Posted at 10:17 p.m. PST; Sunday, December 5,
The Seattle Times Company
What's ahead for the WTO
When the World Trade Organization finished its work here, it was to have issued a
declaration outlining the size and scope of future world trade talks. But because the
talks here collapsed, there was no document.
Draft copies of what such a document might have looked like circulated around the
meeting. One of the most complete showed the WTO was ready to begin a minimal
round of trade talks on the basic issues before them - agriculture, services and
overall world tariffs.
Here is a look at various issues and what happened:
The issue: It's the most contentious of issues and in some way the deal breaker. The
United States and a group of agricultural exporting nations known as the Cairns
Group were close to a deal that would have called for gradual reductions in export
subsidies leading toward their eventual elimination. The European Union, which
heavily subsidies its farmers, resisted the move. No agreement was reached.
What's ahead: Previously scheduled WTO talks on agriculture will begin in January,
but it is now much less likely that the EU will agree to far-reaching concessions on
The issue: The U.S. made labor rights one of its objectives. The U.S. had proposed
a working group be set up in the WTO to look at the issue. Developing nations
opposed the idea, seeing it as a form of rich-country protectionism. When President
Clinton said the working group should develop labor standards enforceable by trade
sanctions, developing nations were incensed.
What's ahead: Labor rights is off the table with no plans to bring it up again.
The issue: It's fairly simple - an extension of a moratorium on charging duties on
Internet sales and software. There was little opposition to the idea and draft
statements supported an extension.
What's ahead: The existing moratorium is in effect until February.
Reforming the WTO
The issue: This was known as transparency in the talks. The idea was to make the
WTO more open, more accountable to the public, especially in its key dispute
resolution process. This was another goal of the Clinton administration. Many
countries opposed it, saying the WTO was a government-to-government
organization, precluding outside influence.
What's ahead: An existing study group will continue to look at the issue. Draft
declarations called on individual countries to do more about explaining the role of
the WTO and bringing outside interests into the process.
The issue: Environmental groups pushed for the WTO to open up several
agreements and specifically link trade with environmental concerns. Most WTO
members said existing WTO protections were adequate.
What's ahead: More debate and more pressure from environmental groups are
coming. New measures failed to make any draft declarations.
The issue: About six categories of industrial products, including timber, paper and
other forest products, were to be in a group where existing tariffs, or taxes on
imports, would be lowered. It was opposed by environmentalists.
What's ahead: No action is expected.
The issue: The failure of the talks will disappoint many U.S. companies.
Agricultural companies had counted on tariff reductions and subsidies to give a big
lift to exports. Electronic-commerce companies had high hopes that the WTO would
extend a moratorium on taxation of Internet transactions.
What's ahead: Either of those areas could be negotiated separately in the future, but
the prospect of progress is uncertain.
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