Davos debates future of free trade

Delegates at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos have been discussing the future of free trade, following the breakdown of talks at last year's World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle.

This content was published on January 28, 2000 - 19:07

Delegates at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos have been discussing the future of free trade, following the breakdown of talks at last year's World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle.

The WEF meeting is the biggest gathering of political and business leaders since the Seattle summit, which was overshadowed by violent anti-WTO demonstrations. The discussions on a further round of liberalisation collapsed after developing countries refused to sign an agreement which they denounced as heavily weighted towards the needs of richer nations.

During a debate in Davos, the WTO's director-general, Mike Moore, defended his organisation and its role in promoting free trade.

"Despite the overwhelming evidence of the last 50 years when so many people have seen incomes rise, literacy rates increase and infant mortality rates go down," he said, "we still can't take free trade for granted. We must always re-establish our credentials."

For his part, the United States trade unionist, John Sweeney, who is President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organisations, urged the WTO to rethink its role.

He expressed sympathy for developing nations and for the protestors who disrupted the WTO meeting in Seattle. He said the protest had been a political alarm call.

"The fundamental question is whether globalisation is helping to lift the poor from poverty," he said, "whether it is empowering the many or just the few, whether its blessings are shared widely and whether it functions for working people."

Moore argued that it was. He said the biggest mistake for people in the developed world would be to tell those in poorer countries that they needn't participate in the high-tech revolution that was transforming the global economy. And he warned developing nations not to hold the Geneva-based WTO to ransom.

The division between supporters and opponents of globalisation looks set to remain one of the biggest political and economic issues in the coming years.

By Michael Hollingdale

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