WTO's pledge on trade barriers removes 'stain of Seattle,' official says
The Washington Post
DOHA, Qatar — Determined to show solidarity in a time of war and recession, officials from more than 140 countries in the World Trade Organization agreed yesterday on a plan for three years of negotiations aimed at lowering barriers to commerce worldwide.
The agreement was a victory for Bush-administration officials and others who argue that one of the best ways to reduce global poverty, and to fight the terrorism it sometimes breeds, is by fostering continued integration of the world's economies.
"Everyone appreciated the need to give a signal of confidence in the very difficult times we're going through," said WTO Director General Michael Moore, who had warned that failure here would have posed a grave risk to the slumping world economy.
The accord commits the WTO's member nations to negotiate agreements by Jan. 1, 2005, to lower tariffs, eliminate agricultural export subsidies and establish rules concerning the relationship between trade and the environment, among other things.
Eight previous rounds of trade talks since World War II have steadily whittled down trade barriers.
Since the last agreement reached in 1993 in Uruguay, exports of manufactured goods and food have nearly doubled to more than $6 trillion. The World Bank estimates a new cycle of market-opening talks, coupled with related reforms, could increase the $18 trillion global economy by 17 percent by 2015.
One force driving the officials toward an agreement was the desire to avoid a repeat of the last WTO meeting, which broke down amid rancor and violent anti-globalization protests in Seattle two years ago. A second flop might have damaged the effectiveness of the Geneva-based organization.
"We removed the stain of Seattle," said Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative.
The global-trading system consists of extensive rules based on the principle that member nations cannot discriminate against each other's goods and companies without good reason.
The trade ministers effectively agreed to launch a new "round" of trade talks — but the main declaration issued yesterday was called the Doha Development Agenda. That partly reflects the aversion many developing countries have to referring to the negotiations as a "round," given what they deem to be the unsatisfactory results of the last one.
The main declaration commits WTO members to negotiate reductions in tariffs, "in particular on products of export interest to developing countries," such as textiles and clothing in which producers in developing countries are most competitive.
But that commitment is vague, and developing countries were disappointed that they didn't get the immediate speedup in tariff reductions on textiles and apparel that was envisioned in the Uruguay Round.
Officials from poor countries were pleased with a declaration affirming that countries have the right under WTO rules to override drug patents and obtain cheap generic medicine to deal with serious public-health problems such as AIDS.
Information from Newsday is included in this report