Leading Article: Collapse of the trade talks is a blow to the world's poor

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YOU DO not have to have a ring in your nose and a dog on a string to feel a twinge of satisfaction at the public humiliation of the United States in the collapse of the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle. The US administration, and President Clinton himself, were woefully under- prepared for this conference and fully deserved to be embarrassed. They did not want the conference in the first place, but then had no idea what they wanted to do with it when they got it. As hosts in the chair, the US urgently needed a "line to take", if only to head off the ragbag army of eco-warriors and anti-capitalists who converged on the streets. Instead, Mr Clinton was obsessed, as ever, with the internal divisions of the US polity on the issue of protection, which in this case took the guise of trying to write in a labour standards clause.

That does not mean, however, that the collapse of the WTO talks was a good thing. Far from it. It was in the interests of, above all, the people of the poorer countries of the world that trade should be made more free. Let us hope that the US has learnt something from its failure.

If the US can adopt a more sensitive approach to the fears of other nations, perhaps something can be rescued from the wreckage, which would be in its interests too. But next time the defenders of free markets need to make a much more vigorous case for free and fair trade as the basis of prosperity, security and environmental protection for all.