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Albright Remarks to the World Trade Organization


Office of the Spokesman (Seattle, Washington)
As Prepared for Delivery

Welcoming Remarks by Secretary of State Madeleine K.
Albright At the World Trade Organization Ministerial

Seattle, Washington
November 30, 1999

Thank you, Ambassador Barshefsky. Director General Mike Moore, Secretary General Kofi Annan, fellow ministers including my colleagues Secretary of Commerce William Daley and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, distinguished guests, welcome to Seattle.

There could be no more appropriate a venue for our deliberations than this. Once known as the Gateway to Alaska, Seattle today is Gateway to the World. Trade helps Seattle thrive; and our mission today is to help the world thrive by reaffirming our commitment to a global trading system that is free, fair and responsive to the concerns of all people.

Since ancient times, trade has helped create wealth, drive progress and spur exploration of new frontiers. These trends have quickened over the past half century as general rules for trade have gained wider acceptance through a series of eight negotiating rounds.

During this period, trade's share of world production has tripled. The volume of trade has increased by a factor of eighteen. And the global system of trade rules has expanded from 23 participants to 135.

As a result, hundreds of millions of people have lifted themselves out of poverty, and the genius of free enterprise has been unleashed from Mongolia to Malawi and from Sydney to Santiago. Today, it is not possible to be an economic leader without also being a leader in trade.

Not everyone is comfortable with this reality, as we can see and hear in the streets of this democratic city. Globalization has raised legitimate questions that we must address together. The right of peaceful protest must be respected, and the message behind such protests taken into account. Destructive and violent protest hurts everyone's cause.

But we have learned from history that attempts simply to stifle trade through protectionism and closed markets usually backfire. Especially today, such measures will not work, for modern prosperity depends on technology, which is fueled by knowledge, which knows no boundaries, and has no reverse gear.

Instead of shrinking from change, our responsibility is to shape it--so that we may forge a future in which the benefits of trade are more widely shared in a world that is more fully free.

One step we can take here in Seattle is to welcome our new members-- Kyrgyzstan, Estonia and Latvia--into the WTO. We all win when nations grow by embracing the WTO principles of fair competition, transparency and the rule of law.

And as any Secretary of State or Foreign Minister would attest, international trade is a parent not only to greater prosperity, but also to stability. It fosters higher levels of economic interdependence, stimulates transnational dialogue, and nourishes the habit of settling differences peacefully, through legal arguments instead of lethal arms.

So we welcome new members. We also encourage the aspirations of those in the process of accession, including China. Nothing would do more to reinforce the global nature of our trading system than the constructive participation of a country containing one-fifth of the world's people.

The second step we must take this week is to strengthen the WTO by making it more transparent and accountable.

This organization cannot be effective without public trust. And to retain that trust, it must be open and aboveboard in its methods and meetings. It must work overtime to ensure that it is--and is perceived to be--a public interest, not a special interest organization.

At the same time, we must be realistic in our expectations. The WTO cannot solve every problem. It is not responsible for every ill. Its main job is to set rules for buying and selling across national borders. But because trade affects our lives in so many ways, trade rules cannot be considered in isolation. The WTO must work in partnership with others to ensure, in President Clinton's words, that globalization has a human face, and that the rights of all--including women and children--are respected.

The third and most ambitious step we must take this week is to launch a new trade round for jobs and development in the 21st century. This begins with a core commitment to fair and open trade. We must build on the progress our predecessors have made to lower trade barriers, eliminate unfair subsidies, enhance transparency, and reform government procurement.

We must strike a fair deal for farmers by establishing a level playing field for the production of food--the world's oldest industry, while shielding our newest industries from duties and discrimination. The Internet and E-commerce must remain free to fuel growth and expand knowledge around the equator and from pole to pole.

We must do all this; and we must do more.

Last month, the Earth's population surpassed six billion human beings. Almost one in four live on less money in half a year than is spent to stay in a hotel room in this city for a single night. More than one in two have never made a telephone call.

The divide between rich and poor both within and among nations is too wide, but this is not because of the WTO principles of fairness, openness and good governance. On the contrary, one way to narrow the divide is to implement those principles more broadly.

