World Trade Organisation

At the root of this injustice is an economic system that puts corporations ahead of the interests of the people. -- Han Shen, Ruckus Society

The single greatest threat to the multilateral trade system is the absence of public support. -- Charlene Barshefsky, US Trade Representative to the WTO

I just hope they [WTO critics] are as reasonable as we try to be and that we engage in an intellectual, democratic way without any media terrorism. -- Mike Moore, WTO Director-General

What we hadn't reckoned with was the Seattle Police Department, who single-handedly managed to turn a peaceful protest into a riot. -- Michael Meacher, UK Environment Minister

Across Fifth Street a line of 30 riot police look like something from Star Wars. -- John Vidal

This is as significant for the West as Tiananmen Square was for us. It is unprecedented. Governments will have to respond. -- Chinese observer to WTO Seattle meeting

... there are huge flaws with officers when it comes to people of colour. I'm 58 years old, I had on a $400 suit, but last night I was just another nigger. -- Richard McIver, Seattle city councillor

History has been made in Seattle as the allegedly irresistible forces of forces of corporate economic globalisation were stopped in their tracks. -- Lori Wallach, Director Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

The pace of change has hotted up to unbearable levels. Perhaps the real message of Seattle is that people are beginning, however uncertainly and inarticulately, to look for an alternative. -- Anthony Hilton

All the WTO's money and power and influence wasn't enough to move all those concerned, committed people out of the way. -- Sam Corl, Web Master Ruckus Society

What we had was maybe one or two issues we were dealing with. You here, you're dealing with everything. That's how big this globalisation thing is. -- Tom Hayden, veteran of '68 Vietnam demonstrations

I never got on with environmentalists until I realised we were all fighting for the same thing. -- Dan Petrowski, redundant Michigan steel worker

They are worried about a few windows being smashed. They should come and see the violence being done to our communities in the name of liberalisation of trade. -- Filipino leader

The system collapsed and for the right reasons. This has been a victory for democracy, a victory for the civil society we live in. -- Maude Barlow, Canadian protester

If anyone was in doubt as to the true nature of the WTO, its actions in the years since it was created paint a depressingly clear picture. As feared, in every single case brought before it to date, the WTO has ruled in favour of corporate interest, striking down national and sub-national legislation protecting the environment and public health at every turn. -- Simon Retallack

There is enormous anxiety out there and for some reason the WTO is copping the blame for for everything that goes wrong. -- Mike Moore, WTO Director-General

What is the WTO?

The World Trade Organisation is a secretive, shadowy body that rules the world on behalf of global multinational companies. It was born in 1995 in the dying days of GATT, the outcome of the Uruguay Round.

The WTO regulates free trade on behalf of global multinational companies. It bears little resemblance to fair trade or the free trade of Adam Smith or David Ricardo. The environment suffers, workers rights suffer, human rights suffer. Under the WTO free trade is sacrosanct, it rides roughshod over all other considerations. The WTO acts as an unofficial, unrepresentative, unelected world government to enforce a rigid set of rules governing all aspects of trade on behalf of global corporations. It acts to ensure that global corporations have unrestricted access to a cheap supply of labour and raw resources and guaranteed access to markets to off-load their consumer junk. The WTO puts greed before need, profit before people and planet.

The WTO oversees a global set of rules whereby global corporations have all the rights, governments bear the obligations, and local communities and the environment are left counting the costs.

WTO zealots argue that deregulation of internal economies and deregulation of international trade brings huge economic benefits. A comparison with the most liberalised and the most regulated economies realises little differences in economic growth as measured on crude indices of GNP and GDP. Growing international trade has had huge environmental impacts, but few benefits. Jobs are exported to those areas that pay the lowest salaries, with the worst working conditions. The most liberalised economies are those of the UK and US. Whilst crude measures of growth have risen, income disparities have risen sharply, unemployment has dropped only to be replaced by a sharp rise in job insecurity and non-jobs at very low wage rates. American workers now have to work longer hours over more weeks to try and maintain the same monetary standard of living.

The WTO adjudicates on trade disputes between nations or groups of nations. The main areas of dispute are what are seen as 'non-tariff' barriers to trade. Under this nomenclature eco-labelling is a barrier to trade, discrimination against sweat shop labour or pariah regimes is a barrier to trade, restrictions on unhealthy or hazardous products are a barrier to trade, measures to protect the environment and endangered species are barriers to trade. Unlike any other UN or international body, the WTO, because it acts on behalf of powerful corporations, has teeth.

WTO trade disputes are adjudicated by a three-person tribunal or panel of 'trade experts'. The only matter under consideration is trade, human rights, social issues, the environment do not impinge upon the proceedings. The hearings are held behind closed doors, any documentation or submission is secret, only the result is made public. The result holds precedence over state and local laws. There is no right of appeal. The country that wins the dispute has the right to impose punitive sanctions against the losing country until such time as the loser brings its practices into line with the WTO ruling (this favours the strong over the weak).

The first case to be brought before the WTO was by Venezuela on behalf of its oil producers. Their action was against the US Clean Air Act as this discriminated against dirty Venezuelan oil. The WTO ruled against the US Clean Air Act and in favour of Venezuelan dirty oil. The use of dirty Venezuelan oil will result in deteriorating US air quality.

Caribbean bananas are produced on small family farms. These bananas are preferred by consumers within Europe, to which they are given preferential market access. The US complained on behalf of Central and Southern American banana growers. The US grows no bananas, but US corporations control the Central and South American banana market. Chiquita which is notorious for its poor working conditions has been a major contributor to party funds. The WTO ruled against the small producers having preferential access to European markets. The result is that the small producers will either go out of business or have to convert to an illicit but lucrative drug harvest.

Europe will not import US hormone injected beef on health grounds. A US challenge to the WTO has been ruled in favour of the US. European consumers could be force fed on US hormone beef with unknown health consequences.

The US Endangered Species Act bans the sale of shrimps that have been caught in nets that endanger turtles. Complaints by Asian nations who couldn't give a damn about turtles was ruled in favour of the Asian nations. An endangered species is now at risk.

Turtles are not the only species to be screwed by the WTO. The US Marine Mammal Protection Act banned the import of tuna caught in nets that kill dolphins. Illegal ruled the WTO. Congress obliging weakened the Act and dolphin unfriendly tuna is now back on the supermarket shelves.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (not noted as one of the worlds' more radical organisations) WTO rules are undermining seven of the worlds' most important environmental treaties.

EU and Japan has challenged the State of Massachusetts procurement policy that bars any state body from purchasing from a company that conducts business in Burma.

The US, and possibly Canada, are squaring up to do battle with the EU to force the importation of GM products and to ban the use labels which warn the consumer of the presence of GM ingredients.

The failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment gives an indication of the direction in which the WTO wishes to go.

MAI was dreamed up by OECD (Organisation for Trade and Development, the world's 29 richest nations), an agenda pushed by Big Business. The MAI would have put in place a set of rules governing investment, in a similar manner to those which now govern trade.

Under MAI:

Under a regime envisaged by MAI, the worldwide boycott of South Africa would not have been legal, nor would today's sanctions against the regime in Burma. The MAI collapsed when public pressure in France forced the French government to pull out. Were it not for the protesters on the streets and the rather late-in-the-day opposition by Third World delegates, the WTO Seattle meeting would have seen MAI Mk II on the agenda.

NAFTA shows what to expect from a world run by the WTO on behalf of the global corporations. People and the environment have suffered on both sides of the US-Mexican border.

If we are to have a global system of rules on trade and investment these should be for the protection of local communities and the environment, not for the protection of global corporations and their shareholders.

There are some, albeit a tiny unrepresentative minority, who believe the WTO can be reformed. Like EU and NAFTA, the WTO is beyond reform. To engage in dialogue is to grant the WTO legitimacy. The WTO must be dismantled.

Seattle - WTO Millennium Round

The WTO Seattle Meeting was called to set the agenda for the Millennium Round. What took place on the streets was some of the largest demonstrations seen in the US post-Vietnam, and police brutality reminiscent of the same era. The WTO collapsed in disarray.


The weekend before the Seattle meeting there were massive street protests across France and in Geneva. In Geneva, 5,000 people (2,000 farmers, 3,000 city dwellers) from all over Switzerland marched on the WTO headquarters.

