When World Trade Organization (WTO) ministers from 146 countries gather this fall in Cancun, Mexico, to review progress on last year's round of talks on global trade rules, they will be joined by local and international demonstrators protesting corporate globalization and the rise of militarism and war.
Meetings of the WTO, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank are regularly met with massive protests around the world. Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, says WTO directors chose Cancun because access roads to the city are limited, making it easier for authorities to keep protesters at bay. In 2001, the WTO met in isolation at Doha, Qatar.
Despite the obstacles, plans are in full swing for dozens of meetings, non-violent protests, and teach-ins to coincide with the fall meeting.
“The global civil society response to the WTO's policies is not just about getting people to Cancun,” says Margrete Strand, deputy director of Global Trade Watch. “It's about educating the public and creating powerful networks for change.”
Latin American groups concerned about health and labor issues and their countries' forestry, agriculture, tourism, and fisheries industries, plan to demonstrate. Mayan leaders, fighting against the privatization of their land and the region's genetic resources, will teach about the WTO's role in expropriation of these resources.
The International Forum on Globalization will hold a teach-in on site the day before the WTO meetings begin. Global Exchange, an international human rights organization based in the U.S., will lead educational sessions throughout the September 10-14 meetings about the privatization of public services and corporate control of the world food supply.
Agricultural subsidies and drug patents will be main issues on the WTO agenda, and developed countries are pushing for WTO regulation of foreign investment modeled on the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA).
“If the WTO achieves its goals, it will be impossible for developing countries to have national development policies,” says Walden Bello, director of the think-tank Focus on the Global South.
The WTO protests are one part of a campaign for global justice that includes a series of summits and demonstrations this fall. In November, tens of thousands of people will converge on Miami in protest when the governing body of the FTAA meets there. FTAA rules provide “investor protections” that empower corporations to sue governments, limit national control over foreign investment, and expand trade agreements to cover the service sector, putting pressure on governments to privatize essential public services.
Demonstrators are also drawing links between unfair trade and war. United for Peace and Justice, a network of 325 U.S. peace and justice groups that opposed the invasion of Iraq, are participating in protests on-site in Cancun and Miami in conjunction with simultaneous demonstrations in the U.S.and other countries.