Review Essay

Free Trade Optimism: Lessons From the Battle in Seattle

In This Review

A World Without Walls: Freedom, Development, Free Trade and Global Governance
By Mike Moore
Cambridge University Press, 2003 302 pp. $28.00 Purchase

Within two months of taking office as the new director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Mike Moore was handed a major setback at the now-famous "tear-gas ministerial" conference of November 1999 in Seattle. With protesters wreaking havoc outside, Moore, a former prime minister of New Zealand, was unable to prevail on the assembled government officials to conclude an agreement that would launch a new round of trade negotiations. To the WTO's opponents, the collapse of the meeting represented the high point of their crusade against "corporate-led globalization." Even to its supporters, it appeared that the WTO had suffered a near-fatal blow, from which it would recover only very gradually, if at all.

Yet two years later, when trade ministers met again in the more secluded environment of Doha, Qatar, they were able to walk out with an agreed framework in hand. The Doha meeting launched a "Development Round" of trade negotiations (which is still stumbling along) and inaugurated China as a member of the WTO. The death knells for Mike Moore's WTO, it turns out, had sounded prematurely.

Moore's determination to bridge the gaps that separated the United States from the European Union (EU) and the rich countries from the poor ones was not the only reason for Doha's success. Doha took place scarcely two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the pressure was high, particularly on the advanced countries, to prevent another failure that would have sapped confidence in the global economy's ability to weather the shock. Of critical importance was the willingness of the United States to accede -- eventually and grudgingly -- to developing-country demands in the area of intellectual property rights by signing on to a statement that existing WTO agreements do not and should not prevent members from taking measures to protect public health. Nonetheless, Moore will be remembered by friends and foes of the WTO alike as the man who put the international trade regime back on track.


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