Seattle activists seek to make TPP as well-known – and infamous – as WTO | 

It’s usually not a good idea to have two acronyms in a headline, or anywhere near each other.

Bear with me.


WTO protests in Seattle November 30 1999

Boring acronyms — like WTO — sometimes represent and often disguise hugely political and complex issues of great importance.

Most of us know that jargon and acronyms are standard tools used by politicians, bureaucrats and corporations to obfuscate, discourage public scrutiny or cause your brain to seize up.

Here’s a new one of those potential brain-freezers: TPP, aka the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

It’s about almost everything and anything that can be bought or sold. What it will cost, where it will be made, who benefits. As one writer in Slate noted, it’s being done mostly in secret.

So the activist community, especially some of the old Seattle WTO protest gang, is now gearing up to ‘raise awareness’ of the TPP.

You probably haven’t heard of the TPP and would prefer not to hear more. But if you want to know why your prescription drugs could cost more, what a global “corporate tribunal” will be or at least sound smart and cool within the activist set, read on ….


WTO used to be obscure and wonky, too. Before 1999, few in the public were aware of WTO, the World Trade Organization, an international organization that sets (or tries to set) the rules for international commerce.

After the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle, which spawned massive street protests, many if not most people today (certainly in Seattle) have at least some idea of what the organization does and why it can be controversial.

The Battle in Seattle was billed, simplistically, as the culmination of the American ‘anti-globalization’ movement. It sounds stupid today to be anti-global. The protests weren’t really against globalization, I would argue, so much as they were for things like fair trade, environmental protection, corporate transparency, human and worker rights and so on.

A big point of the protests was about the poor world’s outrage at exploitative trade practices mostly benefiting the wealthy nations.

Lori Wallach of Public Citizen

“The way to think of TPP is that it’s WTO on crack,” said Lori Wallach, an activist with Public Citizen. Wallach was in Seattle Monday night to speak at a gathering of global do-gooders, fair-traders and WTO protest veterans gathered at, of all places, the Queen Anne office of an investment management firm.

At first glance, the gathering at Newground Social Investment might prompt some snide remark about wine & cheese Seattle liberals. They did have a lot of wine and cheese and, presumably, liberals. Continue reading

Alanna Shaikh’s entertaining observations on UNCTAD | 

What the heck is UNCTAD?

No, it is not some kind of festering boil in a section of the body you would prefer not be discussed. It’s actually another one of those UN agencies hardly anyone pays attention to, its full name the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Here’s the organization’s description of itself, which is perhaps even less informative than its acronym.

Never mind all that. Just think of UNCTAD as an international meeting where you get to hear what the rest of the world really thinks of how the rich world has screwed up the global economy.

Alanna Shaikh

And then just read Alanna Shaikh’s daily musings from UNCTAD in Doha, Qatar, on her great blog Blood and Milk (listed in reverse chronological order). Alanna is a great writer, an aid/development expert and doesn’t mince words. Often hilarious. Even if you don’t care much about UNCTAD, her observations give you an idea of what it’s like to sit in on these development discussions.

Some excerpts:

Day Two: “Day two began with the Inter-Agency Cluster on Trade and Productive Capacity.  This is an inter-agency meeting that only takes place at UNCTAD. Like so many inter-agency meetings, it consisted almost entirely of agency representatives reading prewritten statements and ignoring each other.”

You break it, you buy it: “UNCTAD delegates are calling for more government intervention into the economy, more taxation on investments, and more FDI, all at the same time. They want an explanation for what went wrong from the same hapless souls who steered us wrong in the first place. Do we really think suddenly everyone is smarter now?”

Day Four: “The first half of the high-level event on women in development depressed me. Heavy on platitudes and generalities, light on any real ideas. I also heard a lot of boring old tropes recycled – women don’t want to work outside the home, changing policy doesn’t help when culture is the problem.”

The conference goes until April 26 so Alanna’s got a few days left to go.

Oh, and you might also want to read her new TEDbook on global health, What’s Killing Us. Here’s a review by Tom Murphy.

What do trade policies and tostadas have in common? | 

Flickr, my_amii

Black bean tostada

More than you may think, as my Southern California Public Radio blogging colleague Leslie Berestein Rojas noted in her post “On Mexican Food, Farmers and NAFTA.”

According to a top chef, the North American Free Trade Agreement has “decimated”  Mexican agriculture — which is also endangering its rich and sophisticated culinary traditions. Yes, sophisticated. Just because you don’t know much more than tacos and beans doesn’t mean there’s not more to know.

As Leslie notes, UNESCO has designated Mexican food as having value as a cultural heritage. Let’s hope globalization doesn’t just turn that into Taco Time.