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Labor, Environment Divide WTO

October 26, 1999

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ Key trade ministers meeting in preparation for the November round of World Trade Organization talks butted heads Tuesday over plans to discuss labor and the environment _ with developing nations saying they have little voice in setting the agenda.

``We support an open multilateral trading system, but we have to be full partners in the trading system,″ said Egyptian Economy Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali, one of 24 trade ministers meeting in advance of the November talks. ``There is a new sense of urgency among developing countries that we cannot be left out.″

With just five weeks to go before the 135 members of the global trade regulating group meet in Seattle, Boutros Ghali’s comments underscore the members’ division on the issue of requiring poorer members to boost labor and environmental standards.

President Bill Clinton is making the issues a priority for the talks, and the United States and European Union see the inclusion of labor and environmental standards as essential to maintaining public confidence in the global trading system.

``The core work of the WTO is under attack as anti-environmental and as promoting the lowest common denominator with respect to core labor standards,″ U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky told the assembled ministers.

Developing countries, which make up the majority of the WTO, strongly oppose such discussions, saying they are meant to protect industrial countries’ markets against cheap imports. They argue that labor standards are a matter for the United Nations, not the WTO.

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