Local trade experts analyze WTO policies

Max Rust

The World Trade Organization protests in Seattle last November produced, if anything, a broader awareness of the effects global trade has on developing countries and the environment, and of the elitism characterizing the WTO’s operation.
Most people learned about these issues through soundbytes, provided by news media more concerned with a small faction of vandals rather than the concerns raised by the majority of the demonstrators.
At a meeting Thursday in Blegen Hall, 40 people listened to two international trade and agriculture experts who brought some of the issues to light and concentrated on how the WTO works now and how it could work better.
Some of those in attendance are part of a growing activist movement spurred on by the WTO protests.
Now the focus of these activists is on figuring out what to do with the WTO, a trading body that orchestrates not only the international flow of goods, but also the public policy of the world’s nations.
Seattle protesters showcased two solutions to the WTO’s problems: Either fix the problems or nix the organization.
Wednesday, Mike Moore, head of the WTO, told The Associated Press his organization must act “differently” and address some of the complaints voiced in Seattle.
Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and one of Thursday’s speakers, suggested a modification to the WTO operation to reflect a more democratic institution. The result, Ritchie said, might compel consumers to change their lifestyles to create a more socially responsible society.
“If people are not feeling ownership or respect for the global system, they’re not going to make the changes in their personal life,” he said.
Ford Runge, a University professor of applied economics, agreed the WTO should be modified and not dissolved since potential solutions to world problems rest on trade.
Specifically, Runge cited problems related to malnutrition and the food supply. An estimated 8 million people do not receive enough nourishment, Runge said, and it’s not a problem of under-production; it is a problem of food distribution.
Trade, he explained, is how the distribution can take place.
“The challenge is to foster an international sense of sustainability,” Runge said. “Responding to this will include more and better trade organizations, not fewer and worse.”
Runge briefly touched on the presence of genetically modified organisms — commonly known as GMOs, a major topic scheduled at the Seattle WTO meeting — and their effects on food supplies.
Farmers’ decision whether to use biotechnology is going to have a huge impact on the food supply, he said.
There is a growing worldwide opposition to biotechnology. Many opponents worry the effects of genetically altered foods are unknown and that they could harm not only the health of consumers, but also the environment.
Closer to home, 30 protesters descended upon a University-sponsored biotechnology seminar Wednesday in southeastern Minnesota.
In coming months, the University will be organizing comprehensive meetings to discuss the future of genetically modified organisms and their research.

Max Rust reports on the community and welcomes comments at [email protected]