France Sautter Calls For Boost To WTO Policing Powers
PARIS -- France's new finance minister, Christian Sautter, called for a strengthening in the World Trade Organization's regulatory powers Tuesday, saying that tougher laws on competition would allow governments to check the "excessive power" of multinationals.
"In a world where capital and goods are moving more and more quickly and more and more easily from one end of the planet to the other, we must strengthen the regulatory role of the WTO," Sautter said in a speech just three weeks before the start of a new round of world trade talks in Seattle.
Sautter said strengthening the WTO's role would mean ensuring the environment is not "put at risk by an uncontrolled expansion of trade".
He also said that individual governments should have the right to a "safety-first principle" if they believe a particular product could endanger either the environment or consumer health.
"In the same way, international strictures on competition must provide governments with weapons against the excessive power of multinationals, some of which are tempted by their sheer size to evade national regulations," the French finance minister said, echoing recent calls by his government for greater international economic regulation.
"Today the struggle against monopolies, illustrated by the recent decisions concerning Microsoft, is fundamental," said Sautter, who took over at the helm of the finance ministry here only last week.
Sautter also threw his weight behind ideas of forging greater cooperation between the WTO and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. He also said developing countries should be at the center of the new round of trade talks.
During his speech, the minister rejected the idea that the WTO would be used simply to defend U.S. interests. He said the WTO could "be a remedy to the evils born of globalization, of which it is not the cause", adding that welcoming Russia and China into the organization would help bolster its international character.
Repeating the French government's stance on the Seattle trade talks, Sautter said "WTO rules must be flexible enough so that countries can freely define their own cultural and audiovisual policies".