WTO: From "Battle In Seattle" To "No News From Geneva"

World trade rules are incredibly complex and right now, government officials are meeting in Geneva to try to hammer out an agreement to save the World Trade Organization. Remember how the negotiations failed spectacularly nine years ago in Seattle? The same proposals - many of them anti-environmental, anti-food safety, anti-human rights - are still on the table today.

I was encouraged to find the movie The Battle in Seattle, written and directed by Stuart Townsend. The official premiere date is September 19, 2008 but you can watch clips on the official website and on Youtube. Also, learn more about the WTO protest at http://www.whocontrolstheworld.com.From The Yomiuri Shimbun (080721):

Countering protectionism

Recent skyrocketing food prices have prompted an increasing number of nations to restrict their agricultural exports. This situation has raised concerns about protectionist moves and provided the momentum to promote free trade. It is hoped that this momentum will help participating nations strike a deal at the meeting.

Major stumbling blocks in the negotiations are conflicts arising from United States' staunch opposition to cutting farm subsidies, Japan and European nations' reluctance to lower tariffs on farm products and developing nations' resistance to opening their markets to industrial products.

Plans proposed by the WTO secretariat as possible agreements called for setting the ratio at which sensitive items--rice for Japan, for example--treated as exceptions to a decrease in tariffs imposed on high-tariff products, at 4 percent to 6 percent of the total imported items. This figure is much smaller than 8 percent or more proposed by Japan.

BBC WTO Seattle Protest Turtles photo

(Photo from BBC: A Century of Free Trade)

The fact that trade negotiators will settle issues that ought to be debated by elected politicians is one reason why WTO has been under so much critisism.

In Seattle, some among the 50,000 protesters took to the streets to protest rules that made it impossible to protect turtles, or protest against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or the intellectual properties regime called TRIPs which is an intergral part of the WTO. Others belonged to AFL-CIO, with cooperation from its member unions, who wanted job protection, and a debate about privatisation of many public services: "Turtles and teamsters" walking together for the same cause...

Mainstream media such as the The New York Times fanned the flames, printing erroneous information stating that protesters threw Molotov cocktails.The NYT later printed a correction, but the damage was done. While the chaos on the streets could have been prevented, the failure inside the Seattle Convention Center was more serious: the trade talks broke down, and there is still no deal.

With the current food crisis leading to riots in many countries, in addition to a scenario where it looks likely that we have reached the end of the (brief) era of cheap fossile fuels, it seems to me that a WTO deal would do more harm than good.

Read more about WTO:
Treehugger: New Proposal for Fishing Subsidies at WTO Doha Talks
Treehugger: The TH Interview: John Bowe, Author of "Nobodies"
Treehugger: GM Corn In Europe: Withering Away Soon?

Written by Martin Frid at greenz.jp

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