WTO - after the failure of Seattle

Guyana Chronicle
December 11, 1999

AFTER the chaos and failure to launch a Seattle Round in global trade negotiations, the survival of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as a credible referee would rest on the extent to which it promotes dialogue between the rich and poor nations for inevitable international trade liberalisation.

Stormy and traumatic as the protests by a wide and conflicting coalition of interests may have been during the WTO's ministerial meeting in Seattle, the protesters - even the unfortunate and unnecessary violence - must not be blamed for the failure to launch a new round in global trade negotiations.

Not even President Bill Clinton's politically expedient threat of possible economic sanctions against WTO member states, the poor developing nations that fail to conform to labour rights practices - still outside the WTO's jurisdiction - could really have been a major cause for the collapse of the Seattle initiative.

Rather, the failure must ultimately be blamed squarely on the undemocratic and secretive process in which the powerful nations of the WTO have been using, or misusing, this world body that regulates international trade, in the great push toward the new global economic order, "globalisation".

The host country, the United States, and its allies of the wealthy developed North, were to discover to their deep chagrin that the discriminatory policy of consultation and the lack of transparency in a so-called "Green Room" process that excluded the representatives of the poor nations of the South, must be jettisoned with haste.

The failure of Seattle, rightly welcomed by the Caribbean and its allies for delaying the indecent rush toward trade liberalisation, without sufficient and meaningful consultation with the vast majority of WTO member nations, now offers a window of opportunity for a new approach when the WTO's next round of negotiations takes place. This is unlikely to happen soon because of the United States Presidential election and also the need for the WTO Secretariat to get its own acts together for a reformed negotiating process.

The Caribbean, currently engaged with its partners of Africa and the Pacific in negotiations with the EU for a successor arrangement to the Lome Four Convention, is understandably in no hurry, though we expect it to remain vigilant and well prepared for the delayed new "millennium round" in global trade talks.

The developing nations must also work to end the practice of the WTO Dispute Panel being chaired by the national of the complainant country in a particular trade dispute.

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