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Demands for reform of WTO as talks collapse into chaos

THE WORLD Trade Organisation summit in Seattle, already damaged severely by a series of angry demonstrations, collapsed yesterday.

Delegates from around the world loudly condemned America's handling of the conference itself and the chances of any substantial agreement all but evaporated. Officials from Britain, the EU and the WTO itself speculated on the need to for a complete reform of the ailing organisation.

What had been intended as a political triumph for President Bill Clinton threatens to become a serious blow to his domestic and international credibility. The President's mid-week intervention in the conference was blamed by many - including some of his own negotiators - for seriously damaging the prospects of agreement. Angry recriminations were starting to fly.

Mr Clinton called for new rules in global trade that would penalise countries which did not adhere to Western labour standards. By raising the profile of sanctions Mr Clinton outraged many developing countries which were already hostile to the idea. Many were furious after the extensive demonstrations which disrupted the meeting and, as the hours ticked away, tempers frayed.

British and European officials last night accused the Americans of incompetence and inflexibility. Delegates openly booed Charlene Barshefsky, the US Trade Representative, and Mike Moore, the new Director-General of the WTO.

To add to the fiasco, demonstrators infiltrated themselves into the WTO building and disrupted the press room, shouting and putting up banners.