Battle in Seattle, against Banks and for Democracy

Ten years ago this week I marched with labor activists and environmentalists (dubbed “Teamsters and Turtles”) and indigenous people from across the world against the corporate policies of the World Trade Organization.

The famed “Battle in Seattle” that shut down the meetings wasn’t at its core about the police vs. demonstrators or even about free vs. fair trade. It was about the power and rights of people and their elected representatives to set labor, consumer, environmental and commercial laws vs. the power of transnational corporations to abolish those laws and prevent new ones from being enacted.

The WTO’s agenda of trade liberalization and deregulation (i.e. fancy words for abolishing democratically-enacted laws passed by nations, states and regions) includes not only cars, toys, clothing and other stuff manufactured in one nation and shipped to another. Very relevant to today, it also includes a Treaty enacted under the WTO called the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which has gutted banking, financial, and insurance rules across the planet over the past decade.

Virtually unpublicized in the corporate press, WTO’s financial deregulation provisions under GATS locked in domestically, and exported internationally, the model of extreme financial service deregulation that most analysts consider a prime cause of the current global economic crisis.

Worse still, the final statement from the recent G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh called for completion of the next round of WTO negotiations (the Doha Round) that would further financial deregulation at the same time that the G-20 nations called for financial reregulation.

What further deregulation would transnational financial corporations like to see under the next round of WTO negotiations? According to Public Citizen, they include:
– No limits on size of financial firms or operations
– Reduced controls on risky new products and services from foreign financial firms – such as any next generation of credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations that fueled the financial crisis.
– A standstill on reregulating financial sectors
– Difficulty in regulated financial transactions from corporations in tax haven offshore nations
– Eliminating differences in regulations between local, state and federal governments
– Reducing accounting regulations of banks and financial corporations
– Issuance of a list of 70 grounds to challenge any new banking and financial laws passed by governments.

At the very time when governments around the world are responding to more than a decade worth of banking and financial liberalization and deregulation, the World Trade Organization and its corporate globalization agenda wants to cut regulations further, giving banking and financial institutions more power and rights.

Ten years after the “Battle in Seattle” is the battle in Congress – to press our elected representatives to push for an exit from the WTO and all other misnamed “free trade” agreements that serve corporate interests at the expense of people, the planet, and self-governance.

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