SEATTLE - If any clear message came through the clouds of tear gas and the broken glass here this week, it was that the terms of debate about free trade have changed.
It is no longer a debate about trade at all, but rather a debate about globalization, a process that many now understand affects not only traditional economic factors such as jobs and incomes but also the food people eat, the air they breathe, the quality of medical care and the social and cultural milieu in which they live.
The trade debate, once the province of a tight group of technocrats, business leaders, trade lawyers and academics, has now spilled out onto the public streets and private living rooms. It takes in farmers and feminists, defenders of butterflies and Tibetan monks, right-wing nationalists and left-wing anarchists.
For years, President Bill Clinton and other advocates of free trade have figured they could win the debate simply by repeating the economist's mantra that increased trade results in better jobs for workers and more choice for consumers. But it turns out that people also care about the loss of their corner bookstores and the wholesomeness of their food and that the soccer ball that seems so cheap at the American discount store may have been made by a 10-year-old halfway around the world.
Nor, as a matter of principle, do many take kindly to the notion that a global trade authority that they may never have heard of apparently has the power to penalize them for a gasoline emission standard passed by their elected legislators.
Americans, Europeans and others are openly discussing how the world's political architecture - up to now built around the sovereignty of the nation-state - may have to be reworked to provide for a more global economic governance system that is open and democratic enough to gain legitimacy in the eyes of voters around the world.
Trade ministers and their minions came to Seattle to begin a complex process of horse-trading over tariffs and trade barriers, subsidies and anti-dumping laws - things that corporations worry about. But Mr. Clinton, no doubt mindful both of the protests in the streets and the voters in U.S. elections next year, rattled their water glasses by telling them their deliberations were too secretive and too narrow.
With so many earnest young protesters clashing with riot police over these issues, some commentators were quick to draw parallels to the demonstrations against the Vietnam War at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. But Tom Hayden, one of the student leaders from 1968, made a distinction.
''What we had was maybe one or two issues we were dealing with,'' Mr. Hayden said in addressing 5,000 protesters Monday night. ''You here, you're dealing with everything. That's how big this globalization thing is.''
And even business leaders acknowledged that the events in Seattle had crystallized a growing sense of unease about globalization.
Scott Miller, the Procter & Gamble Co. lobbyist who is heading up the business coalition here, said: ''The economy is moving so fast now that it strains our political and social systems and creates anxieties that people feel that they have lost control. We know we have to address that now.''
Calman Cohen, president of the business-oriented Emergency Committee for American Trade, put it bluntly: ''The business community has failed miserably so far in connecting the benefits of trade with the daily lives of ordinary people. What went on here should be a wake-up call.''
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Last Updated on 12/4/99
By Karen Lutz