Lessons of the WTO Summit

Lessons of the WTO Summit

Lessons of the WTO Summit

What the foreign papers are saying.
Dec. 7 1999 3:30 AM

Lessons of the WTO Summit

The Indian press has grown a little smug since the collapse of the Seattle trade talks and the victory of the Indian representative in the Miss World competition in London this weekend. The Hindu said Sunday that the "big revelation" of the World Trade Organization conference was that, perhaps for the first time, developing countries insisted on being heard. It also noted "an incredibly sloppy organisation in one of the wealthiest cities in the world's richest country," which it said "bordered on the ludicrous. Ministers of some of the smaller developing countries were denied entry to halls where closed talks between the larger countries were on. When they did manage to get past security they found no chairs for them. And senior government delegates complained that as the negotiations stretched early into Friday morning, there was no drinking water available either." The ambassador of one small developing country told the Hindu, "Seattle was a lesson in humility to a group of developed countries which thinks it owns the WTO."

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In an editorial Monday about the crowning of Yukta Mookhey, 20, a zoology graduate from Mumbai, as Miss World 1999, the Times of India said it was not her achievement alone. "That India produces such beauty--physical and intellectual--is entirely due to the fantastic genetic pool it draws upon and the cross fertilisation of ideas it swears by," the paper said. "While taking to modernity with great gusto, we have made this otherwise terrifying monster in our own image. While other civilisations, with their 'insect origins,' fumble with such ideas as the timeless and ethereal qualities of a woman's beauty, our beginnings attest to these ideals from time immemorial. … The Indian achievement is a combination of lightness and gravitas, of bridging the gap between the highbrow and the middlebrow, and rediscovering for itself the inextricable link between the body, mind and soul." The paper contains much more in this self-congratulatory vein.

The Financial Times of London called the collapse of the WTO talks a "disaster" and a "calamity" for which the United States and the European Union were mostly to blame. "The WTO is not some alien monster, but their own creation," the FT said Monday in an editorial. "They must now save it from the consequences of their cowardice and folly." Otherwise, the rule of law in world trade would be replaced by the law of the jungle. Papers around the world struggled to identify the lessons of Seattle. Le Monde of Paris called it a victory for "a new idea"--that "the world is not for sale." The protesters in Seattle, it said in an editorial, were pleading for "a new world order, one of an open world but of a world which isn't, under any circumstances, reduced to mere merchandise."

Writing Monday in the National Post of Canada, David Frum said that the demonstrations were symptoms of an "ever-worsening global problem-shortage." He wrote, "With peace and prosperity blanketing ever larger stretches of the globe--with nuclear weapons being decommissioned and Unionists and Nationalists entering into government together in Northern Ireland--we are in danger of reaching a state of affairs where there is nothing left to protest." An editorial in Australia's Sydney Morning Herald Monday said it was the failure among WTO member states to put the common good above vested interests, and not the street demonstrations, that caused the collapse of the conference. "To ignore this in favour of viewing the resulting impasse as a victory of the forces of light (ordinary people or at least their self-appointed representatives) over the forces of darkness (that is, proponents of free trade) is to create a false, misleading, and ultimately harmful dichotomy," the paper said.

The Jerusalem Post said the Seattle riots proved "that the prediction of the end of history was premature." An editorial  in Sunday's paper said, "The ideological struggles of the twentieth century may have culminated over the past decade with the unquestionable triumph of capitalism over socialism, but that has not meant that strong--and strongly felt--differences of opinion over what our capitalist future will look like do not abound." In Japan, Asahi Shimbun said Sunday that the failure of the talks had damaged the credibility of the WTO and given the United States "a black eye." The paper said it is clear that one of the organization's greatest challenges is to convince the public of the advantages of freer trade but that the conference could not have come at a worse time: "Washington lacked leadership in painting a future for the WTO, and its conference was void of passion and vision."

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Following the death after an attempted robbery in Monaco of billionaire Syrian-born banker Edmond J. Safra, the Jerusalem Post Sunday praised his work for Israeli Sephardim through the International Sephardi Education Foundation, of which he was the chief benefactor. Leon Levy, president of the American Sephardi Federation, described Safra as "devoted to Jewish life in the world." Safra's largess also included chairs at the universities of Harvard and Pennsylvania, synagogues, hospitals, the New York Holocaust Museum, and the Institute for Sephardic Studies at Yeshiva University in New York City. Three years ago, he donated Albert Einstein's earliest manuscript on the theory of relativity to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.