World Trade Talks: What Will The Summit Decide?

What is the World Trade Organisation?

The 135-member body established in 1995 sets the rules for global commerce. Fans of free trade say the WTO helps keep the arteries of world commerce clear and makes sure trade is conducted fairly. Opponents say it overrides national sovereignty in the interests of multinational companies, ignores the environment and tramples on human rights.

What is the WTO ministerial?

A gathering of (mainly) trade ministers to kick off a new round of world trade talks. It will last a week; the round itself will last at least three years. It will produce a treaty which each national delegation will sign and then ratify.

What was the last round?

The Uruguay Round. It kicked off in Punta del Este in Uruguay, lasted from 1986-1993 and led to the setting up of the World Trade Organisation. There have been several rounds in the last 50 years.

Why are they called `rounds'?

Perhaps because for most of the time, everything just goes round and round in little circles.

What will this one be called?

The Europeans, who want a big agenda, full of grandeur and aspiration, call it the Millennium Round. The Americans, who want a smaller-scale effort, talk of the Seattle Round.

What will this round try to do?

Improve market access for all products. Market access is the general openness of an economy to goods and services from outside.

How transparent is the WTO?

It is not. Decisions are made behind closed doors. Governments claim they will do something about it at this meeting; protesters say that is not enough.

Is free trade necessarily fair trade?

The WTO is supposed to be about promoting the circulation of goods and services with as few restrictions as possible. Free traders believe that is more efficient, and some think it promotes peace as well as prosperity. Protectionists want to put limits on trade, because they believe that that helps to safeguard jobs. Fair trade is the idea that some countries and people will sink rather than swim in free trade conditions, because they are exploited by large multinational companies.

What if the talks fail?

A trade war. No one can quite define what a trade war actually is, but it is a useful cliche.

Does promoting free trade mean removing barriers?

The most basic form of trade barrier is a tariff - a government tax on particular goods as they enter the country. One of the main efforts in Seattle will be to reduce tariffs on most goods. The United States and some rich countries want accelerated tariff liberalisation (ATL), a rapid elimination of taxes on specific products; the European Union and other countries want to look at a wide range.

What will be the hardest area?

Agriculture. The deal on farm trade was the most difficult part of the Uruguay Round, but it was the first time that agriculture was brought fully under world trade rules. Farmers globally are helped by direct support and export subsidies, while imports in most countries are limited by tariffs.

Will countries really stop protecting their farmers?

The wealthy WTO members have promised to cut back on payments to farmers that support domestic production by 20 per cent between 1995 and 2001. Poorer countries are making smaller, or no cuts. Some countries will want to cut back much further. The WTO lets countries use some payments, called "green box" policies, as much as they want as long as they do not distort trade.

Any other tricky topics?

Textiles. The developing countries, led by India, want to speed up access for their textiles to the EU and the US, partly because they think Washington and Brussels are going too slowly, partly because they fear that China will take over the markets when it enters the WTO.

What about bananas?

The EU and the US have argued about bananas for years. They will be a subject of discussion in Seattle on the side, but no breakthrough is likely.

And beef?

The EU bans the import of US beef raised with the aid of hormones - wrongly, says the WTO. Europe may offer to let in more hormone-free beef, but that will not solve the problem.

Will they be talking about the Internet?

Electronic commerce is still relatively free of trade restrictions, and the US wants to keep it that way. But there is great confusion about how to treat e-commerce. Is it about goods or services?

What about the workers?

Europe and America will both back action to make sure that the rights of workers are not damaged by world trade. They need such measures to convince unions that trade need not mean job losses. The developing countries will resist this, as they see it as thinly veiled protectionism.

And they will resist Green policies too, presumably?

Yes. Brussels and Washington want to shore up environmental protection in the WTO, but the developing countries are wary. NGOs want them to go much further.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea