RE-START WTO TALKS _ AND DO THE JOB RIGHT

RE-START WTO TALKS _ AND DO THE JOB RIGHT

While protester demonstrations and riots grabbed the spotlight in Seattle last week, what happened behind the scenes revealed critically important weaknesses that must be overcome by U.S. leadership as we seek a framework for the next round of global trade talks.

Obviously the failure to agree on an agenda for multilateral negotiations is a setback. The anti-trade movement may even have the momentum right now.This is the second time in two years that efforts to expand access to world markets have been shut down. In April 1998, trade leaders postponed discussions on the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment within the 29-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development after a storm of protests from environmental and labor activists.

These two high-profile failures for free and fair trade are the reasons why the WTO negotiations must be restarted as soon as possible. Here's how I think we can get this done.

First, we need responsible, disciplined leadership from the president of the United States.

Our president is the one individual with the international stature needed to move these talks forward. Since President Clinton formally proposed a new round of trade negotiations in his state of the union message almost one year ago, he has the responsibility to get the talks under way.

Yet his pronouncements on trade since them have been vague, late in coming and without clear goals. The defining moment in Seattle was President Clinton's public reversal of his administration's own position on labor and trade sanctions. It made a hard-to-get consensus on the ministerial declaration impossible. After the president's comment, the talks were all but dead.

Second, we need to give the world's developing nations more incentive to join the talks by recognizing their rights to participate in the fruits of globalization.

In 1947, 23 nations were part of the first multilateral trade negotiations. More than half of these were developing countries. Today, 99 of the 135 member nations of the WTO - or 73 percent - are developing countries. They have trade goals that do not neatly mesh with the domestic political objectives of some of the leaders of the world's developed nations.

Third, we need to more effectively argue the case that everyone benefits from free trade, not just big corporations.

In 1947, the total world value of free trade was $50 billion. Today it is $7 trillion. Free trade has created prosperity, especially for small businesses.

About 97 percent of the businesses that export are small- and medium-sized concerns. Two-thirds of all businesses that export employ 20 or fewer people. Without international rules to protect their rights, the rule of the jungle would apply rather than the rule of law.

President Clinton made a case for free trade while he was in Seattle, but it was far too little, too late. When it finally came, it was eclipsed by his dramatic policy reversal on enforceable labor rights and trade sanctions. Free trade deserves a more passionate defense. After all, economic interdependence is such a powerful force, it helped keep the peace even during the bleak days of the Cold War.

Finally, the administration should not attempt to restart talks on drafting a plan for the next round until it has either won preliminary agreement on the most contentious issues, or is very close to doing so.

Too many controversial issues were left open before the Seattle ministerial began. We know what divides need to be bridged. So negotiators should go back and do the hard, preparatory work we should have done previously so we know what to expect when the talks resume.

The collapse of the WTO meeting in Seattle was not the beginning of the end of the WTO, as the street protesters and rioters hoped. Instead it was, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the end of the beginning.

We need to go forward and succeed for the sake of our farmers and small businesses - who most depend on open markets - and for the world's poorest nations.