WTO's New Chief Goes into Battle to Defend Free Trade ; NEWS ANALYSIS: Protests Are Likely to Disrupt the Organisation's Talks in Seattle When It Attempts to Tackle the Thorny Issue of Import Restrictions

By Thornton, Philip | The Independent (London, England), September 27, 1999 | Go to article overview
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WTO's New Chief Goes into Battle to Defend Free Trade ; NEWS ANALYSIS: Protests Are Likely to Disrupt the Organisation's Talks in Seattle When It Attempts to Tackle the Thorny Issue of Import Restrictions


Thornton, Philip, The Independent (London, England)


AS THE 20th century draws to a close, the notion of free trade - one of the key elements of the economic expansion of the past 100 years - is under attack. Adebate has started over whether trade helps or hinders the world's poorest countries.

In December the World Trade Organisation launches the Millennium Round of talks in Seattle. They are aimed at breaking down barriers to trade and building on agreements hammered out during the last talks in Uruguay.

Seattle won't know what has hit it. Mike Moore, who took over as director general of the WTO three weeks ago, will be confronted by as many as 100,000 protesters from a large coalition of aid charities and environmental groups. There are fears the talks could be disrupted by violence orchestrated by the same groups that rioted in the City of London in June. They are understood to be planning a day of protest for 30 November.

Respected organisations including ActionAid and Christian Aid will tell Mr Moore that trade liberalisation benefits transnational corporations at the expense of the underdeveloped and debt-ridden Third World. They will call for reform of the international financial architecture, pointing out that many nations have not been able to fully comply with the measures to open up trade. While they struggle to meet these new commitments they watch industrialised nations insist on their right to trade barriers and even breaching existing WTO rulings.

But they are likely to get short shrift from Mr Moore, the 50- year-old former New Zealand Labour leader and Premier. Despite his trade union and left-wing background, the former slaughterhouse worker is a keen supporter of free trade. As foreign minister in the early 1990s he battled to open up international markets to exports of agricultural products from New Zealand, which is the most globalised of the developing countries in terms of the amount of foreign direct investment into the country.

Last week he travelled to Berlin to take his message of free trade - "both sides win" - to a wider audience. He told the Debis financial services conference he was anxious to extend free trade to all areas of economic activity such as professional and business services.

After his speech, he took the opportunity to attack the opponents of the WTO and his work. "We are told to expect demonstrations and hostility but they are based on a complete misunderstanding of what the WTO is. It is not a white rich man's club," he said, adding that the protesters were "good and sincere people".

"To suggest that countries would be better off if there was less trade is a wicked deception.

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WTO's New Chief Goes into Battle to Defend Free Trade ; NEWS ANALYSIS: Protests Are Likely to Disrupt the Organisation's Talks in Seattle When It Attempts to Tackle the Thorny Issue of Import Restrictions
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