nettime's_roving_reporter on Sat, 8 Apr 2000 04:34:46 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> An activist amongst the robber barons



[Bruce Silverglade of the Center for Science in the Public
Interest managed to get himself invited to a day-long high-level
seminar on "After Seattle: Restoring Momentum to the WTO."
Speakers included Clayton Yeutter (former Secretary of
Agriculture), Robert Litan (former Associate Director of the
White House Office of Management and Budget), Lawrence
Eagleburger (former Secretary of State), and Luiz Felipe Lamreia,
the foreign Minster of Brazil. His fly-on-the-wall report is
worth quoting at some length]:

I was disappointed that only one representative like myself from
a non-profit organization concerned about the impact of the WTO
on food safety regulation was invited. But I was pleased that the
door had been opened and I looked forward to [it].

. . . 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) and I did not speak up until the end of the meeting.

The meeting was kicked off by a gentleman named Lord Patterson
who was Margaret Thatcher's Secretary of State for Trade and
Industry. He began by stating that 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 non-profit 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 that are gravely
concerned about the impact of the WTO on environmental and
consumer protection, like the Sierra Club and Public Citizen,
have hundreds of thousands of members). He then stated that we
must never have another WTO meeting on US soil because it was too
easy for advocacy groups to organize here and security could not
be assured . . . He added that President Clinton's speech during
the WTO meeting in Seattle, in which the president acknowledged
the protesters' concerns, was "disgraceful" and stated that it
was also disgraceful that delegates to the WTO meeting in Seattle
had to survive on sandwiches and couldn't get a decent meal
during three days of social protest. The Lord finished his speech
by recalling better times having tea with Maggie, and stating
that the staff of the WTO Secretariat ~ should not be balanced
with people from developing countries just because of the color
of their skin. After a few words with the chairman of the
meeting, Lord Patterson added "Oh, I hope I have not offended

. . . The largely American audience of trade officials and policy
wonks took the Lord's pronouncements seriously. The first comment
by an American, picked up on the criticisms 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 if
the foundations could be convinced to cut off funding, the groups
would be forced to cease operations. Mr. Litan, the former White
House budget official, had another approach. He [asked] can't we
give the NGOs other sandboxes to play in and have them take their
concerns to groups like the International Labor Organization (a
toothless United Nations sponsored-group). The representative
from the US Trade Representative's office said nothing.

. . . Under the banner of rebuilding public confidence in the
WTO, [former Agriculture Secretary] 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 to keep the protesters
off balance. He said that the protesters' demands for greater
transparency in WTO proceedings was a misnomer because the
protesters didn't really want to participate in WTO proceedings
-- all they wanted was to get TV coverage and raise money for
their organizations.

. . . The day ended with the usual Washington reception . . .
During desert, the foreign minister of Brazil lamented that if
the next WTO meeting had to be held in an out of the way place,
he preferred that it be held on a cruise ship instead of in the
middle of the desert. He then gave an impassioned speech in which
he opposed writing core labor standards into the WTO agreement
and defended child labor by describing how in one region of
Brazil, more than 5,000 children "help their families earn a
little extra money" by hauling bags of coal from a dump yard to a
steel mill. He stressed, however, that the children do not work
directly in the steel mill. He was greeted by a hearty round of

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