ENEVA, Oct. 30 — Nearly a year after violent demonstrations in Seattle disrupted the World Trade Organization's meeting of ministers and shredded its image, the group's leader, Mike Moore, is still trying to pick up the pieces.
The public dissatisfaction over further trade liberalization without accompanying attention to openness and environmental, safety and labor issues frayed an organization already shaken by a divisive fight for its top job — a post Mr. Moore took up just three months before the Seattle talks collapsed.
For governments both large and small, Seattle became a shorthand for failure to move toward more open world markets, the World Trade Organization's mission.
Rebuilding the image of the five- year-old, fast-growing group has preoccupied Mr. Moore and, some say, hobbled him during his first year as director general. Even critics go easy on him over the Seattle debacle, mostly because he was so new to the job. They say he will find that his greatest challenge will be getting a new round of global trade talks under way next year.
By all accounts, Mr. Moore, 51, who is from New Zealand, has labored mightily to restore confidence within the fractured ranks of the organization, which now has 138 member nations and seems to be expanding monthly. He has traveled extensively and has taken steps to assure the smaller members that their concerns are important and being addressed. Still, fissures between the large, industrialized nations and the developing countries that came to light during the leadership tussle and were widened by the Seattle debacle have been slow to close.
"He's tried to move away from the Green Room, and thrash out issues in the General Council," said Ireland's trade negotiator, Anne Anderson, using the nickname for closed-door sessions for invited diplomats. "But trying to move more transparently means things move more slowly."
Interviewed recently in his office overlooking Lake Geneva, Mr. Moore was philosophical, even resigned, seemingly girded for the long haul. Though looking tired and speaking in a gravelly voice, Mr. Moore displayed his folksy wit. "I said after Seattle that we'd be like a swan — we'd hold our head up and pedal like mad underwater," he chuckled. Confidence was "pretty fragile" after Seattle, but "it's much stronger now," he said.
While China's impending entry to the W.T.O. has grabbed most of the limelight recently, Mr. Moore has been active in the traditional director general mode: smoothing the way behind the scenes.
Much of his attention has been focused on less glamorous matters. Negotiations on agriculture and on an array of services, including banking, insurance, tourism and communications, have begun, Mr. Moore said. Those talks were required by agreements forged in 1994 in the last global trade negotiations, known as the Uruguay Round.
The basic business of the organization, which also includes talks about electronic commerce and the arbitration of global trade disputes, "is bubbling away," he said, although he acknowledged that "all this sounds like modest stuff."
No one disputes that the W.T.O. had to be lifted out of its doldrums. But trade diplomats say that Mr. Moore now needs to focus on seeing that a new trade round is up and running. Their target date is next autumn's ministerial meeting.
"Due in no small part to his help, we've put the W.T.O. back into normal business," said Morocco's trade diplomat, Nacer Benjelloun-Touimi. "Now he needs to jump-start movement toward trade liberalization."
Part of the deal that secured Mr. Moore his job calls for the term to be split, cutting the time he has to show his stuff. Thailand's minister, Supachai Panitchpakdi, is set to take over in September 2002. Despite the bitter leadership race, Mr. Supachai has been circumspect in his remarks during Mr. Moore's tenure, and there is little doubt he will have a quieter style than the bluff Mr. Moore when his turn comes.
With the high-profile battle over globalization still raging, the organization has benefited from Mr. Moore's accessibility and communications skills — his snappy one-liners that often help make trade abstractions concrete and relevant.
But skeptics say little has been done to make the trade forum's operations more open to the public.
Although Mr. Moore said he would like to do more, many developing countries fear that a fully accessible W.T.O. would leave them vulnerable to pressure from home-based interest groups. And Mr. Moore's ability to open closed-door sessions and give outsiders a chance to give their views in trade disputes — two demands of nongovernmental organizations — is controlled by the governments, which he likes to say are "the real owners" of the body.
There are also questions about Mr. Moore's leadership abilities, fueled in part by controversy earlier this year over the makeup of the W.T.O. secretariat. A plan floated by the director general's inner circle to ease out some of the European personnel, who dominate the administrative staff, and replace them with people who better reflect the W.T.O.'s diverse membership was greeted with fury, especially when European governments learned they would probably be asked to pay for the reorganization. The plan was quickly shelved.
Inside the organization's imposing headquarters building, morale is still low. "There's been a sense of treading water here since Seattle," one staff member said.
Employees complain that their work is increasingly hamstrung by a static budget. The budget is tightly tied to a complex formula involving inflation rates, including that of the biggest donor country, the United States, which contributes nearly 16 percent of the budget. It has edged up a few percentage points the last two years, to $74 million in 2000. Mr. Moore's staff is pushing for a large increase, 20 percent, for next year, citing the increased number of trade disputes. But the biggest contributors, which also include Canada, Japan and Germany, are likely to push for something more modest.
Some critics say Mr. Moore has paid too much attention to developing countries. He has, for instance, traveled to Africa half a dozen times. Some of his initiatives for the least- developed countries, including a program for technical assistance in trade matters, have not won support from the biggest trading powers.
Developing countries also want more time to carry out Uruguay Round commitments to protect intellectual property rights, bring investment policies into line with free- trade rules and align national regulations on animal and plant health and safety and food safety. Industrial countries say such a delay is an attempt to rewrite existing agreements.
Managing this diverse and fractious crowd is a huge challenge, and cajoling, the trademark of Mr. Moore's predecessor, Renato Ruggiero, is essential to the job. Some negotiators say Mr. Moore seems less able than earlier trade chiefs — both Mr. Ruggiero, his only predecessor at the W.T.O., and leaders of the group's forerunner, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade — to jump over hurdles at difficult negotiating junctures. Of course, trading nations used to be an exclusive, and tiny, group.
Mr. Moore does not expect the way ahead to be easy. "I'm used to public abuse now," he said.
"I've never believed the W.T.O. itself was the demon," he added, "but I know things could get even more nasty as we try to move into a new round" of global trade talks.