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How To Restore the WTO's Momentum

Bruce Silverglade of the Center for Science in the Public Interest got himself invited to a day-long high-level seminar entitled, “After Seattle: Restoring Momentum to the WTO.” Here is an excerpt from his fly-on-the-wall report.

As it turned out, I got a lot more than I bargained for. The seminar turned out to be a strategy session on how to defeat those opposed to the current WTO system. Apparently, no one knew who I was – perhaps my graying temples and dark suit helped me blend in with the overwhelming older male group of attendees.

Lord Parkinson, Margaret Thatcher’s trade minister, kicked off the meeting by stating, “Our number one job is to restore confidence in the WTO before embarking on any new rounds” of trade negotiations. So far, so good, I thought.

But he then proclaimed that nonprofit groups have no right to criticize the WTO as undemocratic because the groups themselves do not represent the general public. (I wondered which groups he was talking about because organizations like the Sierra Club and Public Citizen have hundreds of thousands of members.) He then stated, “we must never have another WTO meeting on US soil” because it was too easy for advocacy groups to organize here.

An American from the audience picked up on this and asked, “How can we de-legitimize the NGOs?” The questioner claimed that these groups are usually supported by just a few charitable foundations and suggested that if the foundations could be convinced to cut off funding the groups would be forced to cease operations. Mr. Litan, a former White House budget official, endorsed another approach – to “Give the NGOs other sandboxes to play in” and have them take their concerns to groups like the International Labor Organization.

I was hoping for a more enlightened approach from former secretary of agriculture Clayton Yeutter. I was again shocked at what I heard. Mr. Yeutter concurred with his British colleague’s suggestion that the next WTO meeting be held in some place other than the US “where security can be assured.” He further suggested that the WTO give the public “little advance notice” of where the meeting would be held so as to “keep the protesters off balance.”

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