President Clinton today condemned the violence that greeted a major trade meeting here but devoted most of his energy to defending the open-trade policies that triggered the outbursts, saying they will benefit the average person in America and elsewhere in the long run.
As hundreds of Seattle police in riot gear restored order by sharply restricting protesters' movements and arresting 400 demonstrators, the World Trade Organization got down to business.
Clinton vigorously promoted his trade agenda, calling on Europeans to stop heavily subsidizing their farmers' exports and to stop labeling U.S. food products as unsafe when there's not "a shred of evidence" to substantiate such a claim. Above all, he insisted, free trade will help ordinary workers by opening new markets for the goods and services they produce.
"We cannot grow the American economy in the 21st century unless we continue to sell more to a world that is prospering and that is more connected with everyone else in the world," Clinton told a midday gathering at the Port of Seattle, his first chance to comment publicly on the WTO meeting and Tuesday's sometimes violent street demonstrations that forced the mayor to declare a curfew and the governor to send in National Guard troops.
"Increasing economic cooperation is in the interest of the ordinary citizens of the United States and the rest of the world," he said.
During his visit, Clinton also announced steps intended to address criticism that the United States prevents poor countries from manufacturing or obtaining crucial drugs unless they pay large royalties to the U.S. companies that develop them. Under the plan, if the Department of Health and Human Services determines that a country has a special medical need, U.S. trade officials will use "flexibility" in dealing with the country about the drug.
Gene Sperling, Clinton's economic adviser, said that these are difficult issues. "One wants to have the flexibility to assure that poor countries are not denied vaccines and medicine they need," Sperling said. "On the other hand, one doesn't want to take away the incentives for their development." Trade officials and companies contend that if companies don't get adequate royalties, they won't have incentives to make the heavy investment spending needed to create the drugs.
Sperling said the United States was taking South Africa off a special "watch list" where U.S. trade officials had placed it because of disputes over rights to use U.S.-developed drugs.
Clinton and other officials blamed Tuesday night's disturbances on a relative handful of violence-bent demonstrators. He said their actions overshadowed the peaceful messages by labor union activists and others who contend that free trade undermines environmental safeguards and workers' rights.
Commenting on "all the rather interesting hoopla that's been going on here," Clinton said: "For those who came here to peacefully make their point, I welcome them here because I want them to be integrated into the longer-term debate. To those who came here to break windows and hurt small businesses or stop people from going to meetings or having their say, I condemn them."
City officials acknowledged that allowing protest groups to block streets around the meeting site had been a mistake. "Clearly, in hindsight the approach we adopted yesterday did not work," Ed Joiner, an assistant police chief, told reporters.
About 400 people were arrested by late afternoon, according to the Associated Press, in addition to the 68 taken into custody yesterday. Ten of those arrested face felony charges.
Today, some protesters were scrubbing graffiti off of buildings and picking up trash in parks. One young woman from the Free Burma Coalition cleaned Westlake Park after demonstrators had been bused away.
Cynthia Hill of Washington, D.C., said she and a large group of protesters had blocked off a street yesterday and stood together peacefully. Hill said two police cars drove into the crowd. "I have bruises all over my legs."
Hill was disturbed by the looting and vandalism. "They are taking the attention away from what is for the most part a peaceful, thoughtful protest," she said.
Seattle Mayor Paul Schell extended the curfew for a second night, and police fired tear gas at a group of about 200 protesters as Clinton was returning to his hotel just before dark.
Earlier, the president urged WTO officials to open to public scrutiny their process of settling trade disputes between nations. He defended peaceful demonstrators "who are protesting in part because the interests they represent have never been allowed inside the deliberations of the world trading system." The WTO must "open this system up," he said, so it's no longer "the private province of CEOs, trade ministers and the politicians who supported them." Clinton acknowledged that some of the Democratic Party's key constituent groups--organized labor and environmentalists--have deep reservations about the type of unfettered trade the WTO champions. They say the WTO is too lenient with foreign companies that pay low wages and pollute the environment. This can force more industrialized nations to cut corners to compete or else lose market share.
