Anyone for Free Trade?

Article excerpt

This Third Way world we live in isn't a hospitable place for global trade talks. The difficulties in setting the agenda for the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Seattle which starts tomorrow has made this clear.

Trade continues to be a stated priority of many Third Way governments, but in practice it is taking second place to a variety of other pet issues. Third Way administrations, which are a nebulous hybrid between a conservative, pro-business and a liberal, interventionist government, have saddled the WTO agenda with these controversial and unrelated issues, making a consensus on the agenda for the WTO conference difficult to find.

The blame for the holdup in reaching agreement on the agenda can be distributed evenly. Some European nations want to continue giving farmers large subsidies, which the United States rightly opposes because it would allow those farmers an unfair trading advantage by allowing them to export at below-cost prices.

The United States, meanwhile, has its own unreasonable demands that it is trying to push into the WTO agenda. Mr. Clinton would like labor related issues to be discussed at the conference. The president apparently has confused his international organizations. The International Labor Organization, a U.N. affiliated agency, was created to address just these kinds of disputes. This issue is outside the realm of the WTO.

The leader of the Third Way world, President Bill Clinton has historically been unwilling to spend political capital on trade agreements since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed in 1994. His Third Way counterparts are equally willing, interestingly enough, to make trade a second-tier priority.

Mr. Clinton had originally intended to send formal invitations to world leaders to participate in the WTO conference. The invitations never went out because their intended recipients signaled they had little interest in attending. Rather than put these leaders, and himself, on the spot, Mr. Clinton decided to scrap the original plan and instead extend informal invitations. With this kind of resolve, Mr. Clinton's potential tenacity for getting the China-WTO deal through Congress looks questionable.

The Financial Times reported last week that a senior official for France said leaders were reluctant "to fly a long way for an unnecessary photo-call" at the WTO conference. …