WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills offered her assessment of why the WTO talks in Seattle ended in failure.
“In Seattle, we saw the manifestation of disagreements that had been building for years. It was labor unions and environmentalists vs. the globalists,” Hills said in a recent seminar on new multilateral trade negotiations under the World Trade Organization umbrella.
The former USTR noted that much of the anxiety in the U.S. over globalization has to do with employment, which is reflected in official statistics.
“In 1981, 12 percent of American voters worried about job security. Now, 36 percent of Americans are worried,” she said.
Education about the benefits of free trade is the answer, Hills said. She called on corporations to explain more fully to their employees the benefits of globalization, and convince them that trade creates better jobs.
However, Hills opposed any efforts by some nongovernmental organizations to have the WTO take up the issue of core labor standards.
“The WTO does not have the expertise in this area. This issue should be left to the International Labor Organization,” Hills said.
“Those who insist that the WTO enforce labor standards actually want to cripple the WTO. But we will destroy the WTO and the global economy if we are held hostage over nontrade issues,” Hills said.
She was the guest speaker at the luncheon of the seminar, “The WTO After Seattle,” organized by the International Institute of Economics here and the Washington Office of Japan’s Keizai Koho Center, also known as the Japan Institute for Social and Economic Affairs.
Hills, who served as the USTR under the administration of President George Bush, is a devout Republican. She praised the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney ticket, saying she is confident they would work in the interests of free trade and the World Trade Organization.
“I worry about (Vice President Al) Gore’s ties to labor unions, though,” she said after the speech, answering questions.
She also called on the U.S. Congress to enact legislation that would give the president authority to negotiate trade deals more autonomously than is now the case. Such “fast track” negotiating power is necessary, Hills said, in order to compete with other nations.
“A trade negotiation is about national interest. If the U.S. doesn’t take a leadership role at the trading table, things don’t go well for the international trading system as a whole,” she said.