WTO in Seattle: Summit divided over attempt to halt child labour

A TOUGH battle of a different sort began in Seattle last night, as governments from the North and South, from America and Europe, clashed over trade.

This one was fought not with tear gas and molotov cocktails, like the rioting which has shaken the city this week, but with something much more dangerous: words. The issue of how to enforce labour standards, one of the most contentious at this summit of the World Trade Organisation, looked set to divide developed and developing nations even as the governments at the meeting proclaimed their intention of healing that rift.

And it seemed set to be the issue which, as dawn breaks over Seattle today, still stands in the way of a new round of world trade talks. The WTO's alleged lack of concern for the world's poorest nations has been one of the key concerns of the demonstrators who have filled the streets of Seattle for the last three days. But the other central issue is demands by US unions to put sanctions on countries which do not respect Western norms of employment.

Squaring that circle was expected to take the negotiators late into the night, and possibly on into Saturday, extending a summit which has already been far too long for most people's patience.

The US is leading the charge for labour standards, an issue raised again by President Bill Clinton in his speeches on Wednesday when he arrived for the summit. If anything, the President's intervention has hampered the chances of its success, in that it has reinforced the feeling of the developing nations, led by India, that they are being bullied.

According to delegation sources, Mr Clinton also warned the Indians privately that if labour standards could not be enforced through the WTO, then America would go ahead on its own.

US officials were not certain that his presence helped. He surprised many by raising the heat of the debate over labour standards in an effort to placate the demonstrators. Last night Mr Clinton was due to return home, as the US and others began the concessions that will make a deal happen. Without a deal, Washington will be gravely embarrassed, so the onus was on the US to deal.

The outlines of a possible package are relatively clear. The US and farm exporting countries led by Australia will have to ease their insistence that all farm subsidies are abolished. Europe will have to soften its insistence that agriculture is completely different from other traded goods. The EU will also get some concessions on the environment, while conceding that the WTO can talk about biotechnnology, potentially opening the door in the longer term to imports of GM foods. The chances of success depend on concessions being made early, and there was little sign last night that a deal could be reached today.

"Today is the day the posturing has to stop and the hard trading has to begin," said one EU source, predicting a sleepless night for the delegates. The US was expected to produce its own draft agreement last night, and the EU was reformulating its demands. But the key issue - labour standards - may prove to be the most difficult.

Indian officials said that the government would not back down on its insistence that trade and labour standards should not be linked. But John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, the main trade union grouping in the US, insists that they must. Several different formulations were under consideration, but none were likely to leave everyone happy.

The EU and the US have proclaimed their intention of making the forthcoming round of trade talks a "development round", by giving the world's poorest countries duty-free access for all their exports. But "all" has gradually been redefined, and it is unclear how far the US in particular will go.

Its officials pulled out of a joint press conference on Wednesday at the last minute, and US trade negotiator Charlene Barshefsky underlined that progress depended on existing US legislation in Congress for Africa and the Caribbean. There may also have to be a new US bill specifically for Bangladesh.

The inclusion of textiles and agriculture is in doubt; in short, the initiative (which covered a miniscule proportion of world exports in the first place, and which developing countries were deeply sceptical of) risks becoming a fiasco.

Business Outlook, page 23

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice