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TRADE: WTO Postpones Evaluation of Seattle Fiasco

Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Dec 17 1999 (IPS) - The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has put off, at least until January, any process of introspection on the causes of the disaster suffered earlier this month at its Third Ministerial Conference in the U.S. city of Seattle, Washington.

The WTO general council decided Friday to suspend until “early next year” examination of the organisation’s activities, following the resounding failure of the conference which was expected to launch a new round of international trade talks.

A declaration by council president Ali Mchumo, of Tanzania, said the organisation’s sessions will reopen “as soon as possible” to discuss the third point still pending on the agenda, which covers the events in Seattle.

The conference concluded Dec 3, its fourth and final day of deliberations, without adopting any decisions and, more importantly, without convoking the much-publicised new round of talks to deepen trade liberalisation.

Among the factors listed in explaining the fiasco, analysts mentioned the protectionist inflexibility of the major trade powers with respect to developing countries, and the lack of technical preparation by the WTO Secretariat.

They also attributed the failure to the tense climate in Seattle created by thousands of a activists, of all stripes, who protested in the streets throughout the meeting.

But officials from several governments think that a deeper analysis is still needed in order to determine the causes of the diplomatic setback.

A Latin American delegate who requested anonymity said that the need for an in-depth evaluation justifies suspending the general council’s sessions until January.

At the end of December, numerous temporary norms will expire that regulate different aspects of international trade, but the multilateral system has yet to find formulaes to replace them.

Mchumo’s declaration also stated that the agreements expiring at the end of the month will be taken up in the council’s discussions at a date yet to be announced.

Mchumo asked that WTO member-states act during this period with “due moderation,” given the risk that a judicial vacuum could unleash an avalanche of legal cases among the members.

At the request of the United States, the council president’s declaration stated that such “due moderation” in behaviour must not affect the rights and obligations of the member nations.

Among the regulations that will expire Dec 31 are norms referring to agreements on trade-related investments, intellectual property, Internet trade, and subsidies.

The Friday session of the permanent council approved Jordan’s admission into the WTO, which will take legal effect 30 days after the Arab nation’s parliament ratifies the agreement.

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