Seattle Day -1 -- Monday 29 November 1999

The day before the WTO sessions were due to open (29 November 1999), several thousand protesters ground the centre of Seattle to a halt. Many were dressed as turtles to protest at the WTO banning the use of turtle friendly shrimp nets as unfair trade.

Day 1 -- Tuesday 30 November 1999

Anyone who saw the BBC live footage from Seattle on the opening day would have been horrified. It looked like a scene from a Judge Dredd movie, armoured leather clad police dressed in black shooting at unarmed protesters. Protesters were shot at point blank rage with pepper spray, CS gas and plastic pellets. Janet Williams a BBC reporter speaking live on the World Service described a protester whose gas mask had been smashed by the force of a missile fired by the police.

Speaking live on the BBC World Service at 0210 GMT BBC reporter Janet Williams described how the day had started peacefully enough, how unarmed protesters in an act of civil disobedience took over the streets. The police then totally over-reacted.

Speaking live a few minutes later on the same BBC World News bulletin, John Gummer, a former British Conservative Environment Minister who went out of his way to describe the protesters as extremist, nevertheless put the blame entirely on the police. He said apart from one example of an attack on a store, and that was after the police violence started the violence was all one way. Gummer tried to claim that reasonable environmentalists were in favour of the WTO and so-called fair trade. How he came to such a bizarre conclusion is not known.

The scenes were more like Turkey or Indonesia or several other repressive regimes, but then as these are client states of the US then maybe it explains a lot.

The protesters managed for a time to hold the centre of Seattle and totally screwed up the opening day of the WTO. The opening session of the WTO was first postponed indefinitely, then abandoned. Later in the day Paul Schell, Mayor of Seattle, former Vietnam protester, declared a State of Emergency, imposed a night-time curfew and threatened to bring in the National Guard.

Day One to the protesters.

In London a peaceful day of protest suddenly turned violent and then became a riot outside Euston Station. The police were psyched up for June 18 Riots in the City Mk II and probably over-reacted.

Police stood idly by, content to film and take notes, whilst a hard-core turned over and set fire to a police van. The police then charged the peaceful protesters with batons and shields, herding them into a tight coral. The protesters were held like this for a couple of hours, then only let out a few at a time to be questioned and photographed. As protesters left they were required to give name, address, date and place of birth. Protesters are increasingly being treated as criminals to keep them off the streets. It is now not unusual for any protest or demonstration to be kept under very tight police surveillance with officers in black using still and video equipment. The type of security coverage that would once have attracted strong criticism had it happened behind the Iron Curtain.

Day 2 -- Wednesday 1 December 1999

Sleaze politician he may be, but Clinton understands a popular cause. He said the protesters had good cause to complain.

Police added stun grenades to the weaponry being deployed against unarmed protesters.

The centre of town was kept clear for WTO delegates, but at what cost? The No Protest Zone was an infringement of constitutional rights to free speech.

Peaceful protesters, office workers, local residents, restaurant-goers, innocent bystanders, all were beaten back by baton-wielding thugs in police uniform and attacked with CS gas, pepper spay and water cannon.

The US has been forced to hand its collective head in shame at the police thuggery.

Day Two to the protesters. They may not have been able to hold the streets, but they won the day on PR.

Day 3 -- Thursday 2 December 1999

Seattle community leaders highly critical of the police, described the violence as a police induced riot. Much of the damage to shops was not by protesters but by looters who took advantage of the situation.

EU demonstrated why it is hated, reviled and despised by the people of Europe and why they wish to see it demolished. EU agreed in talks to biotechnology being placed on the WTO agenda and the WTO having the powers to adjudicate in the trade in biotech goods. This forces the door wide open for unrestricted access for GM crops to flood into Europe.

Day 4 -- Friday 3 December 1999

The talks descended into chaos. Delegates booed Mike Moore and Charlene Barshefsky. Third World delegates made it clear that they had had enough of being kicked around and refused to endorse anything.

The WTO talks collapsed in disarray, no items had been agreed for the Millennium Round.

The next attempt at WTO negotiations will be Geneva Spring 2000.


Throughout the week, in sympathy with those on the streets, ElectroHippies coordinated a cyber attack on the WTO.

