by Danielle Knight

Seattle, 30 Nov. 99 (IPS) -- Protestors took to the streets here Tuesday, calling for a drastic over-haul of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The first official session of the Third Ministerial Conference of the Geneva-based trade body began amid protests from more than 500 non-governmental organisations - from the United Steelworkers of America to the Human Society and Friends of the Earth.

Activists blocked traffic with protests, street theatre, and rallies chanting: "Just Say NO to the WTO." The protestors argued that WTO rulings had weakened environmental and health regulations.

The Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers of America held a "Seattle Tea Party" here to drive home the slogan "No Globalization without Representation."

Imitating the founders of the United States who dumped tea into the Boston Harbor to protest being taxed by Britain without having voting rights, Seattle protestors symbolically threw cheap steel imported from China into the Puget Sound, along with some shrimp, hormone-treated beef and other goods.

"The WTO is a government of, by and for the corporations," said Dan Seligman, the Sierra Club's expert on trade and environment.

In response, corporations who flocked here to meet with trade delegates set up a "boiler room" near the convention centre where delegates and journalists could contact industry representatives. The National Association of Trade Manufacturers, an industry group, set up the facility with about 50 phones and volunteers capable of contacting CEOs carrying pagers and cell-phones.

Corporate representatives, however, insisted that economic globalisation was inevitable and that the WTO would help bring about greater living standards worldwide.

"The more we trade, the more we create better-paying jobs," said Phil Condit, CEO of Boeing, one of the nation's top exporters and co-chairman of the Seattle Host Organisation for the WTO. Patti Goldman, a lawyer with the Seattle-based Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund, said that while she was not against trade per se, she was outraged that so many hard-fought environmental and safety laws had been dismantled by the trade body.

The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few had increased since the WTO's birth five-years-go, she opined.

"The rising tide is not lifting all boats, but perhaps it's lifting only yachts," Goldman concluded. (SUNS4564)

The above article by the Inter Press Service appeared in the South- North Development Monitor (SUNS).