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WTO Think-In

After six years' work, it was fabulous to see a critical mass finally emerge in Seattle against the WTO, but let's not get too excited. The WTO is definitely wounded, but that accomplishment is only a small step forward against the larger creature: economic globalization itself. First, the good news. The public is becoming awake, and what was once thought "inevitable" is no longer certain. The WTO ministers got nothing they expected in Seattle: no expanded powers, no "free trade" in biotechnology or in logs, no expansion of agriculture rules, no suppression of exemptions for poor countries, no return of the MAI, no globally codified powers over environmental agreements like the Kyoto Accord or the Montreal Protocol, no new Millennium Round, and, my favorite, no permanent international ban on taxes on e-commerce (the greatest boondoggle in corporate history; insiders call it the "Bill Gates Rule." The US pushed hard for this).

But hold the flowers and champagne. Globalization is multi-armed; it must be debated and fought in all its manifestations. These include powerful bureaucracies like the IMF and the World Bank. And let's not forget NAFTA, which has already been empowered, albeit regionally, with many of the draconian rules the WTO was trying to globalize.

There's also another seriously overlooked dimension: the role of technology in advancing this juggernaut. We once thought the new communications technologies would bring enhanced democracy and empowerment. But we were children then. The Internet is actually making possible a level of global performance that never existed; it is becoming the global infrastructure for a centralization of commercial and political power beyond our imaginings. Now, in the wake of communications companies' merger-mania, notably Time-Warner, AOL, EMI, etc., the shape of information society is becoming clearer as a brutally hegemonic, centralized, corporatized, globally homogenizing form. In the long run, this will be a threat quite as important to the survival of democracy, sovereignty, local economy and culture, indigenous peoples, and nature as the global bureaucracies that work hand in hand with these giant global corporations at the wheel of the juggernaut.

You asked, can the WTO be reformed? No, it cannot. If the WTO was made democratic, transparent, and interested in the poor, or labor, or the environment, it wouldn't be the WTO. It was designed to hide the fact that it's an instrument to grease the pathways for global corporate development free of community or national oversight. The WTO's current behavior is perfect for its design. Can't be fixed; better to dismantle it.