Throughout the week there was for trade unionists a growing awareness that environmental concerns were their concerns, that it was the WTO and trade liberalisation that was destroying their jobs.

During the week Ted Field, a Vancouver radio journalist, was pulled off the street by police, slapped in handcuffs, and thrown aboard a police bus to be carted away - all to live radio coverage. Richard McIver, a black Seattle city councillor all dressed up on his his way to an official reception, was dragged from his car by police and had his arms pinned behind his back. A pregnant delegate from Columbia was thrown to the ground by over-zealous security.

During the week Third World delegates were barred from many of the meetings. When they tried to set up a counter meeting they had their microphones turned off and their translators withdrawn.

During the week demonstrators managed to infiltrate the WTO press conference and erect banners.

The diary maintained by Theo Simon of Seize the Day is an excellent eyewitness account and commentary.

On his return home, Michael Meacher, UK Environment Minister, compared over-zealous Seattle police to Star Wars-style stormtroopers.

A week after the police thugs started attacking protesters the Seattle Chief of Police resigned for his handling of the situation (Tuesday 7 December 1999).

Seattle Police have a Web site showing the protests on the streets. Surprise, surprise, there are no pictures of police brutality - black-clad thugs gassing, clubbing anything that dared to move.

The declared intent of the demonstrators had been to stop the Millennium Round. In this they succeeded. The protesters had also firmly succeeded in putting the WTO on to the political agenda. The WTO negotiations were no longer something that politicians could keep secret, or as US Senator Pat Hayden so aptly put it:

Yesterday no-one knew what the WTO was. Today the whole of America knows it as a household word, and they know it is bad.

Post-Seattle -- World Economic Forum - Davos

With the failure of the WTO Seattle meeting to agree on anything, the next opportunity for world leaders to run the world in the image of Big Business was to have been the 30th meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (27 January to 1 February 2000).

Business leaders paid £10,000 a head to attend this privileged beanfeast. There was a kerfuffle in the conference venue, not because protesters managed to gain access (the riot police made sure of that), but because the front few rows were forcibly cleared of businessmen to make way for political leaders.

WEF was founded in 1971 to provide a global business forum. In the 1980s WEF provided much of the input and impetuous to the Uruguay round of GATT which subsequently led to the formation of the WTO. The founder members include the world's 1000 foremost global companies.

Inspired by Seattle, demonstrators had other ideas. Following Tony Blair's display of his ignorance of Internet and e-commerce on the Friday (it is the Blair administration's policy on encryption that is sabotaging the UK's chance of a leading role in e-commerce), Bill Clinton was due to address WEF on the Saturday (29 January 2000), the day protesters took to the streets. Unable to gain access to or block the conference venue, the activists on the street did have the satisfaction of trashing a McDonald's.

During the same weekend, at a meeting in Montreal, 130 countries agreed the Biosafety Protocol to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. This will give importing countries the right to refuse GM foods and products, and exporting countries will be forced to label their GM products. The Biosafety Protocol gives precedence to the environment and health over trade. Yet another nail in the coffin of the WTO and neoliberalism and so-called 'free trade'.

Post-Seattle -- Stand Again for Justice - Washington DC

Mobilisation against Globalisation was a stand against the forces of global capital, timed to coincide with the spring meeting of the World Bank and IMF.

Saturday 15 April 2000, the weekend began with minor skirmishes between demonstrators and police. The police managed to close down the protesters headquarters for alleged 'fire violations'. The confiscated 'pipe-bomb making equipment and home-made pepper spray ingredients' turned out to be a propane cooking stove, gasoline and spices! Seized 'incendiary devices' turned out to be milk jugs and other items from a recycling bin! Gap, the sweatshop shop, was for a time closed down. Police on motorcycles charged a critical mass cycle ride. More than 200 peaceful protesters were arrested, their only 'crime' was to be on the street, in total around 600 protesters were arrested. In contrast with the WTO Seattle meeting, the day was marked by a large US media presence, questioning for the first time the activities of global capital.

