ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Seattle and Beyond

The need of the hour is globalisation – not what the WTO recommends but globalisation of the struggle against the WTO. A broad-based, democratic struggle encompassing all sectors of society must challenge the legitimacy of WTO and reassert national sovereignty, elimination of poverty and lasting world peace.

In and the WTO in Geneva, is set on weakening and dividing social movements and citizens’ groups which have converged on Seattle from all over the world. Meanwhile, local organisers – together with the FBI and the Seattle Police Department (SPD) – are carefully planning ‘security arrangements’ for the official venue. An extensive police apparatus has been set in motion. Special forces from the FBI, the CIA and other federal agencies will be on the scene. ‘Trouble-makers’ are to be held at bay, well equipped riot police are on hand including gang squads and SWAT teams of the Tactical Operations Divisions which constitute the ‘more militarised components’ of the police force.1 Everything has been put in place to keep the citizens’ summit physically removed from the ministerial conference. As in previous counter-summits (Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Copenhagen, Beijing, etc), the intent is to ensure that the numerous protest meetings, teach-ins and mass rallies do not obstruct or in any way threaten the legitimacy of the official venue.

In Seattle, the holding of parallel sessions by NGOs requires formal ‘accreditation’ with the Seattle Host Committee, chaired by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Philip Condit of The Boeing Company. Several months ahead of time, the WTO and western governments had called for a ‘dialogue’ with selected civil society organisations in setting the agenda for the Millennium Round. ‘Partner NGOs’, namely, those ‘we can trust’ were provided with funds to travel and organise their respective ‘teach-ins’ in Seattle. Already last year, the WTO had announced a plan for ‘an ongoing collaboration with partner NGOs’ while emphasising that the WTO “recognises the role NGOs can play to increase the awareness of the public in respect of WTO activities”.2 Similarly, the European Commission had underscored its “commitment to transparency and openness in trade policy-making”.3 Carefully screened ‘partner NGOs’ were invited to participate in a number of preparatory ‘issue-specific’ events. The European Commission held several rounds of consultations with selected consumer, labour, environmental and development organisations with a view “to improve the transparency of WTO meetings” including public access to WTO documents and the creation of an WTO ‘information ombudsman’ (ibid). In the words of (former) European Trade Commissioner Leon Brittan: “A Millennium round of trade talks should not just benefit business. We can and should ensure that consumers and the environment also gain. The commission has today opened a dialogue with a wide cross-section of NGOs as it believes that transparency and openness are essential if a new round is to reap its full benefits. NGOs are crucial partners in preparing for the negotiations that lie ahead” (ibid).

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