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Third World Says No To “Green Room” WTO Bullying

WTO: Developing World Says No To “Green Room” Bullying

The Seattle WTO talks have ended in failure with developing countries blaming the US, the European Union, Canada and Japan for shuffling them aside. John Howard reports.

Developing nations in Latin America, the Carribbean, Asia and Africa showed their distrust of the WTO's ability to be more open in their deliberations in strongly-worded statements condemning the open process they were promised before coming to Seattle.

"There is no sense by the membership at large that it owns the conference," said Ramphal Shridath, foreign minister for the Carribbean island nation of St Kitts-Nevis. "We will be leaving Seattle with a sense of exclusion," he said.

In a separate statement Latin American countries announced " their strong conviction that, as long as conditions of transparency, openness and participation do not exist, we will not join the consensus required to meet the objectives of this ministerial conference.

Shridath said" " What is important is that the blame is allowed to rest where it deserves to rest. And that is with the United States and the WTO."

Much of the ire directed at the WTO and the developed countries comes from five years of promises to developing nations that this ministerial meeting and the resulting round of trade agreements would be conducted without the secrecy and backroom deals that characterised the Singapore meeting and the Uruguay Round.

"We were promised a process that would not be dominated by green room deals. We were promised that every country would be listened to and given a chance to air their views. But this is not what transpired," said Tettah Hormeku from the African Trade Network.

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He said that the US, the European Union, Canada and Japan "have transferred the negotiations away from the working groups into the corridors, the green rooms and the super-green rooms."

"Green Room" is a euphemism for a private setting where a few trading partners wheel and deal.

The developing countries are also not happy with WTO director-general, Mike Moore. With regard to internal rule making, dispute resolution and public relations for the WTO, the director-general should create an overall atmosphere of openness.

But according to Noko Murangi, deputy trade negotiator for Namibia, this is the same language with which third world trade ministers were led to believe they would participate in the Seattle ministerial.

"I'm furious. We don't have the money to waste to come all the way to Seattle just for a show," he said. "The best outcome that could have come from this ministerial would have been true transparency. In the absence of that, it is best that nothing is agreed to."

Guyana Foreign Minister, Clement Schee said, " We did not come as tourists or just people walking around, but this is what we were left to do. In this sense, we are rightly disappointed."

As the shock of the talks' failure sunk in, the recriminations began. "It's the beginning of the blame game," one Canadian delegate said.

"The host country (US) was a protagonist, an advocate on too many issues, to bring about a compromise," said Kobsak Chutikul, director general of economic affairs from Thailand's Foreign Ministry.

Australian trade official Mitch Hooke said divisions within the European Union and the upcoming US presidential election undermined political support for a new trade round.

US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and WTO Moore both declared before the meeting that there was too much at stake for the meeting to fail.

But developing nations have said they were excluded yet also steamrolled by the big powers in a bid to reach a deal at any cost.

The European Union was unhappy about the language in the draft agreement proposing to cut domestic farm supports and eventually eliminate farm export subsidies and wanted concessions in other areas in order to agree.

Labour standards were also brought onto the agenda which the developing countries refused to agree with. The EU has put a proposal calling for a joint ILO/WTO working forum on trade and labour issues.

Labour standards are a key for President Clinton, who has one eye on US labour unions, a key constituency for Democrats going into the 2000 presidential election.

But the 47 African states who are members of the WTO and who rely on intensive labour for most of their exports would have none of it.

They say their countries have not yet moved to a large manufacturing base or an information technology base like the developed countries. For example, it's coffee in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Kenya. It's petroleum and petroleum products in Libya, Nigeria, Algeria, Gabon, Egypt and Angola. It's iron ore in Liberia and Mauritania. It's copper in Zambia, cotton in Chad and sugar in Mauritius.

All of these commodities are from the earth and require manual labour to cultivate.

Because the African nations are not manufacturing or information technology power-houses, the difference between developed and developing became a striking division at the WTO meeting

Essentially, the debate revolves around two things.
(1) the interests of countries that believe they are harmed by America's anti-dumping laws where a cheaper imported product can be sanctioned, and,
(2) the interests of the American technology companies that believe they are hurt by the laws of the primarily developing nations that prohibit them from engaging in e-commerce. So, the battle lines are fairly clear.

On the e-commerce side, the US is attempting to extend a WTO moratorium on duties applied to internet purchases with US companies wanting the moratorium made permanent and even extended to cover internet taxes and other laws that might inhibit the growth of the global internet industry.

Developing countries that have not evolved into the information age are resistant to such actions and fearful of the effect they would have on their economies.

On the anti-dumping issue, developing countries are fighting against US anti-dumping laws that are designed to protect key industries in the US. The anti-dumping laws punish countries for "dumping" products on the US markets at prices below those of home markets.

Most recently, US steel companies used the laws to punish South Korea, Russia and Japan for undercutting the prices of US steel. The US is under pressure from members of Congress to push anti-dumping laws into WTO rules.

The developing countries have lower wages and a plentiful labour supply as their marginal utility and they do not wish to give up that advantage by permitting the US to deny them the right to obtain economic gain because of strict first world labour laws.

As developing countries move up the economic heap into manufacturing or high-tech industries things may change but at the moment the developed world can't have it all its own way.

Developing nations, whose economies have expanded thanks to cheap labour, say richer countries are only pressing the issue to protect themselves from inexpensive imports.

Global trade is not a level playing field and it will probably be some months before any attempts at a new round of trade liberalisation is made. Meanwhile, Mike Moore will likely need to do some significant fence-mending.

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