Courtesy Reuters

Learning to Love the WTO

CLUELESS IN SEATTLE

As the WTO gears up for its biannual ministerial meeting this November in Seattle, American trade policy is adrift and under siege. From unions and corporations seeking protectionist favors to idealistic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) battling for the environment, special interests are trying to sideline Washington and increase their own leverage within U.S. trade policy. Neuralgic American isolationism from both left and right continues to resist U.S. participation in the World Trade Organization, while traditional allies like Europe balk at what they see as America's unilateralist arrogance in settling disputes.

Washington must revive its traditional commitment to trade liberalization across the globe. Opening new markets and slashing trade barriers should remain its top priority. The United States should vigorously support the continued liberalization of agriculture and services that began in the 1992 Uruguay Round trade negotiations and press for further tariff-slashing in manufactured goods. It should also push the WTO to rein in antidumping laws and develop a coherent antitrust policy to tackle trade disputes.

Most important, the United States must remember that the advent of the WTO has radically changed today's trade environment. However well robust unilateral sanctions against protectionist nations may once have served American interests, the playing field has now become more level. Instead of using its economic muscle to pry open markets unilaterally, the United States now must work within multilateral institutions to advance liberal trade and rebuild trust among partners. Just as important, it must address the challenge posed by the new unilateralists in the American debate: the NGOs. Washington should adopt a multilateral strategy to accommodate the environmental and social issues encroaching on the trade debate without letting their interest-group patrons hijack the U.S. trade agenda. The best way to do this is by encouraging other international bodies to tackle the host of new issues and discourage the haphazard use of trade policy to promote these concerns. Only then can the WTO remain free to focus on liberalizing trade and settling

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