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|January 10, 2000||
One from the WTO chief's heart: 'I'm not a dictator, I'm not a general, I'm the D-G trying to direct world trade'
Neena Haridas in New Delhi
Mike Moore, director-general, World Trade Organisation, has learnt at least one lesson from the Seattle debacle, and that is: WTO needs to be restructured.
It is his first visit to a foregin country after the Seattle round of WTO talks ended with a distaste. Said Moore: "The WTO would be restructured so as to increase its transparency and openess."
Moore, addressing the Partnership Summit 2000 organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry in New Delhi, said: "I am not blaming anyone for the failure of talks. I think all of us are equally to be blamed. But after Seattle, it is now time for us to give a rethink on multilateral trade.
"Globalisation means that no country can exist in isolation, and there is no existence without cooperation. And cooperation means consensus."
Considering that consensus was precisely what was absent at the Seattle Round, what next for the WTO? Moore said, "That is why I am saying we will restructure the WTO. It needs to be made more flexible. I will be requesting all the members of the WTO to submit their views on how the restructuring can be carried out. You see, the WTO is expanding. It already has 130 members and we have another 30 knocking at the door. With so many members, the very objective of WTO will fail if we are not able to reach a consensus."
Moore said the problem is that there are members who believe the WTO is not fair and is partisan towards rich nations and that everyone is not getting a fair opportunity. "What we should understand is that the WTO is what its members make it to be, it is represented by governments of various countries with different cultural, political and economic backgrounds. But it should be considered that every WTO decision is taken by its member-governments and comes into effect only if it is ratified. The anxiety that the system is unfair is but natural. After all, all great economic and social upheavals in history have had their share of resentment."
But what makes Moore sure that there will be symphony in next round of WTO? "That is why I want another round soon. The sooner the better and it is my responsibility to see to it that all goes well." Although non-committed on how soon the next round will start, Moore said his prime concern now is to make the members realise that WTO's core competency lies in trade.
Does this mean social issues will take a backseat at the next round? Moore replied, "Of course trade does not operate in a vacuum. But our core competency is trade. We are not an environment institution or a labour institution. We will work in tandem with other institutions and try to reach a consensus. See, the operative word again is consensus."
In fact, Moore has often been accused of partisan attitude by non-governmental organisations on account of labour and environmental issues. Said Moore, "Yes, some NGOs have accused me of being a dictator. And I keep telling them that I am not a general, I'm only a director-general, trying hard to be a director. We do have a fundamental cutltural problems and the only answer to this is transparency.
"I get very irritated when NGOs who are not transparent themselves, criticise me. I personally interact with these NGOs and try to explain to them that WTO does not have solutions to every problem in the world. After all, we are not here to lay down rules on how prisoners must be treated. But of course it is a concern to us as to how the textile industry in Bangladesh works."
Be that as it may, what about the widening gap between the rich and the poor nations? Moore said, "There is this inherent problem. From where I come from, there is this section of people who are collecting clothes and making donations for countries they think are underdeveloped, and on the other, the same set of people will sign memoranda demanding that these countries should not be allowed to export. That is the paradox. However, I don't agree with the argument that the WTO has done nothing to help bridge the gap.
Taking the example of Bangaldesh again, he said, "The textile industry here was exporting goods worth about $1 million a few years ago, and after the WTO, the exports have risen to $ 4 billion. According to OECD reports, a new round of trade liberalisation will boost world economic output by 3 per cent or over $3 trillion and developing countries like India would stand to benefit most.
"China's GDP will grow 5.5 per cent, sub-Saharan Africa's by 3.7 per cent and India's GDP would grow by 9.6 per cent."
Even as this could be a possibility, India has been concerned by the alleged step-motherly treatment that agriculture has been getting from the other members of the WTO. Moore said: "There are specific concerns and at least India's concern has been expressed word-to-word at the talks."
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