Mobilisation on Globalisation:
the road to Seattle
by Rob Gowland The World Trade Organisation will be holding its Third Ministerial Meeting at the Seattle Convention Centre, in downtown Seattle, USA, from November 29 to December 4, 1999. This will be the first time the WTO has met in the United States since its founding. The WTO came into being four years ago with the signing of GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). It has elevated corporate power above the sovereign powers of all nation states. National laws which "impede" free trade are subjected to an anti-democratic panel of three trade bureaucrats, operating in secret. By means of these panels composed of non-elected trade specialists, the WTO has already overturned laws affecting labour, community economies, health and the environment. Although November is still six months away, events are already being planned for the actual days of the Ministerial, as well as in the months preceding. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and environmental group the Sierra Club are planning big demonstrations and events at the WTO gathering against the environmental harm from globalisation. The United Steelworkers union hopes to bring out 50,000 people to protests over the WTO's anti-labour policies. In Seattle itself, a planning committee — Citizens for a Fair Trade Policy/Democratise the WTO! — is already meeting monthly to coordinate a campaign around the WTO ministerial. Working closely with Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, this committee hopes to bring thousands of people from around the world to Seattle in November to educate people about the workings of the WTO and to formulate alternatives. Already, speakers from environmental and global poverty and development organisations from Canada, Thailand, the US, Britain, Malaysia, Chile, India and the Philippines are scheduled to take part in a public "teach in" on the WTO and globalisation. Seattle's City Council has joined in, voting to make the city a "global- investment-treaty-free" zone. Environmental activists believe that a number of agreements may be completed at the Ministerial that will have "a dramatic impact on our ability to protect the world's remaining forests and threatened eco- systems". Environmental regulations are targeted in the name of "freeing up" international trade and investment policies. These include a revived Multilateral Agreement on Investment, hidden away within the WTO agreement, and a Global Free Logging Agreement. The US Government has proposed that a zero-tariff forestry and wood products agreement be completed for signing at the Ministerial meeting. This agreement is designed to greatly accelerate the import and export of logs and other timber products and would be counter to current efforts to both protect the forests as eco-systems and to control climate change. At the same time, recent rulings by the WTO on the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, including the overturn of US rules designed to protect dolphins and sea turtles, are likely to become the basis for more strict limits on the rights of countries to use domestic laws to protect marine life. Many groups are calling for formal recognition by the WTO that Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), like the Montreal Protocol or the Convention on Biodiversity, cannot be compromised in any way by trade rules or trade practices. At the beginning of June, "trade consultant" Bill Bryant, speaking on behalf of the Washington Council on International Trade at a forum on the WTO at Seattle University, found himself isolated not only from the audience but from the rest of the panel when he defended the organisation. Other speakers cited the US dispute with Europe over hormone-fed beef, which European governments banned. The US beef industry, which uses hormones routinely, appealed to the WTO. The WTO's three trade bureaucrats agreed with the US beef producers that the ban was an "impermissible trade barrier". So did Bryant. The large audience was not impressed.