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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 11:37 GMT
Bush urged to back new trade talks
Demonstrations in Seattle derailed trade talks in 1999
Demonstrations in Seattle derailed trade talks in 1999
The incoming head of the World Trade Organisation has urged the Bush administration to back a new round of trade negotiations.

Supachai Panichpakdi, the Thai commerce minister who takes over as WTO chief in 2002, said that without a fresh US endorsement, the planned world trade talks, which stalled in Seattle in 1999, might never resume.

I sincerely fear there may not be a launching of a new round

Supachai Panichpakdi
Next WTO head
But the Bush administration is showing signs that it is downgrading its commitment to free trade.

It has not announced the appointment of a new trade representative, amid reports that it is planning to downgrade the status of that position from its current cabinet status.

Mr Supachai told the International Herald Tribune newspaper that unless the US "quickly confirms interest, I sincerely fear there may not be a launching of a new round".

Mr Supachai was appointed in 1999 to share responsibilities for running the WTO with Mike Moore, the current head who was backed by the US.

Under the terms of the deal, each will serve for half of the six-year term.

Divisions among countries

Mr Supachai, who was backed by many developing countries, also emphasised that a new trade round would have to take into account more seriously the concerns of poor nations.

George W Bush has a domestic agenda
George W Bush stresses the domestic agenda
"We must have a round that caters more to development issues than ever before," he said.

Developing countries fear that calls for tougher environmental and labour standards on goods imported from the Third World are a cover for growing protectionist pressures in rich countries.

During the Seattle trade talks, President Clinton endorsed the principle of including labour standards in trade negotiations, under pressure from demonstrators and US labour unions..

That incensed many developing countries and contributed to the collapse of the new trade round.

The President-elect, George W Bush, says he does not favour including labour or environmental standards in trade negotiations.

However, many analysts believe he is unlikely to risk a confrontation with the US Congress over the issue.

Serious differences also exist between the US and the EU over the scope of any new trade round.

The EU favours a broad approach that would include issues like investment and competition policy, while the US wants a narrow focus on further liberalising trade in services and agriculture.

Focus on the Americas

Mr Bush is expected to focus American trade policy on expanding the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) to include the rest of Latin America.

And he is likely to give US businesses more influence on trade talks, perhaps subordinating the trade representative to the secretary of commerce, who is a close Texas associate.

Mr Bush is also expected to be more aggressive about pushing America's trade liberalisation agenda abroad, risking further confrontations with Europe, Japan, and some developing countries over the use of US-based "anti-dumping" legislation which might come in conflict with World Trade Organisation rules.

With other unresolved trade disputes looming over Airbus subsidies in Europe, car imports to Japan, and US tax breaks for its multinational companies, the climate for international trade talks could soon deteriorate further.

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See also:

27 Dec 00 | Business
EU-US trade dispute looms
21 Dec 00 | Review
Globalisation and its discontents
14 Dec 00 | Business
Tax cuts and free trade
16 Nov 00 | Business
Call for global trade round
29 Nov 00 | Business
The 'disgrace' of Seattle
10 Nov 00 | Business
Campaigners target trade in services
13 Dec 99 | Battle for Free Trade
The Battle for Free Trade
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