WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO


11 November 1999

National Conference on the Millennium Round, Rome

Attached is the full text of the speech delivered by WTO Director-General Mike Moore today (11 November) at the National Conference on the Millennium Round in Rome.

I wish to thank the Italian Government for inviting me to attend this conference. I am only sorry that I shall not be able to spend more time with you, but you know of the pressures and needs of Geneva at the moment.

In a few short days we shall be in Seattle, at the WTO's Third Ministerial Conference. What happens in Seattle will shape our institution and determine the quality of trade relations among nations as we enter the new millennium. The stakes are high, and we still have a lot of work to do if we are to make Seattle the success that it should be. Failure is unthinkable. We seem to live in a special world in Geneva, a world of insurmountable opportunities, however that is true of the wider world too, isn't it?

Recently I advised Ministers that the situation in Geneva was serious but not desperate. After long hours I can report progress. The situation is desperate but not serious.

The differences among governments over which we are struggling right now in Geneva are genuine and honest differences. And the efforts to bridge them are every bit as genuine. Priorities are bound to differ, but there is a common objective – the objective of maintaining and strengthening equitable and stable trade relations among nations. But this is not about trade for trade's sake. It is about providing a solid basis for higher incomes, new opportunities, better jobs and improved lifestyles for people everywhere. Therefore a safer, more stable and predictable world.

The atmosphere in Geneva is positive, and I think we should be optimistic. Not everything can be agreed before we go to Seattle. Ministers will have to provide leadership. But we must offer a solid basis from which to work, and that is what I hope we shall achieve in the next few days. We are not there yet. Ambassadors can only go as far as their instructions from capitals. Again I call for more flexibility, sensitivity and vision from capitals.


The world will be watching us at Seattle. Imagine the cost of failure? It is still possible that through stubborn neglect of mutual interests, and a refusal to accommodate divergent needs, we could fail to agree in Seattle, or worse, agree to fail. Think of the gift we would be handing our critics. What would that mean? We stopped the poor getting a fairer deal? We stopped progress? That’s the equivalent of celebrating Europe NOT enlarging. That's celebrating a new Berlin Wall going up. What would they want to stop next, and how would we get started again? We represent the last 50 years, that has seen, in most countries, living standards rise, people living longer, infant mortality down. Never in the history of mankind has there been such steady progress, but not always even and never enough. Never have so many people celebrated their political and economic freedom.

It is not enough that governments accept their responsibilities to craft the deal waiting to be made in Seattle. Governments also have a shared responsibility to explain why we have the WTO, and why we must invest the time and effort that we do in nurturing and strengthening our institution. Our critics are sometimes more vocal than our supporters, and not all our critics are wrong. We must engage them – and improve our game. It is not difficult to find things wrong with our system. What system fashioned by humans is perfect? We must be the only business in town without a marketing division, where our customers and owners must be our sales people.

Those who oppose and protest are not all bad or mad. Many want to improve the WTO or capture it to reflect their interests. That’s a form of flattery, I suppose. Many seek honest engagement, and it is to these that we must respond. As Commissioner Lamy has pointed out on other occasions, this is not only about succeeding at Seattle. Even more important is the aftermath, the challenge of negotiating good results and then having those results approved in national legislatures. In the end political leaders are accountable to parliaments, to ballot boxes. Their owners; the people. When I lost an election in New Zealand on election night, I said the people are always right. Even when they are wrong, they are right.

I make no apologies for what we seek to achieve with our multilateral trading system – all I want to do is do better. 100,000 people may be demonstrating against us at Seattle. But remember too, that 1.5 billion people and more than 30 countries want to join the WTO. They know what it offers and want to be part of it. 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 should we tell our critics that we are fighting for in Seattle? I offer three core messages. First, the multilateral trading system is an essential component of the architecture for international cooperation, peace and progress. The world would not be a safer place without the UN, IMF, World Bank or WTO despite their imperfections. We know from our turbulent history of six or seven decades ago that failures in international cooperation lead to serious economic hardship and can contribute to strife and war. It was this costly, devastating lesson that inspired leaders at that time to craft the multilateral system which today we seek to keep healthy and make stronger. 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. If we did not have the multilateral trading system, there would surely be a need to invent it. No one, I hope, wants less trade, less investment, fewer jobs, less ideas and less research. No one, I hope, wants the world to assume the foetal position and welcome a new dark age.

Second, our system can be harnessed to address poverty, to create a more inclusive world. While the GATT started out in 1947 with 23 members, today the WTO comprises 134 countries, with more joining all the time. With the explosion of membership has come new challenges and adjusted priorities. More than two-thirds of our members are engaged in a struggle against poverty that is quite literally a matter of life and death. Trading opportunities and adjustment to the conditions of international competition are key ingredients in helping to lift countries and their peoples out of poverty, but not the only ingredient. Not only is there a moral urgency about this, because poverty and despair degrades us all, but we need to create customers of the future for the successful economies of today.

Those who want to stop the WTO from advancing, including in its efforts to create better market opportunities for poorer countries, would do well to reflect on how defensible that position is, not least on moral grounds. I have placed great emphasis since coming to the WTO on the need to guarantee unrestricted market access for all the products of the least-developed countries. This, surely, is not too much to ask. After all, the least-developed countries account for less than 0.5 percent of world exports. And the countries concerned would have the advantage of knowing that whatever they can produce they can sell without having to surmount obstacles in the shape of trade measures.

My third point, which is closely related to the second, is that our system nurtures and helps to create new opportunities for millions of people. The information revolution, whose benefits the multilateral trading system is instrumental in spreading, has shrunken time and distance in ways that we could not have imagined just a few years ago. People who try to stop the WTO's efforts to reduce protection and enlarge opportunity may not want to arrest the spread of benefits from technological advancement, but that is likely to be a by-product. 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 wants to use yesterday's technologies and techniques today? What mother does not seek the very best medical attention, regardless of its state of origin, when her child is sick? There are endless ways that greater opportunities and better lifestyles flow from an environment of openness that adjusts to change.


We have always enjoyed the globalization of literature and music. On the most lonely pacific atoll, in the most distant jungle valley, people listen to Italian opera, read Shakespeare and essentially have the same hopes and ambitions, that their children have a better life than they. We all want a fairer world, a world of opportunity accessible to all. 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. The future is not to be feared. It is to be faced. Let us face it together and strive to improve what we have and share it more effectively. We have within us the opportunity to make the next century so much better, having learnt from our horrible and lethal failures in the first half of this century. Ladies and gentlemen, we have the rare chance to make the next century one based on law, rules, engagement and persuasion. Or a world based on coercion, force and power. I hope we can lift our vision, and look beyond ourselves and our short term national interests and therefore honour our parents who created us and our institutions.