World Trade Organization:

Seattle Ministerial: Outcomes and Lessons Learned

T-NSIAD-00-86: Published: Feb 10, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 10, 2000.

Additional Materials:


Benjamin F. Nelson
(202) 512-3000


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

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) the 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) the 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.

Dec 2, 2020

Nov 19, 2020

Nov 9, 2020

Oct 27, 2020

Oct 2, 2020

Sep 22, 2020

Sep 15, 2020

Sep 14, 2020

Aug 27, 2020

Looking for more? Browse all our products here