Surfing to Seattle PDF Print E-mail
Andy Rowell, 24 November 1999

Article originally appeared in The Guardian and can be accessed at Andy Rowell's Website

Surfing to Seattle

Websites are bulging with mega-bytes putting forward pro and anti-WTO views. You don't have to make it to Seattle to join the debate: just start surfing. If you want to find out what the UK government thinks, try the rather dry DTI site, which states that "the UK has called for a comprehensive round of WTO negotiations". You can understand why the government is so keen by examining the website of the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue, which is a US-EU trade forum. It argues that "liberalisation has enormous benefits to employers, employees and consumers, as well as to countries at all stages of economic development".

But free trade does not just bring wealth, argue its proponents. Try the WTO's website. Other benefits include "promoting international peace", "making life easier", "cutting the costs of living", providing "more choice of products and qualities", "shielding governments from lobbying" and encouraging "good government". The WTO, obviously forgetting about the dolphins and turtles which have suffered through its rulings, also argues that one of the misconceptions about the organisation is that commercial interests override environmental protection. For another business perspective, try the International Chamber of Commerce site, where the "ICC is convinced that the emergence of a global market economy, a process that has only just begun, will bring unprecedented prosperity to millions".

Other business organisations are more realistic. The World Economic Forum argues that "developing countries in Asia and elsewhere are unlikely to support a new round of talks on trade liberalisation unless developed countries, especially the US, live up to previous commitments and promise to include the interests of developing countries".

Many developing nations feel betrayed by the last trade round, where agreements by industrialised nations to liberalise tariffs on textiles and clothing have failed to materialise. The south is reluctant to embrace a new trade round that just benefits the rich north. At www.oneworld.net/campaigns/wto , Oneworld's new WTO site, you can read how 86 developing countries are pushing for changes to the WTO and how many African organisations reject attempts to expand its powers.

Also at Oneworld, you can read about how southern groups are worried about agriculture, patenting and biopiracy. African nations are concerned about how trade pressures are blocking badly needed HIV drugs being made more affordable. "We are in danger of once again being run over by the mighty trade negotiating machine of the rich nations," argues Martin Khor, from the Third World Network, which is linked to Oneworld. So too is the World Development Movement. "The WTO has become the bully-boy of the multinational corporations," they argue.

If you are not suffering from information overload by now, try two other key websites http://www.tradewatch.org/ and http://www.seattlewto.org/. "The WTO must be radically changed if we are to enjoy a society based on human rights, labour rights and environmental protection around the world," they reason. Those worried that public health and education might be on the slippery slope to privatisation in the new trade round should examine the evidence presented by Education International and Public Services International.

Want to join in the "festival of resistance"? Try People's Global Action, Reclaim the Streets, Ruckus Society or the Direct Action Network, which argues that increasing poverty, cuts in social services, low wages, sweatshops, deforestation, gridlocked cities, global warming and genetic engineering are all rooted to "the global economic system based on the exploitation of people and the planet".

Which leads on to Adbusters, who are planning to broadcast "subvertisements" at Seattle. You could check out their site at http://www.adbusters.org/ and answer "the big question" that they want Clinton, Blair and the other WTO delegates to answer: "Is economic progress killing the planet?"