"I haven't even succeeded in bringing harmony, I know, within my own party about this," Clinton said at the port. "While a concern for labor or the environment could be twisted to be an excuse for protectionism," he said, "it is not wrong for the United States to say we don't believe in child labor, or forced labor, or the oppression of our brothers and sisters who work for a living around the world. And we don't believe that growing the economy requires us to undermine the environment."
In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, Clinton said he would agree to a program that eventually would impose sanctions on nations that violate international labor standards. Poor countries are wary of such sanctions, saying many of their citizens are happy to find jobs with long hours and relatively low wages as a means of escaping poverty.
In his 24-minute port speech, where he was introduced by an apple farmer who exports much of his crop, the president focused on agriculture, one of the most contentious trade areas between U.S. officials and others, especially Europeans. He criticized European countries for heavily subsidizing their small farmers, allowing their products to be exported below their true market price.
Clinton also chided Europeans for refusing to accept some U.S. food products--such as hormone-treated beef--in the name of public safety. Some Europeans have claimed the hormones can cause cancer, but Clinton pointedly rejected such arguments.
"I would never knowingly permit a single pound of any American food product to leave this country if I had a shred of evidence that it was unsafe, and neither would any farmer in the United States," he said. "We have nothing to hide, and we are eating this food, too. . . . Let's handle this in an open, fair, scientific way."
While Clinton held center stage, delegates to the WTO meeting moved through day two of their work in discussions aimed at forging agreement on a new series of trade-liberalization talks. That "round" would extend for at least three years.
Position papers circulated, ministers held one-on-one meetings, and working groups sat down together to explore details of differences between the 135 countries that are members of the Geneva-based organization, which enforces global trade agreements. If a new round is to begin, the countries must reach general agreement here as to what will and what won't be up for discussion.
On the subject of European Union farm subsidies, EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler said, "We are prepared to negotiate significant reductions, but we are not prepared to accept total elimination."
The Europeans argue that farm goods cannot be treated like other trade goods. Protecting small farmers helps the environment, contributes to food safety and preserves a way of life, they say. They also contend that the United States subsidizes farm exports indirectly through such things as cut-rate loans for foreign sales and that these should be under discussions. "It's just fair to include all of these forms in the talks," said Fischler, who met with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman yesterday.
Other topics proposed for discussion include electronic commerce, trade in services, government procurement rules and working labor standards into the world trading system.
WTO Director General Mike Moore canceled a reception for WTO delegates tonight because of concern that they had not made enough progress on the group's agenda.
After the port speech, Clinton addressed a gathering of WTO trade ministers and then met privately with leaders of several major environmental groups. Underscoring the importance of placating organized labor, he finished his workday by holding a private, one-on-one meeting with John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, aides said.
In his speech to the trade ministers, the president urged the WTO to create a "working group on trade and labor" that would focus on worldwide labor conditions. His plan would grant WTO "observer status" to the International Labor Organization, a Geneva-based group that calls for an end to child labor and other violations of international workplace standards.
The president also said world trade leaders must convince poor countries, such as India and China, that they can grow economically without harming the environment in ways similar to what Western nations did in the Industrial Revolution and afterward. He called for "a U.S. environmental review on the consequences" of the Seattle meeting, according to a White House fact sheet.
Several congressional members traveling with Clinton seemed pleased by his embrace of the peaceful protesters, his condemnation of the violent ones, and his challenge to trading partners on issues such as food safety and farm subsidies. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said European officials "know export subsidies will be eliminated" eventually, but they won't agree to a deadline. Clinton's claim that Europeans are using food-safety concerns disingenuously as means of protectionism, he said, "is a very important message."
Clinton, who arrived in Seattle shortly after midnight this morning, loomed large on the scene because no other heads of state were here to compete for attention, and because the WTO's fractious nature resulted in no detailed trade policy breakthroughs.
Special correspondent Khiota Therrien contributed to this report.