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Scoop Column: People Of The World Let Down By WTO

If there is one thing that came out of the failed WTO trade talks in Seattle, it is this; - the citizens of the world expected, after spending millions of their tax dollars, that world leaders would be capable of getting it right. John Howard writes.

Forget the diplomatic niceties and the weasel words, it is now patently clear that the procedures of the WTO are chaotic.

What on earth led the organisers to believe that the majority of the 135 countries who were not party to the discussions were going to sign up to any deal?

For God's sake, how could they believe that 25 countries negotiating in a room, which meant 110 sitting outside, were going to make binding agreements. Yet any deal had to be signed off by the 135 members. From the start it was a foreseeable fiasco and the meeting should never have gone ahead under those terms.

Stephen Byers, Britain's Trade and Industry Secretary said, "My mother's a member of the Womens Institute and they organise their fete better than this."

US trade representative, Charlen Barshefsky, who chaired the talks has conceded that a review is overdue.

"I wondered whether keeping people in a room, filled with intractable issues, was going to work," she said. So it was an experiment, was it? What a stupid remark for her to make.

French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, said the failure of the talks should not be over-dramatised.

Sorry, Mr Jospin I do not agree. If the so-called best minds in the world cannot hammer out a reasonable agreement based on consensus and inclusive behaviour, then what hope for the rest of us? As role models for the world's citizens you all failed.

What's more, the talks' failure increases the risk that simmering disputes over issues such as hormones in beef and genetically modified crops, which have dogged relations between Europe and the US, will erupt into a full- scale trade battle in the coming months.

Ms Barshefsky's claims that the US had been flexible in talks is laughable. But the US is not entirely to blame. The EU, Canada and Japan must also carry a good deal of blame.

From the day after the opening of the talks, the developing nations became very aware that they were not to be taken into account in the way the negotiations were to be conducted.

The attitude of Charlene Bashfesky had annoyed developing countries. Senegalese Foreign Trade Minister Khalifa Ababacar Sall said," She as good as told us to come to an agreement and get on with it, by which she meant taking the USA's side. Or else, she said, she would find another solution."

All in all, the WTO talks have left the people of Seattle angry and out of pocket, and the image of the WTO and world leaders severely tarnished. It was a shambles and a fiasco which was clearly foreseeable and, given the brain-power at the meeting, it should never have been allowed to happen as it did.


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