- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 1999

Protesters won the Battle in Seattle last week. Activists donning campy costumes successfully foiled global hopes of setting an agenda to kick off a new round of trade talks last week because they were backed by a most powerful ally: President Bill Clinton.
Mr. Clinton was nominally the host of the delegates from the 135 countries attending the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle. Although the president was supposed to be guiding talks forward, he seemed more inclined to playing host to the 35,000 protesters outside. At times, Mr. Clinton seemed almost to be egging them on.
“What they are telling us in the streets is this … we’re not going to be silent anymore. The sooner we open up the process, the sooner there will be less demonstrations,” Mr. Clinton said. Unfortunately, Mr. Clinton didn’t see fit to criticize the protesters that physically barred his guests from entering the WTO meeting.
“We could’ve run the thing a lot better in Australia. In fact, it could have been run a lot better in many parts of the world,” said Mark Vaile, Australia’s trade minister, reported Reuters. The primary reason why Mr. Clinton was unable to put on a better show for his guests was ironically the object of so much protest in Seattle the power of money. Mr. Clinton is indebted to the labor and environmental groups that have contributed generously to his campaigns and which happen to oppose free trade. These special interests will more than likely continue to supply the campaign coffers of Vice President Al Gore.
In an interview Tuesday with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Mr. Clinton for the first time said he was in favor of eventually imposing sanctions against countries that violate international labor standards. Delegates from around the world were aghast at Mr. Clinton’s comments, which they saw as an attempt to protect U.S. industries from exports made in developing countries that have lower labor costs.
The new round of trade talks in Seattle was intended especially to help Third World countries by giving them access to the markets of developed economies. Instead, Mr. Clinton made sure that Mr. Al Gore would be the chief beneficiary, by pandering to labor groups. Mr. Clinton’s intentions weren’t lost on his guests. “That the election campaign in the U.S. was a problem … that is a fact,” said Pascal Lami, the European Union’s (EU) trade commissioner. “It is not blaming anyone except us, collectively, and the choice that was made to have this in Seattle in December 1999.” It was quite clear just who Mr. Lami was blaming. If Mr. Clinton wasn’t going to muster the courage to stand up to labor, then why host the trade meeting?
The next U.S. president will certainly have to work hard to redeem the damage done to the United States’ reputation. The eyes of the world were on Seattle and unfortunately the protectionists won. One has to be a magician to reach any accord, Mr. Lami said last week. Although magic would have helped, what was most conspicuously missing was political will.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide