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|December 9, 1999||
Clinton delinks WTO labour agenda from Indo-US trade
C K Arora in Washington
US President Bill Clinton on Wednesday night clarified that his insistence on the inclusion of labour standards in the World Trade Organisation agenda did not mean that ''I would cut off our markets to India and Pakistan, for example, if they didn't raise their wages to American levels.''
''I know that's what the sort of stated fear was. I never said that, I don't believe that,'' the President said at a press conference here, in reply to a question about the failure of the Seattle WTO ministerial meeting last week.
Justifying the US stand, opposed by India and other developing countries, he said, ''We do have to be sensitive to the developing countries. We cannot say that, you know, you are out of here because you cannot have the same labour environment we do. All we asked for was to start a dialogue within the WTO on trade issues.''
On the environment, the other issue opposed by India, Clinton said, ''All we ask is, is that decision-making process not degrading the environment when countries have environmental policies and interests, but just blithely override them because there's an immediate, short-term economic benefit?''
To drive home his point, Clinton gave an analogy of intellectual property protection the inclusion of which in the trade was opposed several years ago by Europeans and others. ''And now, we just take it as a given,'' he added.
''I believe that ten years from now, somebody will be sitting here, and we'll all take it for granted that we've come a long way in integrating trade and the environment -- I mean, trade and labour. That's what I think, and that's what I believe,'' he added.
Clinton said his critics were wrong in suggesting that he pressed the issues of the environment and labour at Seattle to benefit the presidential candidacy of Vice-President Al Gore, knowing that there might be a backlash from the developing nations.
''So it's very important that you understand that there were real differences that we thought we could bridge, unrelated to labour and the environment, which we couldn't and which I think would have been clearer, but for the backdrop of the demonstrations in Seattle over these other issues,'' he added.
President Clinton recalled that the Uruguay Round was launched in 1986 though the trade ministers started trying to launch it in 1982. It took them four years to get it off the ground. The fundamental reason that a new round was not launched in Seattle had, in his judgement, ''very little to do with my philosophy of trade,'' he added.
He said, "There were big blocks here of the Europeans and the Japanese, on the one hand, the United States and the developing nations, on the other. They all had positions that couldn't be reconciled."
He said the Europeans were not prepared at this time to change their common agricultural policy, which accounted for 85 per cent of the export subsidies in the world. The Japanese had their own agricultural and other issues to deal with. The United States was not prepared to change its policy on dumping, because the recent Asian financial crisis justified that.
''Even though we did finally move under our dumping laws, and we had to move, to try to keep our steel industry, which took down 60 per cent of its employment and modernised during the 1980s and the early 1990s, we still bought ten times as much steel during that crisis as the European did,'' the President said.
Clinton said the developing nations, for their part, felt that they had not yet gotten enough benefits from the last trade round and the entry into the WTO. ''They think that we and everybody else -- the Europeans, the Japanese, everybody -- they think we ought to have more open markets for agricultural products, which doesn't affect America so much, and for textiles, which does affect us. That's the big issue being negotiated still with the Caribbean basin and the Africa trade,'' he added.
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