Pierre Pettigrew, the minister for international trade, has announced that Montréal will be hosting a special meeting of the World Trade Organization in late July.

With this news confirmed, Montréal area activists began preparing an appropriate welcome for the WTO delegates.

Recently, WTO negotiators have been feeling neglected. A few years back, they had more attention than they desired, as their 2001 meeting in secluded Doha, Qatar illustrated.

Now, however, there is barely a whisper in the mainstream media about corporate-dominated globalization, of which the WTO is a linchpin. News reports on this WTO challenge and others have been scant, mostly relegated to the business pages or alternative media.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, globalization issues have been overshadowed by George W. Bush’s war on terror.

Earlier this month, the Canadian government joined the Bush administration in a challenge at the WTO over a European moratorium on genetically modified foods.

Europeans oppose GM foods, fearing long-term environmental repercussions. GM agricultural exporters and the biotechnology industry, which is overwhelmingly based in the U.S., disagree with the Europeans’ “precautionary” approach.

If unable to force the Europeans to lift their ban — although Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in talks with EU leaders this week, continues to lobby — they want, at least, to send a message to other countries not to impose similar restrictions on GM foods.

The WTO still maintains quasi supra-national powers and current negotiations could further strengthen its reach.

Two rulings against Canada demonstrate its long-term deleterious effects.

In 2000, the Liberal government acceded to a WTO ruling further strengthening patents by making it illegal for generic companies to stockpile drugs in anticipation of the termination of a patent. This has added millions to the skyrocketing costs paid by individuals and cash-strapped Medicare.

The WTO ruling against the Canadian Auto Pact — an agreement that forced American automakers to make a certain percentage of their cars in Canada — will be felt in the years ahead. A fluctuating dollar and the cost of U.S. bound exports will highlight its negative impact on the Canadian economy. Autoworkers and their communities will feel the effects.

Safe from serious public scrutiny, WTO negotiations should be rolling along. They are not.

In fact, the goal of Montréal’s special meeting is to rejuvenate the WTO’s “development round”.

Poorer countries have stubbornly taken the “development” ingredient seriously and are unhappy with current negotiations. They want changes to wealthy-nation agricultural subsidies.

In addition, less-developed nations are demanding the right to override foreign patent protections for essential medicines. At the request of the pharmaceutical industry, U.S. negotiators have expressed opposition.

Patent issues touch the core of the WTO’s raison d’etre.

Canada and other Group of Seven industrialized nations want to strengthen the WTO’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs). Some even claim that the U.S. would abandon the WTO if it weren’t for the TRIPs agreement.

This is because the TRIPS agreement is a major benefit to multinational industry.

According to Steven Lohr in the New York Times, “if a global agreement on intellectual property rights goes fully into effect, the developed nations, led by the United States would gain the most… But developing nations would pay more. The U.S., Germany, Japan and France combined, stand to gain $34.9 US billion annually mostly at the expense of China, Mexico, India, Brazil and others.”

The WTO has never been legitimized democratically in Canada. And the current lack of debate is further undermining its legitimacy.

Proper political discussion is all the more important as negotiations proceed, especially when agreements could affect medicare and education. Before Canada and the world are further locked into this system, we need a genuine debate.

In late November, 1999, “the battle of Seattle” brought globalization into North American discourse. The goal over the next two months is more limited: the need to re-establish globalization as an issue of popular discussion in Canada.

Yves Engler

Dubbed “Canada’s version of Noam Chomsky” (Georgia Straight), “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I. F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), “part...