WORLD TRADE TALKS: The real wheeling and dealing begins

AS PROTESTERS clashed with police in the damp streets of Seattle, a very different struggle was taking shape in the city's conference rooms.

The first stage, as always in such proceedings, is an attempt by the two leading powers - the European Union and the United States - to lure the non-aligned nations into their camps, with promises that are not worth the paper they are not written on. Europe wants a broad round of negotiations in the World Trade Organisation. America, which holds elections next year, wants early results from a tight set of discussions.

A compromise is emerging that would let both sides claim victory but the broader, and more important conflict in Seattle is neither between the police and protesters, nor Washington and Brussels. The developing nations are anxious. They believe they lost out in the last round of trade talks, that their interests are being marginalised and that there is much in the proposals of both Europe and America that would be against their interests.

In particular, they fear American plans to put new labour rules into the WTO is simply a way of excluding them from Western markets and penalising them for their poverty. A compromise on this is also in the air, which would involve a new body formed from the WTO, the International Labour Organisation and the World Bank. This body would have no rights to sanction developing nations, but might have cash to improve their labour systems.

It is labour standards that connect the chanting crowds in the streets and the whispering ministers in the corridors. Trade unionists fear their jobs may go to the south. The south fears the chants outside the conference may influence the negotiations inside.

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