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The Spirit of Seattle Comes to Davos

by John Tarleton
February 4, 2000

CLERMONT-FERRAND, France—Well, it looks like the "Spirit of Seattle" spilled over into the streets of Davos this past weekend.

Jose Bove and roughly 1,000 other people braved the cold and the snow to protest outside the building where the world's financial and political elites were meeting at the annual World Economic Forum. The Forum, held high in the Swiss Alps, was conducted behind police barricades. There was (here we go again...) tear gas, rubber bullets, robo cops and the ritual smashing of a McDonalds by hooded anarchists, reportedly from Italy. The French media followed Bove's every move and Davos was the lead story on the evening news and in the Monday papers.

Bove, a sheepfarmer and the leader of the French Confederation Paysanne, became a national icon last summer when he rode his tractor through a McDonald's construction site in the town of Millau after the WTO slapped $154 million in trade sanctions on the European Union for refusing to import hormone-tainted beef from the US and Canada.

He had been invited beforehand to participate in the Davos Forum's "dialogue" but wisely declined (What a photo co-op that would have been!). Instead, who knows how many cameras were on hand to record the feisty, pipe-smoking paysan being tear-gassed at point-blank range.

The Bottom Line

The rhetoric inside the Davos Forum, judging by media reports, was more contrite than in past years. Clinton bemoaned the growing inequalities that the global economy is generating. British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised that the WTO would be more open and transparent. But, the bottom line is that the neoliberals are eager to get trade talks rolling again in the next few months. They have their free-market doctrine ("la pensee unique") and their self-serving agenda. And, they want to put Seattle behind them as quickly as possible

The US presidential elections may slow things down during the next year while Clinton and Gore pose for the labor unions. But, the next administration (whether Republican or Democratic) will be pushing hard for a new, expansive round of WTO trade talks. Anti-WTO activists will have to be on their toes. It looks like there is about 12 months (at most) to broaden and deepen this movement.

NOTE: US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky announced at Davos that she plans to meet with Pascal Lamy, the EU head trade negotiator at the end of this month. They will meet in Washington, D.C. to try and work out the differences between the two sides that helped contribute to the collapse of the Seattle ministerial.

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