Activists are achieving unprecedented success in redefining globalisation as a dirty word. As the World Trade Organisation attempts to improve its public image, SQUALL's Si Mitchell speaks to some of the dissenting voices before packing his bags for the millenium global-trade talks in Seattle.
November 1999 / Squall Download 2, Dec-1999/Jan-2000, pg. 20.
"Our relentless pursuit of growth is accelerating the breakdown of the planet's life support systems," says president of the People-Centred Development Forum, David Korten. "It's intensifying resource competition, widening the gap between rich and poor, and undermining the values and relationships of family and community. The growing concentration of power in global corporations and financial institutions is stripping governments - democratic and otherwise - of their ability to set economic, social and environmental priorities in the larger common interest."
As the dust settled on a bloodied planet, the victors of WWII met with the aim of creating an unshakable global stability. The World Trade Organisation was empowered, ostensibly, to create 'a level playing field' of trade between the planet's richest and poorest nations. Fifty years on the organisation has become its own nemisis.
Trade agreements, such as GATT and NAFTA, drafted in secret by the WTO, have systematically undermined national laws and elected governments in the name of trade "freedom".
"In my view," Korten told SQUALL. "The WTO should be closed while we establish much needed mechanisms under the United Nations to regulate transnational finance and trade."
Founder of US democracy group Public Citizen, Ralph Nader says: "NAFTA and GATT have institutionalised an economic and political situation that places every government in a virtual hostage situation, at the mercy of a global financial and commercial system run by empowered corporations."
In 1994 'the Uraguay round' of GATT was only narrowly adopted by politicians who, on the whole, knew little about it or its implications. In 1997, just weeks before the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) was due to be rubber stamped by the UK government, Jack Straw told a questioner that he had never heard of it. The MAI would have given unprecedented powers to the richest 21 oil producing nations on earth. Had it gone through, we would not be discussing the import of US hormone injected beef. We would be eating it. The latest "round" of trade talks beginS on November 29 in Seattle. Clinton's American contingent have focused their energy on securing agricultural and intellectual property dominance for the corporations they represent. If successful the transfer of 'green' or beneficial technologies to the third world will stop, while majority opposition to biotechnology will become illegal. Microsoft, Nextel, Ford and General Motors have all paid over $250,000 to the Seattle Host Organisation for 'Emerald' level access to the front line players. (Yet the poorest of the WTO's 135 member countries will have little or no representation in the conference centre at all.)
In a scenario that would put Tony Blair's posturing in Northern Ireland to shame, the CIA are orchestrating events within the conference centre. Every delegate will be well aware when and how he should vote.
Still reeling from the MAI's untimely demise, the European WTO posse are out to reinstall its aims in full. However Gordon Brown and Clare Short will not be the only ones in Silicon valley with an axe to grind. Tens of thousands of human rights activists, environmentalists, civil libertarians, trade unionists and generally pissed off people are heading to Washington State with a very different agenda. Buoyed by stalling the MAI once, they intend to see it off again and this time they are better prepared. WTO director general, Michael Moore, warns that these talks will be dominated by activists: "During the Uruguay Round, we complained about apathy. In Seattle we'll be complaining about activists." Moore described the thousands of activists converging on Seattle as "good kids".
Let there be no confusion. World trade has increased eleven-fold since 1950, yet poverty, unemployment, environmental destruction and social disintegration have all witnessed unprecedented growth. This is not another cause for concern, another agenda for the great unwashed. If you have a widespread political, social or economic problem you can be assured it is being caused or exacerbated by growth and globalisation. As Ralph Nader says: It's not the immigrants, the welfare system or greedy farmers that cause these problems. "Citizens divide against each other to the benefit of the corporate agenda."
November 30 - You have been warned - Where will you be?