Quebec City Lessons Arm WTO Nations for Post-Seattle Trade Talks

By Pettigrew, Pierre | Canadian Speeches, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Quebec City Lessons Arm WTO Nations for Post-Seattle Trade Talks


Pettigrew, Pierre, Canadian Speeches


Following the 1999 violent protests and failure in Seattle, the 141 countries of the World Trade Organization will again attempt to launch a new round of global trade talks at Doha, Qatar, in November. But this time; the nation leaders will be able to draw on lessons learned at Quebec City in successfully advancing prospects for a Free Trade Area of the Americas. Trade leaders are now more responsive to the need for transparency in negotiating trade deals; listening to the concerns of protesters and talking with them; ensuring that poorer countries benefit from any trade deals; explaining the economic and social benefits of freer trade; ensuring that anti-democratic protesters are not allowed to shut down talks between elected leaders by by violence. Speech to the European Policy Centre, Brussels, May 18,2001.

I believe my recent experiences, before and during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, can provide some food for thought as our governments prepare for the Fourth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference this fall in Qatar.

Of course, it is almost impossible to hear the words "WTO Ministerial Conference" without having flashbacks of scenes from the last meeting in Seattle.

In Seattle, two worlds met and collided. The first world was the traditional international world of the states that were coming together to negotiate among themselves the launch of a new trade round. The second world was the globalized world, represented by a broad range of groups, corporations, and special interests.

So, one might describe Seattle as a meeting between the international order and the global disorder -- and I don't mean this in a pejorative sense.

The international world was represented mostly by democratically-elected governments that were coming to negotiate deals in the best interests of their populations. That being the case, most faced the fact that if their people didn't like the deals, they would have the opportunity to "fire" the government at the next election.

This international world has been evolving for 400 years; it is the traditional nation-state that we have known since the Westphalia Treaty. It is codified; it is ritualized. It is a world that is more or less predictable. So predictable, in fact, that it can sometimes get very boring.

The other world was the emerging world, the real world of globalization. This other world is a multicentric world, composed of an almost infinite number of participants who have a capacity for international action that is more or less independent of the state under whose jurisdiction, technically, they exist.

Their sphere of action is very often in the zone that escapes the attention of government because of new technologies and because of all kinds of developments. They have this "zone of irresponsibility" -- again, not in a pejorative sense, but where responsibility does not exist because it has not been assigned.

But the real world of globalization has created, or at least greatly empowered, the very players who were decrying globalization, and they emerged from Seattle for the first time in a very forceful way. The irony is that they came to decry the very movement that brought them there.

The key point, however, is that in many ways Seattle was a defining moment. Aside from what went on inside the meeting rooms, which is where the real failure to make progress took place, it was at Seattle that the international community also discovered that the rules had changed, that every meeting henceforth of a multilateral body must be prepared for demonstrations and disruptions.

The protests were a rude awakening, to say the least. It would be all too easy to suggest that some very narrow concerns are the heart of these protests, or that many of the participants are ill-informed; the truth, however, is that there are some legitimate concerns being raised by some credible and well-informed organizations and interests. …

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Quebec City Lessons Arm WTO Nations for Post-Seattle Trade Talks
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