Sunday 16 April 2000, police stepped up the anti, firing tear gas and pepper spray into crowds of demonstrators. Although protesters failed in their attempt to shut the meeting down, they did succeed in preventing four finance ministers, including the French, from attending. An estimated 10,000 demonstrators were on the streets, with Washington DC resembling a military zone.

Monday 17 April 2000, those who saw the TV coverage would have been appalled by the police brutality. Had it not been announced this was Washington DC, the viewer would have been forgiven for believing this was coverage from Indonesia. An arresting police officer: 'Yesterday was play day. Now it's time to go home.' Police chief Charles Ramsey justified the $4-5 million spent securing the streets: 'We didn't lose the city. As far as I'm concerned it was worth it.'

Meetings of the World Bank/IMF usually take place in obscurity. Not any more. The IMF supports dictators worldwide, is forced to hide behind the paramilitary forces of repressive regimes. Now, in Washington DC, the very heart of political and institutional control of the global economy, the IMF is forced to conduct its affairs behind police barricades.

Post-Seattle -- MayDay 2000 - Global

The day in London was a huge success. Central London was sealed off to traffic, Parliament Square re-engineered, turf laid on the road, flowers, vegetables and shrubs planted, a Maypole erected, music and peaceful festivities. In a separate development off Trafalgar Square a McDonald's was trashed. Late afternoon, riot police sealed off Parliament Square and refused to allow people to leave. This soured the carnival atmosphere and raised tensions. Later everyone was herded down Millbank, across the river, down Albert Embankment and eventually into Kennington Gardens in Lambeth. Crossing Lambeth Bridge Spanish Anarchists started trashing cars much to the disgust of other protesters who intervened to stop them (the police stood idly by and did nothing). At Kennington Gardens the end of a peaceful day was marred by a takeover by Anarchist thugs who started lobbing missiles at police, innocent passers by and passing traffic. Everyone drifted away leaving the Anarchist scum in the park to do battle with the police. Most people's worst fears were realised when instead of covering the peaceful nature of the day or the reason why people were on the streets the media focused on the violence of the Anarchist thugs.

Post-Seattle -- Rebellion is Natural - Genoa

What was to be a showcase conference for the biotech industry in Genoa at the end of May was shut down by protesters who dubbed it a 'mini-Seattle'. Around 10,000 people demonstrated with 1,000 of them coming dressed in white overalls, gas masks, shields and paddings. Despite vigorous police attacks, the protestors managed to block the entrance gate so that no-one could pass. Even the civic authorities joined the protesters, and added to the pressure by declaring Genoa a GM-free city.

Post-Seattle -- G8 Summit Watch - Okinawa 2000

G8 Summit Watch. Okinawa 2000. Local action for global change. The next G8 summit will be held on the inaccessible Japanese island of Okinawa. Well out of the way of protesters. Summit Watch vigils are being held worldwide.

Post-Seattle -- Initiative Against Economic Globalization - Prague 2000 - Global

There will be a global day of action to coincide with the 55th Annual General Meeting of the IMF/World Bank in Prague on the 26/28 of September 2000. A Festival of Art and Resistance is planned for Prague.

Web Resources


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Ed Vulliamy et al, America backs down on GM foods, The Observer, 30 January 2000

Lori Wallach & Robert Naiman, NAFTA: Four and a Half Years Later, The Ecologist, May/June 1998

Lori Wallach and Michelle Sforza, Whose Trade Organization?: Corporate Globalization and the Erosion of Democracy, Public Citizen, 1999

Joanna Walters, What went wrong at the summit, The Observer, 5 December 1999

Jeremy Warner, America the almighty throws down reform challenge to Europe, The Independent, 31 January 2000

Anna Wood, Riot police, letters, The Independent, 2 December 1999

WDM, Turning the tide: Towards new rules on the global economy, World Development Movement, January 2000

WoW, The Tobin Tax: Win-Win for the World's Poor, Parliamentary Brief, War on Want, February 1999

Adam Zagorin, Seattle Sequel, Time, 17 April 2000

Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States: From 1492 to present (2nd edition), Longmans, 1996

Howard Zinn, The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy, Seven Stories Press, 1997

Gaia index ~ role of corporations ~ worker exploitation ~ direct action ~ cyber activism
(c) Keith Parkins 1999-2001 -- March 2001 rev 17