Why I Joined the WTO Protest in 1999

In the early to late 90’s, trade agreements like NAFTA were being proposed. The agreements were being worked out in total secrecy. The players involved were mostly provided by corporate elites. Labor, human rights and environmental groups were not invited. This was no different from how today’s TPP was negotiated.

The WTO, which I gave the nickname – The World Trashed Organization, was very much a part of these global trade agreements. In 1995, the WTO replaced GATT- General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. GATT was formed after WWII to help improve post war economies and foster trade.

GATT likely was started with the intention to benefit most people, and many economies did well. Large parts of the populations of many nations began to prosper. This was during an era where finance didn’t have as much control as it became to have. It was a time when people trusted each other because, in large part, people were honest, hard-working folk.

There were inequality issues, for sure, but in general, it was a prosperous time for many Americans. College was free for returning GI’s, and inexpensive for others. Large numbers of people became educated, which not only helped expand the economy, it also helped to expand awareness. Like the awareness that not everyone was receiving the benefits from a growing economy, nor being treated equally.

But that lasted only until greed took over.

From Investopedia, The WTO  “rules become a part of a country’s domestic legal system.” “…if a country is a member to the WTO, its local laws cannot contradict WTO rules and regulations, which currently govern approximately 97% of all world trade.”

If a country’s labor, human rights or environmental laws interfere with a corporations ability to make money, that corporation can sue the country, through the WTO, to either change the laws or pay them an often very large sum of money.

Countries lose their sovereignty because of the WTO and trade agreements. Corporations file suit against a country with the WTO and the process takes place, once again, in secrecy. Three corporate lawyers are chosen to hear the case and decide which side has the stronger case. On other days, these same lawyers often bring suits against countries on behalf of corporations.

Once a decision is made, there’s no appeal process. It’s a done deal.

These are some of the reasons I was proud to stand with thousands of citizens to let our distaste for what the WTO stands for be known.

I am encouraged that maybe enough people have finally woken up to the fact that this is a very important issue that we need to deal with.  An article in Financial Times, by one of Britain’s most influential economists alludes to this awakening. Capitalism and democracy: the strain is showing:

Meanwhile, those of us who wish to preserve both liberal democracy and global capitalism must confront serious questions. One is whether it makes sense to promote further international agreements that tightly constrain national regulatory discretion in the interests of existing corporations. My view increasingly echoes that of Prof Lawrence Summers of Harvard, who has argued that “international agreements [should] be judged not by how much is harmonised or by how many barriers are torn down but whether citizens are empowered”. Trade brings gains but cannot be pursued at all costs.
Both the Sanders and Trump campaigns have understood, to various degrees, the importance that trade issues resound for many American citizens. The Green Party has been at the forefront of this battle for a long time. Hillary realized that she needed to change her outward appearing stance to get elected. (More on this later)

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