Two years ago in Seattle, the transnational corporations at the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) expected to extend so-called “free trade,” already in place under NAFTA, around the world. Their plot failed due to the opposition of two potent forces.

One was the opposition of international delegates to the conference. These included the “South,” the less industrialized nations mostly from the Southern Hemisphere. These delegates were supported by those from France, Germany and Japan, whose governments were forced to heavily subsidize their farmers. In the case of France and Germany, this was because of grain dumping below farmers’ costs by the United States, and in the case of Japan, rice dumping.

The Seattle defeat of WTO’s Seattle plans represented a major setback for international capital’s plans for world trade domination – the 21st century form of imperialism. The major force behind this victory was the U.S. labor movement.

The AFL-CIO called on all organizations of good will – environmental, farmers and religious – to join thousands of trade unionists for a mass demonstration on the streets of Seattle all during the sessions of the conference. The huge popular mass that responded encouraged the third world delegates to oppose and defeat the plans for worldwide trade domination.

But the WTO has not quit.

Seattle was but one stop in a continuing campaign. Under various names, the WTO has been hard at it for the past three years. First was the Uruguay Round, Seattle followed and just last December another round was held in Doha, Qatar.

Qatar, a tiny oil-rich country on the Arabian peninsula, is not a place that favors mass demonstrations. But despite no friendly demonstrations, the third world delegations were on the job .

The Doha ministerial seated Ministers of Trade from 142 countries, hundreds of journalists and business lobbyists. Wary of another failure, and applying the right combination of threats and compromises, an agreement was reached in a final statement.

It was the kind of agreement that both sides could claim as a success. Southern nations could claim that agreement was reached to end export subsidies for farm products, a form of dumping that has been ruining farmers of developing countries.

This success by the Southern delegates was weakened by Australia and some European countries that kept the issue off the general agenda but conceded general language in the final statement that would reduce export subsidies.

It is expected that this issue of export dumping, so vital to the South, will come up again at the next meeting of the WTO ministerial in Mexico in 2003.

Another success was achieved by a number of third world countries supported by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) on the issue of stopping drug companies from using their patents to impede or prevent health authorities from making generic drugs available to AIDS patients in Brazil, South Africa and other countries. The adoption of a special section of the final document was opposed by the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland, but passed just the same.

This Ministerial Conference marked a new unity among third world countries. Divisions remain, but they, with the help of many NGOs, effectively raised new issues, such as the peril of land mines in former areas of conflict, a continuing hazard for rural people. Also global warming and biological diversity will be on future WTO agendas.

The great significance of the Qatar ministerial is the growing power of the third world where the poorest people on the planet live. These developing nations have shown that they have the power to positively challenge the transnational corporations that set up the WTO in the first place.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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