Free traders need to heed rioters concerns

25 February 2000

Free traders need to heed rioters concerns

WORLD Trade Organisation officials would do well to listen to the concerns of rioters who disrupted the recent Seattle talks, the conference heard.

Most were not extremists, but reasonable people asking for reasonable objectives, said former farm minister, John Gummer.

"They wanted to ensure that demand for free trade – which many accept is important for future prosperity – is not absolute, but is seen in the context of other important demands. They wanted to ensure that nations could have the power to make decisions about their own environment."

The WTO, run by people who thought that free trade was paramount, had to differentiate between legitimate ethical concerns and protectionist policies, Mr Gummer maintained. "Terms of trade have to take on that further dimension."

For example, it was unacceptable for Europe not to be able to decide if, when and at what pace GMOs should be introduced. "There are real environmental concerns. Our farming is so much closer to our wildlife, and movement of genes is quite possible in this country, and in the rest of Europe.

"It is the legitimacy of these differences that the WTO has to take seriously. The market might be the proper way to run the economy, but it is not the proper way to run civilisation."

Thomas Hamby, of the United States Department of Agriculture, admitted that US and EU policies on ethics in agricultural trade were a long way apart. "Although there is a massive culture clash, we must sort it out." He hinted the US may be prepared to soften its stance. &#42

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