Shut Down the WTO

With the US mobilizing hundreds of thousands of troops to assert its unilateral military dominance over the world community, it’s easy to forget about the other game in town: the continued campaign for world dominance by corporations and the capitalist system. But these two forms of dominance are like two faces of the same coin. If people around the globe really want to fight the US military machine, we’re ultimately going to have to fight global economic structures like the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO exists to concentrate wealth and power into western corporate hands. The United States military exists to serve those corporate hands — and eats out of them.

The best chance in years to fight the WTO is coming this September 10-14, 2003 in Cancún, México, when the WTO will conduct its Fifth Ministerial Summit. Grassroots organizations around the Western Hemisphere and around the world are already raising a powerful call: Shut Down the World Trade Organization. Whether you can travel to Cancún to fight in the streets or whether you stay in your local community to disrupt business as usual between September 10-14, it’s high time for a global uprising to challenge corporate globalization and the WTO.

It seems like ages ago when tens of thousands of regular people brought the WTO to its knees in Seattle in November, 1999. In only four short years, we’ve gone from a people’s offensive against the corporate monster, to a state of apprehension in the face of attacks on freedom and peace at home and abroad. The attack on September 11 has been used as an excuse for the greatest expansion of US military, intelligence and police power in memory. Under these circumstances, it’s easy to forget how to set the agenda, rather than just reacting to each new Bush administration attack. It’s absolutely crucial that we fight for something. It’s time to attack Bush’s attempts to create fear by raising some very important questions:

Who really benefits from the war on terrorism? Who really benefits from the World Trade Organization and corporate globalization? Are these things making us “safer” or are they creating a world of decreased equality, increased violence and decreased freedom? Are they creating a world in which the earth’s natural life-support systems have been irreparably damaged? Will our grandchildren be born into a world without wilderness, without clean water and air — into a life of fear, with no privacy, no freedom, no hope, and no happiness?

It’s not too late to stop the forces that seek to concentrate power in the hands of the few. The real purpose of the WTO and the war on terrorism is the concentration of power. The WTO seeks to strip local communities and individuals of self-determination over how we feed ourselves and provide for our other human needs.

People all over the hemisphere are organizing to stop the WTO. In México, hundreds of people have attended planning meetings, resulting in a global call for action and education against the Cancún WTO meeting. An organizational meeting in November included 89 Mexican and 53 foreign non-governmental organizations representing 16 countries from the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. In the United States, thousands of people are making plans to travel to Cancún for the WTO summit. People are discussing the idea of organizing educational caravans which could wind across the continent and end up in Cancún. It’s likely September 10-14 will see coordinated local actions in hundreds of cities and town across the world to denounce the WTO.

Now is the time to start organizing WTO related events and actions. Form your own ad hoc planning group, or contact some of the folks already working on this campaign. (See end of article for contact list.)

The ABCs of the WTO

The WTO is just one institution created to promote economic globalization — the merging of the whole world into a single huge market with “free trade” rules designed to increase the power of huge corporations at the expense or workers, local populations and the environment.

The WTO’s job is to impose trade sanctions against any signatory country which “maintains barriers to trade.” These “barriers” can mean almost anything, including laws that impose labor or environmental standards on industrial production. For instance US laws that prohibit the sale of shrimp caught in nets that endanger sea turtles are considered “barriers to trade” by the WTO.

Any country which is a member of the WTO can request that the WTO take action against another member-country which has laws that are allegedly “barriers to trade.” WTO trade experts who are drawn from big business and who are not elected by any government meet in secret to decide if the challenged law is a “barrier to trade.” The WTO’s decisions are not subject to appeal and an “offending” nation must decide between repealing its law or suffering crippling trade restrictions.

Free trade means freedom for huge corporations to produce and sell products without regard for the welfare of people or the environment. Under free trade, transnational corporations are free to search the world find the cheapest labor available, and then move their factories to that area to exploit the cheap labor. Interestingly enough, while the WTO meets in México, many factories in México along the US/Mexican border are now closing down so the jobs can be moved to China. In a global economy, even the labor of low paid workers in México is considered “too expensive” by transnational corporations.

Labor is cheaper in less developed countries in large part because of the actions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which operate hand-in-hand with the WTO. The IMF/WB keep developing countries in an endless cycle of debt — forcing them to export raw materials and agricultural products. These activities remove subsistence farmers from their land, creating a large pool of very cheap displaced labor.

The alleged goal of the globalization process is to foster development in the third world and economic growth in the developed nations. However, it is far from clear that either development or economic growth actually benefits the population of the world. Both are certainly essential to maintaining profits for transnational corporations.

Market-based capitalism requires that the economy grow every year. Any company that doesn’t grow is deserted by its stockholders (who seek short-term returns on their investments), bought up by its competitors, or forced out of business. Constant competition enforces the rule: grow or die. This process operates regardless of whether this growth benefits or hurts human beings or the environment. For example, in “developed” countries, the use of oil and cars expands every year — an indicator of economic growth. But does this make life better? More time spent in traffic, more noise, more pollution, more illness. More are people moving from place to place, to be sure, but does this help people live more fulfilling lives? All of this growth has terrible environmental costs which are totally disregarded by the free trade system, corporations and the WTO.

The WTO seeks to force a doomed economic system on everyone on earth. Economic globalization means a dramatic increase in economic inequality and environmental destruction, all to benefit a tiny group of corporations. People everywhere are increasingly resisting free trade and corporate globalization. In the name of freedom, self-determination and the Earth, it’s time to shut down the WTO in Cancún!

Get involved

As of this writing, concrete plans are at an early stage. Try getting on this email list:ún-l.

Or, try contacting some of the following: Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano (Ceccam) Vito Alessio Robles No. 76 casa 7 Col. Florida. Mxico, D.F. 01030 tel: 525 6 61 19 25 and 525 6 61 53 98. Public Citizen 1600 20th St. NW Washington, DC. 20009 (202) 588-1000,