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 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 11: 99: Battle for Free Trade
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Monday, 6 December, 1999, 17:00 GMT
WTO: Who's to blame?
Seattle protest meeting Protesters seized the agenda

The collapse of talks in Seattle designed to launch a new trade round has led to widespread recriminations around the world, with the United States taking the lion's share of the blame.

The battle for free trade
There is a growing suspicion that the US torpedoed the talks in order to give in to domestic political pressures, particularly from trade unions.

They were the main organisers of the Seattle mass protests - and their support will be vital for the Democratic candidate in the next Presidential election in less than a year's time.

MIke Moore, head of WTO Mike Moore, WTO chief, had a bad week
Mr Clinton's tough stance on labour rights struck a chord with the public mood in the US as much as it alienated delegates from developing countries.

A recent opinion poll suggested that 83% of Americans thought the US should insist on other countries meeting environmental and labour standards as part of any future trade accords.

Fortress America?

Outside observers are worried that the move might signal a retreat by the US from a commitment to free trade.

We watch with concern here in Canada as certain voices in your country urge a Fortress America approach to the 21st century
Jean Chretien, Canadian Prime Minister
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien has also warned the US against a return to protectionism and urged it to take the lead in opening up its markets.

But US officials insisted this was not the only sticking point which caused the talks to fail.

"The labour issue shouldn't be used to mask the fact that certain countries, other than the United States, were unwilling to be reasonable at the negotiating table," a US administration official said.

Angry delegates

Many delegates blamed the US for poor preparation and an inflexible attitude in chairing the talks.

"There is a sense you want to rig the system," a Japanese diplomat said.

Philippine demonstration Third World protesters burned US symbols
French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said the talks had failed primarily because "some large countries did not seek an attitude of compromise" between developing country demands and those of the rich nations.

India's Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, said the setback to the world trading system showed "the need for negotiated settlement of trade issues... not based on dominance and unilateral advantage."

Business interests were even more upset by the outcome, which leaves issues like liberalisation of trade in financial services up in the air.

One American banker said "it's a real disappointment."

And the head of the German industry federation (the BDI) said it was a "severe blow to free world trade" and suggested it might have been a mistake to try to launch the round.

"It was perhaps a mistake to have this conference in Seattle when the presidential election campaign is beginning. When electioneering and domestic politics dominate, advocates of free trade have little chance," said Ludolf von Wartenberg.

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See also:
05 Dec 99 |  Business
Poor countries claim WTO victory
05 Dec 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
WTO talks: Anatomy of a failure
01 Dec 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
Seattle trade talks timeline
04 Dec 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
WTO tarnished by Seattle failure
04 Dec 99 |  Business
Anti-WTO protesters claim victory

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