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Europe

European Press Review: Without WTO, ‘Trade Would Be a Legal Jungle’

The collapse of world trade talks in Cancun and Sweden’s rejection of the euro dominates Europe’s editorial pages on Tuesday.

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Could this be trade's bleak future after Cancun?

The editors of the business-orientated Wirtschaftsblatt in Vienna warned that if the World Trade Organization loses its position as a global player, the trading climate could get a lot rougher. "The alternative to WTO rules is the law of the jungle," the paper wrote. "The big animals will fight for and win access to markets, and the small animals will go hungry."

Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung put the situation more bluntly. "The biggest losers," it wrote, "are the developing countries, especially the poorest among them. The inflexibility of the so-called G21 block led by Brazil and India has sent its members home with empty hands." The "south’s" refusal is understandable, the paper wrote, because the compromises offered in Cancun by the rich "north" were still a long way away from what could really be called "free" trade. "But a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," the editors opined, "and as long as the general direction is the right one, slow progress is better than no progress at all."

The French daily Le Monde viewed the failure in Cancun as yet another threat to multilateralism. The paper’s editors said they hoped this new southern alliance would quickly learn the art of compromise. Otherwise, the paper warned, "the WTO will become nothing but a general political forum, and it’ll lose all credibility."

The Dutch paper De Volkskrant warned that, after the collapse of the Cancun talks, the WTO’s future looks "grim." Still, the paper insisted, trade negotiations must continue once the dust has settled, and Western countries need to realize that the balance of power in the world is changing, and they can’t be the only ones making the rules. "Third World countries also have to understand that free trade is the best, and perhaps even the only way for the world’s poorest countries to achieve economic progress," the paper concluded.

Sweden’s rejection of the euro in Sunday’s referendum has left editorial writers looking for a scapegoat. Many German papers blamed Germany and France for their cavalier attitude towards the EU’s Growth and Stability Pact. "When will Paris and Berlin finally realize that you will only convince people of the usefulness of this new currency if economic stability remains a top priority," asked the editors of the Stuttgarter Nachrichten in Stuttgart. "First Denmark, now Sweden -- will Britain be next? The ‘No’ from Stockholm is not a permanent setback, but it’s certainly a serious warning," the paper wrote.

Britain’s Guardian agreed, while at the same time going a step further to blame France and Germany "for imposing the Stability Pact on themselves (and the rest of Europe) in the first place." The paper opined that "Sweden’s voters have effectively said that the pact is too much to bear," and the paper described this as a "challenge that cannot be ignored to the way France and Germany run the EU." Reforming the pact, according to the Guardian, would be the only way to persuade those countries still outside the euro zone to join -- as well as being the only hope for existing members that their economies will start to grow again.

For Rome’s La Repubblica, the scapegoat in the Swedish referendum is the euro itself. Indeed, the Swedes’ distrust of the euro is shared by many of those already in the euro zone, the paper wrote. But there’s a difference: "This distrust has a political, not an economic, foundation." The real problem, the Italian paper wrote, is "a general unease with the lack of democracy in the structure of the new Europe."