That is why we must strive to spread the benefits of the global trading system more widely every year, so that good jobs are created in every region, incomes rise at every level, and access to new technology is available in every community.

Our goal should be to help lift living standards throughout the developing world, and especially in the poorest countries. When governments with limited resources accept WTO responsibilities, we should do more than just open the door.

They have shown the will; we should help them find the way to meet their obligations, modernize their economies, and build the capacity to take to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by liberalized trade.

We should also proceed with other measures, outside the WTO, to relieve the burdens of international debt.

I am proud that America has been a leader, under President Clinton, in supporting the use of debt relief to attack poverty, improve health, provide education and conserve the environment. We have extended our generalized system of trade preferences. And we are working with Congress to further open our markets to friends in the Caribbean, Africa and Southeast Europe.

One of the great challenges that WTO members face is to forge a common approach to the issues that arise at the intersections of trade and labor, and trade and the environment. These issues are not separate in the real world. They cannot be treated as separate by our institutions. But in seeking a common approach, we must acknowledge our differences.

For example, an industrialized nation with a highly trained workforce will have a competitive advantage in productivity. A developing nation with a large, but less highly trained workforce, will have a comparative advantage in labor costs. These advantages must be respected. After all, at the most basic level, the very idea of trade is to allow us to benefit from our differences.

That is why trade is so often a win-win proposition. Workers in developed nations gain when trade stimulates growth and expands markets in the developing world. Development deepens when internationally recognized core labor standards are observed.

The purpose of our trading system is to lift the quality of life and work for all people--to foster competition that creates jobs, increases productivity, improves performance, and broadens consumer choice. It is not to cut costs at all costs.

Accordingly, no government need fear a WTO decision to study the relationship between trade rules and worker rights. No government should feel threatened by placing an ILO observer at the WTO. The purpose in each case would be to gain more knowledge so that we may address legitimate concerns and rebut false ones--and move towards a consensus within the WTO that will help us maintain support outside it.

We must also study the relationship between trade and the environment-- recognizing, as Vice-President Al Gore has said, that a strong economy and a clean environment go hand in hand.

To benefit people the most, development must be sustainable. So we should look for ways to combine economic and environmental best practices--for example by eliminating tariffs on the transfer of green technologies, or halting subsidies that contribute to over-fishing.

As I said earlier, the WTO cannot solve every problem. But I think we would agree that in such a vital area as the environment, trade rules should at least do no harm. Impacts on the environment should be taken into account. And we each have a right to protect health, safety and the environment in our own countries in our own way, consistent with science-based regulation.

A century ago, the great debate in America was how to cope with technological change that was bringing this vast continent together, creating huge new corporations, and concentrating large amounts of capital in a small number of hands. The turbulence created then for localities by a nationalizing economy was as deep as that experienced now by nations trying to cope with a globalizing economy.

At the time, many Americans wanted to return to a small-town past, and to deny or stop all that was new. Others argued that everything bigger was automatically better and that it did not matter if millions of people were left behind. Fortunately, some of our leaders were wise enough to comprehend both the promise of change and the need to guide it, so that the benefits would reach the hardworking many and not just the privileged few.

Today, our challenge is similar in kind, but global in scope. A retreat into the past is neither possible nor desirable. Closer economic ties, enhanced trade and technological breakthroughs are not threats; they are allies. But neither integration nor innovation is sufficient in itself.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "There is more to life than increasing its speed."

As I look around this hall at the faces of colleagues from so many nations, I am truly inspired. History has given us the opportunity to expand the boundaries of knowledge and cooperation, and to enable people everywhere to participate and share fairly in the bounty of our global economy. If we look outward towards each other, joining strength to strength, we can create a world of deeper prosperity and broader justice than humans have ever known.

That is a mighty tall order. But there is no better time than the start of a new century to set great goals. And there could be no worthier mission for the representatives gathered here, before the eyes of the world, bearing the hopes of the present generation, and a solemn obligation to the next.

This week, here in Seattle, let us embark upon that mission--and let us do so together. And it is in that spirit of mutual commitment and shared resolve that I hereby declare this Ministerial Conference officially open. Thank you very much.


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