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#4384: Poor nation dilemma: How to shape world trade without being there (fwd)


WIRE:06/25/2000 12:14:00 ET
Poor nation dilemma: How to shape world trade without being
GENEVA (AP) _ Renald Clerisme is the first to admit he doesn't  always
understand what's going on at the World Trade Organization.  How can   
he, when he can't be everywhere at once? Clerisme is head of the Haiti 
delegation to the world's top Rule-making body for trade. He's also the
entire delegation.Haiti, with 7 million people, is one of many poor    
countries that  lack sufficient representation in an organization whose
decisions  influence commerce, consumer prices and jobs around the
world. In contrast to rich and powerful nations whose WTOelegates  take
limousines to work and have staffs of two dozen or more, 
representatives from places such as Haiti are poorly equipped to  fight
for trade rights.  Clerisme (pronounced cler-iz-MAY) works from an
office above an  appliance shop in a shabbier quarter of Geneva about a
mile from  WTO's lakeside headquarters.The Haitian delegation doesn't
have a car. So while European  Union Ambassador Roderick Abbott and   
other diplomats ride in  chauffeur-driven limousines to  work, Clerisme
takes the bus. Clerisme scrambles to attend meetings because the      
WTO has more  than 30 different committees,subcommittees and working
groups on  its schedule,covering subjects from textiles to patents to
the environment. Several meetings may take place at once. "I feel that I
don't understand very fully what is going on.  Sometimes they will deal
with things I don't know anything about,"  Clerisme said.  With 137
members, the WTO was created in 1995 on the theory that  open markets
benefit everyone. Its binding decisions determine how  trade is
conducted between nations and what restrictions countries  can        
impose to protect their own producers. The dichotomy in WTO
representation can overpower its poorest  members. One key issue is the
eagerness of large nations to export  products at below-market prices to
poorer nations, squeezing  domestic businesses. "Dumping"goods can help
an exporter corner  a local market and may sometimes result from
production subsidies by governments.Clerisme says WTO dispute settlement
_ where a country can air a  complaint and a panel of experts          
issues a legally binding judgment  _ could help combat rice dumping, a
big issue in Haiti. But Haiti can't use the system because it doesn't
have lawyers  with enough understanding of international trade law, he
says.Twenty-nine countries _ mostly in African and the Caribbean _  have
no permanent representative in Geneva at all."The question that arises
is how much influence has a small country got over WTO decision-making
processes? Very little  indeed," said George Williams,  who is
ambassador for the Caribbean  island of Dominica in London and gets to
Geneva for about six days a year. The WTO has sparked riots from Geneva
to Seattle and protests in  other places in part because of the        
impact economic globalization  has on the world's poor. For their part,
Clerisme and other WTO representatives from  developing countries
believe free trade can help their people. But the expense of        
running diplomatic missions in Geneva is a barrier  to reaping those
benefits.  Western diplomats estimate it costs their governments       
$300,000  to keep each of them here.  Japan has the largest delegation,
with 21 diplomats and lawyers  listed in the WTO directory. The United 
States has 13. That doesn't  include secretaries,technicians and
drivers.  The EU is harder to count because it lists only 10           
names, but it  can muster a much larger force when it includes the
staffs of each  of the 15 member nations.The big nations also have major
support in their home capitals.  The U.S. Trade Representative in      
Washington has up to 170 staff and  a budget of $70 million. That's
about two-thirds of Haiti's entire  yearly export earnings.Clerisme says
he is reluctant to disagree with other countries  if he is unable to
understand an issue. "If they ask you to join a consensus, in the end
you finish by  accepting something that is not in your interests."     
WTO Director-General Mike Moore came into office last September 
promising to help countries that can't afford to have a permanent 
delegation in Geneva. Moore, who is from New Zealand, describes  himself
 as a Pacific islander who knows the problems of small, isolated
nations.  "Many can't afford to subscribe to all the newspapers,"   
Moore  said in an interview. Others can't even pay for fax paper.      
Moore spoke on a day when a discussion over  whether to admit the  West
African island nation of  Cape Verde to the organization had to  be
postponed because nobody from the country was able to attend the 
meeting.  Cape Verde, with a population of 405,000, is classified    
with  Haiti as a "least-developed" country.Since his arrival, Moore has
put in place training courses and  "Geneva Weeks" for delegations with
little or no regular  representation at the WTO.The WTO even tries to
provide newspaper  clippings to needy missions.But for Clerisme it's a
vicious circle.If trading opportunities do not improve for his
country,it  won't be able to afford to send a bigger,better-trained
staff to  Geneva. And without a bigger staff, he cannot see how trading
opportunities will improve."I think Mike Moore is doing his best,"
Clerisme said."But it comes down to our bilateral and multilateral
partners. We will carry this problem with us for a long time."