Published on Saturday, February 12, 2000 by Agence France-Presse
UN Chief Annan Slams Powerful Nations At Global Trade Talks

BANGKOK - UN chief Kofi Annan attacked the world's most powerful nations at the opening of major trade talks Saturday, blaming them for scuppering last year's WTO talks and stunting the development of poor countries.

Annan said the "leading economic powers" were solely responsible for the spectacular failure of the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle, which was supposed to launch a new round of trade negotiations.

He described as a "popular myth" the belief that the talks were derailed by the violent protests which paralysed the summit's program.

"The round was not launched because governments -- particularly those of the world's leading economic powers -- could not agree on their priorities," he told the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Developing nations played a more "active and united role" in the Seattle talks than ever before, he said, while the industrial powers bickered among themselves and showed they did not have the will to implement reforms.

UNCTAD, which has earned a reputation as an advocate of poor nations, aims to bring developing nations into the global economic fold and calm fierce anti-trade sentiment.

But even before Annan opened the talks, 1,000 anti-globalisation protestors marched on the conference venue in central Bangkok, demanding immediate action to share the spoils of globalisation more fairly.

"WTO/IMF/ADB/WB - Go to Hell" read a banner stretched between trucks, laden with hundreds of balloons, that carried the protesters through the Thai capital before a cordon of riot police blocked their advance.

The secretary-general said the developing world remained excluded from the move towards globalisation, partly because of barriers put in place by industrialised countries.

And he called for a "Global New Deal" where the benefits of globalisation would be spread among all pro-investment countries.

"Can we not attempt on a global level what any successful industrialised country does to help its most disadvantaged or underdeveloped regions catch up," he asked.

There are already signs that the world's most powerful nations and trade bodies are responding to criticism that developing nations have been dealt a raw deal in the liberalisation process.

WTO chief Mike Moore told AFP Saturday that he was working on a package of proposals to offer poorer economies better access to lucrative markets.

"We have agreed to try and negotiate free market access for least developed countries," he said, adding that WTO ambassadors had also agreed to discuss implementation issues.

Moore said the acrimony of last year had now eased, and that WTO talks since then had made "considerable progress."

"I think confidence is back, we have been working on (the issues) -- how successful we will be only time will tell."

"We are talking, we are not there yet but we are working on it," he said.

Conference organisers hope the inclusion within the UNCTAD program of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) -- which have spearheaded opposition to free trade -- will minimise the risk of violent disruption.

At a round-table discussion that kicked off the talks Saturday, leading economists said widening inequality among the world's rich and poor must be addressed in the interests of maximising global development.

They said that in a system where the rich make the rules, the incidence of poverty was rising and rates of development were becoming even more uneven.

Leaders of nine Southeast Asian nations will be present at the week-long conference, as well as Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and the heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


Copyright 2000 AFP