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A Report from Seattle - Pacific Journal
Secretary General's Letter
Pacific Journal
February 2000

HAVING ATTENDED THE RECENT WTO Ministerial Meeting in Seattle, I am eager to share some of my observations, impressions, and thoughts with all of you.

First of all let me say that WTO Director General Michael Moore deserves a tremendous amount of credit for handling an extremely difficult situation with grace under pressure. As the WTO must now turn its attention to rebuilding support for its agenda, it could not be in more capable hands than Director General Moore. The business community in Seattle likewise deserves credit for organizing some excellent, well balanced, and thought provoking conference sessions. Unfortunately, these Herculean efforts were often obscured by the smoke and haze in the streets.

While the violence and senseless destruction of property in Seattle must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, we must not let this obscure the fact that there were also many responsible individuals and organizations articulating legitimate positions. The concerns expressed over the impact of globalization on the environment and the average working person must be weighed very carefully.

But perhaps more so than the protests, the breakdown in Seattle might have been the result of trying to do too much too soon, without adequate preparatory work. The huge gulf in the negotiating positions between not only the developed and developing world, but also between the US, the EU, and Japan, was probably too big to be bridged in such a short period of time. Deeply entrenched positions in areas such as agriculture and anti-dumping could not be easily reconciled. These challenges were exacerbated by the recent leadership vacuum within the WTO. Because of a protracted battle over the selection of the new Director General, there was a gap of several months during the spring and summer in which the WTO was essentially leaderless. The WTO Deputy Directors were not in place until just before the Ministerial.

Lack of leadership by the United States, Japan, and the European Union also helped to undermine progress in Seattle. These nations should be setting the model for the WTO in trade and investment liberalization. Instead, they seem to be all too frequently mired in drawn out and acrimonious debates and disagreements over politically charged trade issues. It is time for the leaders to lead, to finally put aside petty bickering, and to implement free trade in practice as well as theory.

But perhaps the most telling reason for the breakdown in Seattle was the ongoing failure to state the case - clearly and unambiguously, - for the benefits of globalization and the WTO's efforts to liberalize trade and investment. This is a role that PBEC can and must play.

The "end game" of the WTO is simple: to eliminate poverty and to permit all the peoples of the world to raise their standard of living. Trade and investment liberalization have been one of the strongest engines driving economic growth, rising per capita incomes, greater access to education, health care, and a higher quality of life for all.

Unfortunately, this side of the story was not effectively articulated in Seattle. Worse yet, a good deal of misinformation about the WTO and globalization seems to have seeped into the debate.

One of the most frustrating pieces of misinformation I heard propagated again and again in Seattle was that "nameless, faceless WTO bureaucrats" would somehow be empowered to dictate laws in the United States. I must point out that the Constitution of the United States, for instance, is fairly clear on this matter. Laws are made in the Congress and the Executive branch by the duly elected representatives of the people. Period. Not in Geneva, and certainly not by the WTO.

The assertion that the WTO is somehow undemocratic is equally hard to fathom. The overwhelming majority of the 130 some-odd nations that gathered in Seattle represent democratically elected governments. The trade negotiators and trade ministers are serving at the pleasure of the citizens who elected them and their political superiors. This is all the more true in parliamentary systems where the trade ministers are members of parliament who stand for election in their districts. In these democratic nations, the power resides in the hands of the people as they select their representatives at the ballot box, not in the hands of "nameless, faceless WTO bureaucrats."

I am proud that our organization, the Pacific Basin Economic Council (PBEC) has been a leader in raising, debating, and discussing many of these same issues - from the environment to social responsibility and anti-corruption -- long before they were played out in such a dramatic fashion on the streets of Seattle. In fact, I am extremely pleased that the agenda for PBEC's upcoming International General Meeting (IGM) - coming to Hawaii for the first time in March of 2000 -- reflects many of these important issues and PBEC's commitment to assessing and addressing all aspects of globalization. This will be the first major international business meeting in the region in the wake of the Seattle WTO Ministerial.

In PBEC, we celebrate and reward those companies that promote sound environmentalism in their business practices. We are looking forward with great pride to presenting our second annual environmental award at our upcoming Hawaii IGM, to recognize PBEC member companies that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to promoting and protecting the environment. It is our hope that by drawing attention to companies that have developed exemplary environmental practices we can encourage others to reach for even higher standards in environmental responsibility. It is gratifying to see the level of commitment within PBEC companies to the environment and to leaving a better world for our children.

In a panel on social responsibility, the IGM will feature speakers from some of the most progressive and forward looking companies in the world. Business leaders who recognize that corporate responsibilities extend beyond the bottom line - to the larger community of neighborhoods, families, and individuals. PBEC has been a longtime proponent of the notion that companies must not only be concerned about dollars and cents, but also must contribute in a positive way to the larger society in which they operate.

As I talked with the participants, protestors, and observers at the WTO Ministerial, it was interesting to note how many visitors from developing nations expressed their incredulity that Seattle, a city which has flourished so much as a result of international trade, would become the focal point for anti-trade protests. If you doubt the benefits of globalization, they seemed to be saying, open your eyes and look around you! Perhaps the developed world could learn a thing or two from our friends in the developing world.

Despite the lack of a final agreement, a tremendous amount of progress was made in Seattle. Now is the time for the WTO to regroup, to learn the lessons from Seattle, and to rebuild support for a new round of trade negotiations.