Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Expectations Run High at Birth of World Trade Group

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Expectations Run High at Birth of World Trade Group

Article excerpt

MOROCCO'S King Hassan II is considered an enigmatic leader whose every act has some hidden meaning, so one might wonder what signal he was sending by offering a dazzling fireworks display to delegates from around the world attending the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) meeting here.

Perhaps it was the king's way of acknowledging that the World Trade Organization (WTO), to be born when 124 countries sign the Uruguay Round accord today, already looks set for fireworks.

In addition to implementing the hundreds of pages of complex trade rules, the WTO will oversee creation of a new multilateral system for dispute settlement. Add to that a mandate to develop a work program on the environmental impact of trade liberalization, plus some countries' vows to see the WTO address global labor standards and workers' rights, and you've got a controversial agenda.

But that's not all. India, supported by developing nations and nongovernmental groups, wants the WTO to take up unfair trade practices by multinational corporations that restrict competition. Indian Commerce Minister Pranab Mukherjee also says the WTO must begin to address the issue of the free movement of the world's workers - a question sure to send shivers through the ranks of Western delegations. For its part, Japan says the WTO should study the effect of regional trade areas - such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the European Economic Area - on multilateralism. Agreement too ambitious?

Countries may be counting too much on the new WTO to solve problems where other international bodies have failed, observers say. In January the WTO is to replace and augment the GATT, which has sponsored periodic tariff-reduction and trade-liberalizing negotiations since World War II. Maamoun Abdel-Fattah, Egyptian minister to GATT, is concerned that "There's a clear danger that the WTO is overloaded before it even exists."

Reflecting a developing-world point of view, the Egyptian says "Unfortunately, the environment is in" the WTO's work program. "Socially no one can say `no' to the environment," he says, but he explains the fear that developed countries will use the issue to restrict less-advanced countries' exports. …

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