Sunday, December 16, 2012

1999, Seattle and WTO - Blast from the Past

Blast from the Past. 

I found this interesting link titled "WTO 1999 in Seattle" in Yes Magazine which records the opposition to the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Seattle in 1999. For those who have forgotten about the bitter opposition to the multilateral trade institution the reports here are a stark reminder of the opposition just over a decade ago. While we do not see such protests now at the WTO Ministerials or elsewhere, the issues raised in these protests are a common theme of anti-globalization activists and other critics.

A guest editorial by David C Korten titled "WTO is anti-democratic, anti-people and anti environment" at that time underlines the theme of the protests.
"We need rules for the global economy that protect and enhance the well-being of people, communities, and nature. For example, such rules would support the efforts of national and local governments to raise labor, health, and environmental standards. They would also support governmental efforts to curb international financial speculation and corporate tax evasion, limit the concentration of corporate power, and protect local enterprises from predatory forms of global competition. In every instance, the WTO actively hinders governmental efforts to act on these and other basic obligations to their citizens. It is anti-democratic, anti-people, and anti-environment. That is why tens of thousands of protesters are coming to Seattle to say NO to the WTO."
The recurring theme is the restriction of domestic policy space by world trade rules. While many of the critiques are ideological and not necessarily based on facts, we have come a long way from Seattle and the WTO as an institution does not evoke such strong reactions now. Developing countries are participating more actively in the multilateral system both in the negotiating arena as well as the dispute settlement process.China has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of the multilateral system since it entered the WTO in 2001. India has actively participated in the dispute settlement process to protect its national interest. However, the concerns of the challenge to democratic space by international trade regulations persist and are manifested n varying forms especially when a decision is delivered against a national measure or interests of developing countries are impacted by the rules. Can we find the balance between globalization, trade rules and democratic, domestic will? While some of that balance can be achieved by creative interpretation of the existing Agreements itself, a more sustained engagement with the multilateral system to harmonize development goals with trade rules must be attempted.

While we are not seeing "Seattle-like" protests in present Ministerials (maybe because it was in Doha?), the issues raised and concerns expressed nevertheless need to be constantly addressed.

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