Clinton Makes Pitch for the Poor at Davos Conference

New York Times: January 30, 2000

At Conference on Trade, Clinton Makes

Pitch for Poor

 

 

          By JANE PERLEZ

 

              DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan. 29 -- Against a sudden wave of apparent angst among some corporate and political leaders about the growing gap between rich and poor, President Clinton made an impassioned appeal today to make global trade work for the poor, too.

 

In what amounted to his gospel on globalization, Mr. Clinton told an audience of chief executives and national leaders attending the World Economic Forum that if the economic elite which had created, managed and benefited from globalization did not listen to the concerns of those left out, protectionism would return.

 

"This is a new network," Mr. Clinton said, speaking to an audience that included top business executives but also the leaders of South Africa and Colombia, and the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat. "But don't leave the little guys out."

 

Demonstrators, apparently trying to mirror on a smaller scale the disturbances at the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle in December, were kept away from the hall where Mr. Clinton spoke by phalanxes of heavily armed Swiss police officers.

 

But a group of demonstrators broke windows in a nearby McDonald's restaurant that features a large statue of the company's icon, Ronald McDonald. Several policemen were injured, witnesses said.

 

Although the protest broke up, the forum's organizers, increased security around town this evening. Some streets were closed off and shuttle buses stopped running, complicating the comings and goings of the well-heeled as they tried to get to dinner along ice-encrusted sidewalks.

 

Mr. Clinton is the first American president to attend the forum, and his presence here, if only for a few hours, was seen as an effort to put his personal imprimatur on the forces of globalization that his economic polices have encouraged. With five cabinet secretaries in tow, he reaffirmed that he wants to push forward with a new round of talks in the World Trade Organization, which failed in Seattle in part because of Mr. Clinton's concerns that the negotiations address labor, environmental and other issues seen by many nations as a way for rich countries to impose their will on the flow of trade.

 

"We have got to reaffirm unambiguously that open markets and rules-based trade are the best engine we know to lift living standards, reduce environmental destruction and build shared prosperity," Mr. Clinton said. "This is true whether you're in Detroit, Davos, Dacca or Dakar."

 

In order to include the developing world in the benefits of globalization, the well-off have to make some adjustments, he said.

 

Among these, he listed lifting the burden of debt of developing countries, inviting the committee on trade and environment of the World Trade Organization to examine environmental concerns of developing countries, and developing new institutional forums for including those who feel left out of the global economy. Afterward, Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence H. Summers said that the president had no new specific proposals but was concerned that the "institutional architecture" take care of such issues as global warming, transborder crime and developing vaccines.

 

The only applause during Mr. Clinton's speech came for his reference to his State of the Union proposal to give tax benefits to companies that worked on vaccines for AIDS.

 

Some economists questioned whether Mr. Clinton was tempering his enthusiasm for open markets. "It was a balanced speech, but he left unclear whether he wants to impose our social norms on the developing countries," said Horst Siebert, head of the Kiel Institute of the World Economy in Germany. "Nobody wants children in Bangladesh working in

factories, but we should not be imposing our norms on them."

 

The minister of trade for Singapore, George Yong-Boon Yeo, suggested that Mr. Clinton's concern for the well-being of the developing world would not be accepted as totally sincere. Developing countries "find it hard to believe that you care more about their health and development than they do themselves," he said after the speech.

 

Tinges of anti-Americanism peppered some of the panel discussions here. At one, a moderator asked for a "non-American" questioner.

 

Mr. Clinton's expressed concern for poorer nations followed a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of corporate executives, which was published as the forum opened and found that more than half the 1,020  respondents said they feared that the Internet would widen the wealth gap between industrialized and developing nations, and possibly increase the risk of social unrest.

 

The president of the World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn, also wrote as the forum opened that global poverty was increasing.

 

For the first time, nongovernmental organizations, which have expressed concerns about the effects of globalization on the developing world, were present at the forum in some strength. Mr. Clinton did not refer to them directly, but repeatedly urged his audience to be inclusive rather than exclusive in compiling and applying the rules of free trade.

 

"In the words of that slogan that people my daughter's age always use, denial is not just a river in Egypt," Mr. Clinton said, to laughter. "And the  more we hunker down and refuse to devote time systematically to discussing these issues and letting people express their honest opinion, the more we are going to fuel the fires of protectionism."