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WTO meeting plagued by divisions, protests

International trade talks currently underway in the United States are marked by deep divisions and public protests over just how far the 135-nation World Trade Organisation should move down the road of tearing down trade barriers.

This content was published on November 30, 1999 - 08:28

International trade talks currently underway in the United States are marked by deep divisions and public protests over just how far the 135-nation World Trade Organisation should move down the road of tearing down trade barriers.

While thousands of protesters have descended on the host city Seattle to stage their vociferous protests against what they see as the WTO’s “destructive” trade policies, the organisation is also showing major clashes within its own ranks.

Essentially, the talks are aimed at cutting tariffs and other trade barriers in sectors ranging from agriculture and construction to entertainment, telecommunciations and electronic commerce. But just who will lower which tariffs remains a major bone of contention.

The United States, for instance, has accused Japan of being “…on the brink of torpedoing the whole idea of a new trade round.”

A number of WTO nations, including Japan, want the talks to review anti-dumping laws, which allow Washington to impose punitive duties and tariffs on foreign-made products which it deems are sold at less than production costs. But the U.S. has refused to discuss the issue.

Thousands of protestors, many of them belonging to non-governmental organisations, accuse industrialised nations of bending free trade regulations their way in order to keep down potential economic competition from developing nations.

Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin said it was very important to involve NGOs in trade talks but added that they did not represent the overall world opinion on trade matters.

“I’m convinced that in our countries there is still a great majority of citizens who are convinced that it is a good thing to have free trade, to have rules, to give a frame to the development of free trade,” he told journalists in Seattle.

Many protestors in Seattle accused the WTO of running a secret trade dictatorship, killing people and animals around the globe.

WTO chief Mike Moore firmly rejected those allegations.

“It (WTO) does not overrule national laws. It does not force countries to kill turtles or lower wages or employ children in factories, " Moore told journalists in Seattle.

From staff and wire reports.

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