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December 5, 1999 - Trade Talk - 2002-02-01

INTRO: The jargon used at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle led our Wordmasters Rosanne Skirble and Avi Arditti to ask an economist for help in deciphering the A-B-C's of the W-T-O.

AA: You might have felt a little square ...

RS: meaning unsophisticated

AA: ... if you didn't understand all the references at the world trade talks to a new "round."


"The word simply means a negotiation."

RS: That's Michael Finger, lead economist for trade policy at the World Bank in Washington.

AA: He's a thirty-year veteran of the language of international trade.


"The negotiations are broken into parts or rounds because the international community agrees to negotiate on certain topics. Once they have exhausted that list of topics, then either the negotiations end or negotiations begin to identify a new set of topics, which is taken up. The Uruguay Round completed negotiations on one set of topics. We are now in a period of trying to agree on a new set of topics."

AA: As trade ministers from 135 nations gathered in Seattle, they couldn't even agree on what a new round would be called. The European Union proposed the "Millennium Round."

RS: But, U-S Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky lobbied for the "Clinton Round." Others wanted the "Seattle Round."

AA: Now here's a real tongue-twister among trade negotiators: "multifunctionality." It refers to the different functions served by agriculture in addition to food production. the protection of the environment or preservation of rural economies and communities. World Bank economist Michael Finger says the European Union and Japan use "multifunctionality" to justify farm subsidies.


AA: "Some would say it is another term for protectionism."

MICHAEL FINGER: "Some would say that, yes. But the W-T-O has many concepts and terms that when pushed for a precise meaning turn out to be pretty much an attempt to cover over ordinary protectionism with a better veneer."

RS: That brings us to one of the hottest buzzwords in global circles: "transparency." Our dictionary defines it as "easy to see through."

AA: But, economist Michael Finger from the World Bank says trade negotiators use the word to describe the degree to which trade policies and practices are open and predictable. TAPE CUT FIVE: MICHAEL FINGER/SKIRBLE/ARDITTI

MICHAEL FINGER: "The rules have to be applied. To apply the rules requires a court and a judge to decide whether or not the particular circumstance is consistent with the law. Transparency refers to the amount of information which is available to the public generally on what transpires in these investigations and reviews which ultimately lead to a determination by the W-T-O that, say, U-S restrictions on imports of tuna from Mexico are not legal under the (W-T-O) rules."

RS: "So use `transparency' in the W-T-O sense. "

AA: "In a sentence."

MICHAEL FINGER: "If all of us knew more about what documents, what facts and what opinions went into the WTO decision in the tuna case, the system would be more transparent."

RS: "Meaning?"

MICHAEL FINGER: "Meaning we would know more about the evidence and how the evidence was interpreted by the judges."

AA: Economist Michael Finger at the World Bank.

For the hundreds of trade words we didn't discuss, we refer you to the glossary on the WTO web site at

RS: If you have a question about American English, send it to or to VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20547 USA.

AA: And we hope you'll send along your questions for "Grammar Lady" who will be joining us in the new year for a new monthly feature.

RS: With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.