In a new round of global trade negotiations that begins next month, the United States will focus on opening foreign markets for U.S. farms and service companies and will try to keep electronic commerce free of tariffs, President Clinton said last night.
His negotiators at the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization also will work toward goals welcomed by the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party: stepped-up consideration of how the environment might fare under a new trade regime and establishment of basic labor standards for countries taking part in world trade.
"Some believe that isolating ourselves from the world will shield us from the forces of change that are causing so much disruption, so much instability . . .," Clinton told a dinner of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group that developed many of his administration's policies. "I understand why they fear it, but I disagree that they can hide from it."
U.S. labor unions have long complained that in the rush to open markets for creation of a global economy, the plight of the huge numbers of people who lose jobs at the noncompetitive companies are overlooked. Clinton pledged steps to address such concerns and put a "human face on the global economy."
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky yesterday denied that the U.S. team was becoming more labor-friendly as a payback to the AFL-CIO for its decision yesterday to back Vice President Gore in his campaign for the White House. The previous round of world trade negotiations required that labor be given a bigger say in future discussions, she said.
The U.S. team will lobby to ensure that the rights of employees are considered when the WTO makes decisions that could affect them. "The WTO should commit to collaborate more closely with the International Labor Organization, which has worked hard to protect human rights and to ban child labor, and with international environmental organizations," Clinton said.
Labor unions have called for the WTO to adopt basic labor standards that the ILO devises. Under the ILO the standards are voluntary, but the WTO could bring pressure on countries to honor them.
On environmental issues, Barshefsky said the United States would seek tariff-free trade in environmental equipment and for the WTO to consider the environmental implications of decisions it makes. It would also press for elimination of fishery subsidies, which officials say encourage over-fishing and depletion of types of marine life.
"The administration continues to avoid the core issue raised by environmentalists," said Daniel Seligman, who deals with trade issues for the Sierra Club. "We have insisted that the administration bring actual fixes to trade rules so they can no longer be used to undermine legitimate health and environmental standards, and the administration refuses to do that."
Much attention will be paid to agricultural markets, which powerful farm lobbies in many countries have protected with high tariffs and other barriers. "For the family farmer in America, trade is not an abstraction," Clinton said. "It is vital to their bottom line and their survival."
The administration-backed reform proposals include putting an end to government subsidies of the export of farm goods, which makes it harder for U.S. farmers to win sales. That step is aimed squarely at the European Union, which by U.S. count spends about $7 billion annually on such subsidies. The United States also wants to lower high farm tariffs.
The administration also will lead a charge to open markets for farm products developed with biotechnology. That is a key issue with Europe, where suspicions remain high about potential health hazards of the products. U.S. officials contend that policy toward trade in these products must be based on "sound science," which they contend has not turned up any evidence of danger.
With U.S. companies in such service industries as telecommunications and banking leading much of the world, negotiators will seek more freedom for them to do business abroad.
The United States will seek new access to the procurement budgets of foreign governments, by encouraging competitive bidding and the publishing of contracts.
In e-commerce, the United States will try to extend a ban on tariffs on electronic transmissions and assure that WTO member companies do nothing to inhibit e-commerce. "The lines of communications should not crackle with interference," Clinton said.