Many U.S. Companies Absent at WTO Talks

Many big businesses are passing on this week's World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong. Corporate America isn't expecting much benefit out of the trade talks.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Many world leaders are in Hong Kong this week to take part in the World Trade Organization talks. One group is not there in force: big business. Traditionally, corporate leaders would attend such an event to promote their interests, but that's not happening nearly as much as it has in the past. NPR's Adam Davidson finds out why.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

Whether they're selling toothpaste, nuclear power plants or advertising advice, just about every big US corporation is engaged in world trade, but they don't care that much about world trade talks, says Pietra Rivoli, author of "The Travels of A T-Shirt in the Global Economy."

Ms. PIETRA RIVOLI (Author, "The Travels of A T-Shirt in the Global Economy"): Corporate America is pretty bored, I think, with trade policy discussions in general, and I think they're probably even more bored with what's going on in Hong Kong.

DAVIDSON: This is a bit odd, since the WTO is where many of the world's trading rules are written, and those rules help determine how much money companies are able to make. But, Rivoli says, it doesn't look like this year's meeting is going to succeed. Past WTO conferences have yielded major advances for US corporations. They've dramatically cut tariffs, for example. This year, most observers expect little, if any, significant developments.

Ms. RIVOLI: Corporate America just doesn't have a lot of faith in the forward momentum of this process.

DAVIDSON: Why spend a lot of money lobbying government officials if you're not likely to get anything out of it? There are some companies taking an active interest; for example, large shipping concerns, like UPS, are trying to get more countries to reduce customs paperwork, so they can get packages in and out more quickly. But many business groups are taking a pass. Tom Donahue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, told London's Financial Times that businesspeople are being too negative, too pessimistic. He wishes they would have some ambition and come to Hong Kong to fight for their interests. Adam Davidson, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP (Host): And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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