U.N. Trade Meeting Brings Rich and Poor
By SETH MYDANS
BANGKOK, Thailand, Feb. 19 -- A United Nations conference on developing nations concluded today with expressions of good will but no real narrowing of the differences that split a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle in December.
Delegates offered only general expressions of hope that rich and poor nations might eventually agree on a formula that would allow them to share the benefits of global trade.
"Having a success or even a relative success at this meeting and having the machine function in good order is a way of getting back on track," said Poul Nielson, the development commissioner of the European Union.
But he added, "I would warn against easy-fix approaches."
A key unresolved issue among the 160 delegations to the 10th annual meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development was a demand by poor nations that the more developed nations open their markets fully to their products, without tariff barriers.
The poor nations also reiterated their objections to standards of environmental and worker protection that the developed nations generally seek, saying such standards make it even harder for them to catch up.
The president of the World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn, said that although technology is rapidly bringing the world closer together, populations "remain split along a fault line that separates the lives and aspirations of the rich and poor."
Although there were daily demonstrations outside the convention center where the meeting was held, they were relatively small and did not erupt into the disorder and violence that disrupted the Seattle conference.
The Bangkok meeting was the first meeting of an international trade organization since Seattle, and some participants were hoping to use it to address their grievances and heal rifts.
But the United States and other major developed nations did not send high-level delegations, saying the World Trade Organization remains the proper and effective vehicle for setting standards for international trade.
The United Nations trade meetings are intended to provide information and expertise to help developing nations compete in the global trading system.
Expressing the views of many developing nations, Shri Suresh Pachouri, an Indian delegate, said, "The rules of the W.T.O. have been framed mainly keeping in view the interests of the industrialized countries." He said the standards demanded by the World Trade Organization often ignored the political, social and economic conditions of developing nations.
The emotional heart of the session came on Friday with a keynote speech by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, who drew applause when he said, "The have-nots are funding the haves."
"Regarding this new order of international economic relations and its proclaimed advantages for the poor," he said, "how can one refrain from recalling the fable of the fox offering the stork delicious meals on dinner plates, but making the food out of reach?"
Speaking as a spokesman for African nations, he said his continent, still suffering from the legacy of colonial rule, was now being crushed by a new world order of international trade.
"Ultimately, a new map of the world is being drawn up, and an entire continent -- Africa -- is purely and simply being rubbed out," he said.
Whenever African leaders try to take advantage of opportunities for international trade, he said, they run into barriers erected by richer nations as well as crippling demands for debt repayments.
He said rich nations seem to be offering "the macabre specter of someone visiting a dying man and saying: 'Well, die happy. You won't have any debts to pay.' "