World Trade Organization:

Seattle Ministerial: Outcomes and Lessons Learned

T-NSIAD-00-84: Published: Feb 8, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 8, 2000.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the World Trade Organization's (WTO) 1999 ministerial conference, focusing on the: (1) outcome of the ministerial conference; (2) factors contributing to the outcome; and (3) the lessons learned from the meeting.

GAO noted that: (1) WTO member countries failed to meet their goal of launching a new round of multilateral trade negotiations at their biennial ministerial conference last December in Seattle, Washington; (2) the conference was suspended without initiating a new round or issuing a ministerial declaration; (3) no one factor, but a combination of circumstances, led to the impasse; (4) however, two themes emerged; (5) there was a lack of agreement on many issues both among major trading partners and between developed and many developing countries on the eve of the ministerial conference; (6) disagreement centered on the scope of the round and stemmed from the sensitivity and complexity of the issues being addressed; (7) the Seattle negotiation process had inherent difficulties; (8) the document used as the basis for negotiations was a poor starting point for reaching consensus; (9) it was a lengthy amalgamation of countries' divergent positions rather than a text reflecting members' common objectives; (10) in addition, the negotiating process was hampered by the newness of the WTO leadership team; (11) the process was made difficult by the challenge of accommodating the needs and interests of a large and increasingly diverse WTO membership; and (12) several lessons can be learned: (a) efforts to launch a new round may have been premature; (b) ministerial conferences are more likely to succeed if they address only a handful of politically difficult decisions, having reached consensus on most issues in advance; (c) WTO needs to find ways to address the institutional challenges posed by increases in the number and diversity of its members; and (d) holding high profile WTO meetings in countries that are major trading partners, such as the United States and the European Union, may present difficulties.

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