Domestic politics and international diplomacy are a hard mix. The Clinton-Gore Administration's destructive handling of the recent World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle dramatically illustrates this point. The Administration chose politics over substance and worsened the deepening divisions between the United States and our European allies. In addition, Presidential pandering to fringe environmental groups and delinquent rioting teenagers, infuriated all the delegates and further served to derail the launching of a new round. The Clinton-Gore Administration chose to walk away from advancing America's agricultural and technological interests rather than make any compromise that could have been risky to domestic politics and their determination to avoid anything that might come back to haunt them in next year's campaigns..
The United States accepted an incremental reduction of European agriculture subsidies rather than demanding their complete elimination which had been a pre-Seattle goal. Our farms and ranches are the most advanced and efficient in the world and "special protections" will serve other countries, such as Japan and the European Union, as they weaken our farmer's competitiveness in the world. Negotiators also gave up without much of a fight the drive to gain wider acceptance of genetically modified foods. The United States has pioneered the use of genetics, using the latest technologies to increase food production. The safety of these biotech foods are completely backed up by science. The United States also acquiesced to the delegations from several other countries by allowing them to question American anti-dumping practices, such as Section 201 that has been effectively used by our sheep industry.
The President's visit to the WTO was a huge source of confusion for foreign delegates attending the conference. His appearance there changed the level of communication. He was the only head of a government there. This was a ministerial meeting for the trade representatives and ambassadors from 130 different countries. Injecting the presidency in this conference put an extra level of pressure on the negotiations. There were instances where the U.S. negotiators were doing their level best to interpret the President's press conferences to other participating countries. Every word President Clinton spoke was interpreted from an ambassadorial standpoint where individual words are very important as opposed to a presidential political level where broad concepts are conveyed. These two levels of discussions made for a great disconnect in the dialogue between negotiators.
It is important for people to understand that no new trade agreements being discussed in Seattle would have required changes in U.S. environmental or labor laws. Each member country has an official representative to the WTO. Nothing can be accomplished except by a consensus of all WTO members. When an agreement is reached by the 130 member countries, it must be agreed upon by the congressional or parliamentary bodies of each individual country. In the United States that would be the House and the Senate. Congress is at all times ultimately in the driver's seat.
All is not lost. but it will take some time to recover from the damage done in Seattle. Although talks are scheduled to begin again in three months for agriculture and services, sentiment isn't high that there will be any agreement for how to go forward in these two areas until after the Presidential election next year. Most of the meetings I participated in at the Seattle meeting were not tied to whether an outline for negotiation was completed or not. They focused on cementing relationships with countries to which Wyoming currently exports or would like to export products in the future, including beef and trona. China was one of the primary countries we are interested in from an agricultural and soda ash standpoint. Its leaders have agreed to the terms of a bilateral agreement with the United States and will begin accepting products from Wyoming and the United States at the new tariff levels needed to gain acceptance into the WTO. They are going forward with the bilateral agreement as a sign of good faith and commitment to full membership and the expected responsibilities and benefits accorded a WTO member country.
We must remember that America has always set an example for the world to follow when it comes to the expressing of democratic ideals, free-market policies, regulatory standards - you name it. Trade is no exception. Knowing this, we should provide responsible leadership on trade issues. Just as we expect foreign countries to allow U.S. products and services to gain fair access to their markets, foreign countries expect to gain fair market access to the U.S. market. Putting these principles of fairness for both our businesses and foreign businesses into action, along with our continued efforts to expand market access for U.S. goods and services abroad, will help encourage a better worldwide trading system.