POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

When in Doubt, Take a Room at the Four Seasons.

by David Trumbull

December 30, 2005

Well, the world trade conference in Hong Kong wrapped up with agreement to continue global liberalization of trade. The United States Trade Representative Rob Portman, who characterized this round of talks as "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to profoundly enhance global economic growth and alleviate poverty," emerged from this, his first World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference, as a persistent, all-night negotiator who saved the talks from collapsing as had happened in Cancun in 2003 and Seattle in 1999.

The Korean rice farmers, who first protested and then rioted, were unsuccessful in their attempt to close down the conference. They did succeed in closing down the entire Wan Chai district of Hong Kong and disrupting many persons' travel plans. Our hotel was connected to the convention center and we were out when the riot started and could not get back in for the night. Stranded at midnight several blocks from the conference, with our hotel under police "lock-down" and no taxis available to go anywhere due to the street closings, we checked into another room for one night. If you have to be stranded someplace you could do worse: we stayed the night at the Four Seasons Hotel. My wife, who's a big fan of the HBO series Sex in the City said it was just like the character "Mr. Big" who deals with every crisis by checking into the Four Seasons to be pampered.

Meanwhile, back at the convention center, the delegates, locked in (just as we couldn't get back in, so they couldn't get out during the riot), finally worked out a deal. So the deal may have come about because, not in spite, of the protesters.

And what did the WTO agree to? Well the U.S. and other developed countries will phase out our agricultural subsidies. That'll be hard to sell to the U.S. Congress. American agriculture is politically strong but is also highly dependent on federal supports. The developed countries also agreed to eliminate our tariffs on nearly all imports from the least developed countries. What that will mean for my industry, U.S. textiles, is not entirely clear. We have good hopes that we'll be able to continue to protect some U.S. textile jobs.

The deal also offers some promise of foreign market openings that would help us to export U.S.-made products. That final point is extremely important. Trade needs to be two ways. America must be able to export to other markets as well as import products from foreign countries. True two-way trade based on clear and consistent rules is what President Bush has consistently pushed for.

"Free and fair trade creates jobs, raises living standards, and lowers prices for families throughout America. It also strengthens our relationships with other countries, helping us to forge new partnerships based on a commitment to generate new prosperity and a better way of life for people in America and throughout the world." -- President George W. Bush.

David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee; he may be contacted at (617) 742-6881 or Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.