Tuesday, December 7, 1999

Seattle fiasco won’t
stop growth of trade

Bullet The issue: Activists claimed responsibility for the failure of the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle.

Bullet Our view: The demonstrations had little or nothing to do with the stalemate in trade negotiations.

THE activists who cheered the failure of the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle to set an agenda for future negotiations were off base in claiming that the stalemate was the result of their efforts to disrupt the meeting.

The WTO negotiators had more problems than they could handle within their meeting rooms, without worrying about the turmoil outside.

What happened in the streets was a nightmare for Seattle but was essentially tuned out by the delegates. Some of the more paranoid among them -- far from being impressed by the demonstrations -- suspected that the U.S. government had engineered the protests in order to pressure the developing countries to accept the American agenda in the talks. They came away from the meeting even more defiant and resentful of Western pressure. The protests backfired.

The great majority of the demonstrators were nonviolent and rightly resented the way the fringe element stole the headlines by rioting and trashing property. The overreaction by Seattle police in several incidents was another distraction.

Those who demonstrated in an orderly fashion didn't deserve to be lumped with the extremists. But their take on the WTO, however sincere, was misguided nonetheless.

As columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote in these pages, in this post-Cold War era, we live in a "world without walls." The WTO isn't the cause of this world; it's the effect. All the WTO does is set the basic rules of trade, and this task is all the more necessary because the old system of walls restricting trade has been largely abolished.

Because the WTO is comprised of virtually all the trading nations, rich and poor, reaching consensus on further measures to reduce trade barriers is at best a formidable task, but it is unavoidable.

The world of the past is the world of protectionism. This is the world the protesters want to preserve by blocking international trade and investment unless it is conducted on their terms. That is not the path to progress.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer accused the protesters of trying to "stop history in its tracks." He said, "They don't want to see any progress. They blame all of the problems of the world on trade liberalization."

Most of the protesters have no concept of the misery of the people in the poor countries and the urgent need to strengthen their economies. Better labor and environmental standards in the poor countries can only be achieved by more trade and investment, not less. Hopes for more democracy are also closely related to economic growth.

Attempts to impose higher standards by withholding trade and investment to force compliance won't work. The poor countries can't afford them. Many of their leaders view attempts to impose the standards of the developed world on the developing world as a cynical attempt to stymie their attempts to compete internationally on equal terms.

Philippine President Joseph Estrada observed, "We cannot stop the World Trade Organization because there is globalization now. Our world is becoming smaller and smaller."

Estrada is right. The activists who cheered the collapse of the WTO talks in Seattle enjoyed their moment in the spotlight but they aren't going to succeed in shutting down world trade that is not conducted on their unrealistic terms.

Kewalo development

Bullet The issue: A state board has rejected D.G. "Andy" Anderson's proposal for development of Kewalo waterfront land.

Bullet Our view: It would be unfortunate if Governor Cayetano intervened to punish Anderson, as he charges.

REJECTION of D.G. "Andy" Anderson's proposal for the state's Kewalo waterfront land leaves the Hawaii Community Development Board back at square one in its quest for an appropriate use for the 18 acres.

Anderson's proposal for a combined amusement park and restaurant-retail development aroused opposition because of the inclusion of a 130-foot-high Ferris wheel. Some thought it would make the Honolulu waterfront look like Coney Island.

However, the Ferris wheel evidently did not figure in the decision. The board said its action was based on an assessment that the project was not economically viable. A subcommittee had found construction costs underestimated and revenue projections inflated.

Anderson angrily rejected those contentions, charging that the decision was based on politics. He accused Governor Cayetano of turning votes away from him; four of the seven members who voted against the project are state officials.

In August the board unanimously selected Anderson's proposal over eight others. The turnaround is not easily explainable on other grounds, although the board's staff had questioned the project's viability.

Anderson, of course, had a long career in elective politics himself, serving in the state Legislature and running unsuccessfully for governor and mayor of Honolulu. He says Cayetano apparently considers him an enemy to be punished. If so, it's unfortunate.

The question now is what the board will select as a replacement for Anderson's proposal. The acrimony surrounding the Anderson project's demise may discourage some developers from getting involved.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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