freedom fighters are in Seattle, demanding an opportunity to trade freely. Are you going to tell them the old days and ways were better? I won't. I'm here to open the door for working men and women.

Those who oppose and protest are not all bad or mad. Many want to improve the WTO. Others want to capture it to reflect their interests - which is a form of flattery I suppose. Most seek honest engagement. The World Wide Fund for Nature - to take just one example - has made several

constructive suggestions about improving the interface between trade and the environment. We should listen, reflect, then act. Earlier I spoke to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Here too there is a surprising degree of shared understanding about how trade can help improve labour standards - and vice versa.

If we lift living standards we will improve and lift labour standards, human rights and get better results for those who are sick and those who yearn to learn.

Trade is not the answer to all our problems, but it provides part of the solution. 50,000 people may be demonstrating against us at Seattle. But remember too, that over 30 countries - some 1.5 billion people - want to join the WTO. They know what it offers and they want to be part of it. Ask them what they want.

And what's wrong in wanting China and Russia to be part of a rules-based world? It is one of those great contradictions, that while the world celebrates political freedom as it has spread throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, the open minds that celebrate these freedoms frequently close their minds to the economic freedoms that trade offers. There's a contradiction among those who give generously at Church on Sunday when there is a flood or earthquake in the third world, then on Monday sign a petition to lock out the products their workers create.

What are we fighting for in Seattle? We are fighting for a multilateral trading system that is an essential component of the architecture for international cooperation - a firm foothold in an uncertain world. The world would not be a safer place without the UN, IMF, World Bank, or WTO despite their imperfections. The GATT/WTO system is a force for international peace and order. A fortification against disorder. This is reason enough to insist on the rightness of what we are doing.

We are also fighting to reduce poverty and to create a more inclusive world. We all want a fairer world, a world of opportunity accessible to all. Just ask the mother with a sick child who wants the best medical advice the world has to offer - whether its from Boston or Oxford or Johannesburg.

When I was a boy it would have taken a year's wages of a worker to buy the Encyclopaedia Britannica for their children. Today, it's free on the Internet. Who want's to visit a dentist based on technology 20 years old? Think of what technology and science are doing for education and health.

The old divides of North-South, of left and right, no longer apply. What divides us today is the difference between those that welcome the future and those that fear it. Today the WTO comprises 135 countries - compared to just 23 who negotiated the GATT in 1948. None of these countries wants less trade, less investment, fewer jobs, technology or research. No, they want the same things for their families as we want.

Lastly we are fighting to create a world that is more open and interdependent, a world of lower barriers and greater freedom. "Freedom is indivisible" - President Kennedy reminded us over 35 years ago. This should be remembered by all those who would resurrect the walls between us. Of course economic freedom is not the only freedom. But it is an indispensable part of all the other freedoms we hold important - freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, the freedom of choice and opportunity.

There is a strong argument that economic, social and political freedom is a basic pre-requisite for development.

I began by asking what the world would be like without the multilateral trading system. Let me answer my own question. It would be a poorer world of competing blocs and power politics - a world of more conflict, uncertainty and marginalization. Too much of this century was marked by force and coercion. Our dream must be a world managed by persuasion, the rule of law, the settlement of differences peacefully by the law and in co-operation. Seattle ought to be remembered then with confidence, in our case that economic and political freedom means higher living standards and a better lifestyle. Let's hope our vision of the new century matches that of our parents who living through depression and war, then created us and our institutions. Let's honour them. Thank you