- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

Poor countries around the world are embracing international trade as a key component of their strategies for economic development, a change that has pleased the United States and irritated critics of globalization.

Green groups walked out of the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development, which ended last week, after countries drafted an "action plan" that embraced trade as a way to fight poverty in environmentally friendly ways.

This week, U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick was traveling in the Caribbean, working on a massive free-trade pact involving countries ranging from Canada to Argentina. Mr. Zoellick, a veteran diplomat who worked in the State Department under the first President Bush, said that the developing world has undergone a sea change in how it views trade.

"I have definitely seen a growing understanding about how trade can spur, complement, promote and build support for the internal economic reforms necessary for growth and innovation," he told The Washington Times.

Mr. Zoellick said that the model of Mexico, which has used the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to double its exports to the United States during the past decade, holds strong appeal for other poor countries. The "most encouraging change" has been that desperately poor African countries are more interested in trade now, he said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, for instance, visited Washington earlier this year touting trade as a way to "end the shame of African countries endlessly begging" for handouts from rich nations.

Trying to build on this momentum, the World Bank recently put together a massive "handbook" for officials from poor nations to help them participate in trade talks. It was aimed especially at the new round of negotiations in the World Trade Organization, which began in November in the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar.

The 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the predecessor of last week's Johannesburg gathering, focused heavily on the question of climate change and was marked by heavy criticism of the elder Mr. Bush, who was initially reluctant to attend.

But last week, negotiators dwelled on the role trade and globalization can play in helping countries escape poverty.

The Johannesburg summit gave a full-throated endorsement to the WTO negotiations and its upsides for developing countries. It also backed regional trade pacts, such as NAFTA and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The trade-friendly talk proved too much for environmental groups that flocked to Johannesburg in pursuit of greener globalization. They were seeking tougher rules on multinational businesses and reforms to the WTO.

Toward the end of the summit, a group of eight organizations that called themselves the Eco-Equity Coalition stormed out of the talks, saying the meeting had been hijacked by businesses and countries that favor free trade.

"The summit was supposed to be about bringing environment and sustainability into trade," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate-change program at the World Wildlife Fund, one of the groups. "Instead, Johannesburg was a trade negotiation."

Mr. Zoellick said that nongovernmental groups could be effective in promoting more open trade and investment as a benefit for poor countries if they tried to shape globalization, not stop it.

"The most effective ones recognize that globalization is a force for positive change, and they are drawing attention to areas that need to be better addressed through more openness, not less," he said.

Earlier this year, Oxfam International, a British group that specializes in food and agricultural issues, began a "Make Trade Fair" campaign.

The campaign aims to pressure Europe and the United States to give up agricultural subsidies that encourage overproduction, driving down commodity prices and, consequently, hurting farmers in poor countries.

India's Consumer Unity & Trust Society also has sought to improve trading conditions for developing countries.

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