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<nettime> WTO Replies To Critics
Ellen Gould on Fri, 17 Sep 1999 01:51:36 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> WTO Replies To Critics

Financial Times interview with the new WTO head, Michael Moore.

Financial Times, September 3, 1999

The World Trade Organisation needs to promote the benefits of globalisation
for poor as well as rich countries, its new head tells Guy de Jonquieres

Mike Moore, who took over this week as head of the World Trade
Organisation, is a committed champion of the underdog. The son of a poor
New Zealand farming family, he was a social worker and trades union
official before he entered politics and served briefly as the country's
prime minister. He says he knows what it is like to be struggling and

"What has been important to me in my life, intellectually and morally, is a
burning sense of unfairness and injustice," he says. "I keep finding myself
instinctively on the side of the battlers, of those who have been knocked
out, who haven't got the benefits, who cannot engage."

Mr Moore's social idealism is as unusual in the stuffy diplomatic
environment of the WTO as his chummy, no-nonsense manner. He eats in the
WTO canteen rather than the executive dining room, and has impressed staff
by making impromptu visits to their offices. He is also the first
non-European to hold the world's top trade job.

His open and approachable style is likely to prove an asset in a post whose
influence depends on personal diplomacy. Lacking formal powers or big
budgetary resources, Mr Moore, who is 50, will need to convince WTO members
that he will serve all of them as impartial referee, conciliator and

He has no time to lose. The job has lain vacant since May, and important
business has stagnated, while the organisation's 134 members struggled to
resolve a bitter deadlock over who should succeed Renato Ruggiero as its

Furthermore, the WTO is increasingly under attack from vociferous and
well-organised opponents of globalisation, who are threatening mass
protests at its ministerial meeting in Seattle in late November. Mr Moore
expects responding to such critics to be an important part of his job.

He is confident that the leadership contest has left no lasting scars,
insisting the run-up to the Seattle meeting will force governments to
unite. He also says he is on good terms with Supachai Panitchpakdi, his
Thai rival for the job, who will succeed him in three years' time.

The Seattle meeting is supposed to set the world trade agenda into the next
millennium. However, partly because of delays caused by the leadership
contest, WTO members are still far from agreeing on objectives, or how to
achieve them.

Richer countries are calling, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, for a new
world trade round. But many poor ones are cautious, saying industrialised
economies must first do more to help them by implementing liberalisation
pledged in the Uruguay Round.

Mr Moore declines to spell out a detailed wish-list for the Seattle
meeting. But he believes its outcome will hinge on how generous
industrialised powers will be. "They know they are not going to get the
things they want out of Seattle unless others can see some benefit," he says.

A tight-fisted attitude would not only blight the meeting but could also
set back reform efforts in developing countries. "There are lots of
terrific people out there trying to make a go of it. For them to fail
because wealthy countries won't allow access to their markets would be

Mr Moore would like tariffs abolished on poor countries' exports. But he
says their plight cannot be tackled through trade liberalisation alone. He
is ready to fight for an increase in the WTO's skimpy budget, to provide
them with more advice and support, and wants to intensify co-operation on
development programmes with the World Bank and other international economic

His motives are as much ethical as economic. He says he believes in the WTO
and a rules-based multilateral trade system because they promote
international justice by protecting the rights of countries so small that
"prime ministers answer the switchboard".

That, he says, is a point the WTO's critics have failed to grasp. "The
people who march in Seattle will be marching against opportunities for poor
countries to sell their products and services . . . the countries that have
been more open have better human rights, better living standards and more

In one sense, Mr Moore sees the popular controversy surrounding the WTO as
a healthy symptom: "During the Uruguay Round, we complained about apathy.
In Seattle, we'll be complaining about activists." He also says many of the
WTO's critics are "good kids".

However, he is angered by allegations by non-governmental organisations
that the WTO is undemocratic, and by their claims to represent a broad
swathe of public opinion. "It does irritate us that someone who never sells
a product, never gets a vote and doesn't actually do anything can come out
and attack you."

They needed to remember that the WTO was bound by rules made by the
representatives of member governments, which in turn were chosen by their

"When I see this institution being told it's undemocratic, I think of the
ambassador of India, the greatest democracy on earth. I think of small
island states that have to form governments for a few thousand people. This
is their institution. It's as democratic as it gets."

What worries him is not the often flawed arguments used by the WTO's
critics, but the growing influence they exert on national governments and
parliaments. Several non-governmental organisations, he says, have bigger
budgets and more educated people at their disposal than some sovereign

So how can the WTO fight back? Making its procedures more open to public
scrutiny is not enough, Mr Moore believes. He plans to take on its
detractors directly by taking every opportunity to broadcast the message
that everybody gains from free trade.

The recovery of the global economy from turmoil in emerging markets was a
huge tribute to the resilience of the trade system. "Just imagine the
implications for Asia if markets in the north had closed. Sometimes it's
the dog that doesn't bark that ought to be listened to. These are things
that ought to be celebrated and said over and over again."

............................................. Bob Olsen, Toronto
bobolsen {AT} interlog.com .............................................

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