Demonstrators claim that it is undemocratic, cloaked in secrecy, and panders to the interests of big business at the expense of labor and the environment.
According to Ron Judd, executive director, Seattle Labor Council, "I don't think a lot of us realized that when they created this organizationÂ…that it was going to be so closed down. That it was gonna be so secretive, and that there wasn't gonna be an ability for people to have input through their respective organizations."
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The 135 member nations of the WTO control 90 percent of the world's trade. Negotiations are typically handled by CEOs and government ministers. Crucial decisions on trade expansion and dispute settlement are made behind closed doors, with no public oversigt.
Protesters have found a high-profile ally in President Clinton. While the president is strongly in favor of Free Trade, he also chided the WTO to become more inclusive this week. "The public must see and hear, and in a very real sense actually join in, the deliberations," he said.
Greater public scrutiny is on the WTO agenda -- and is likely to be delivered on. But opening the decision-making process to labor and environmental groups is an entirely different matter.
"It's no different than NATO," says the US Alliance for Trade Expansion's Scott Miller. "When NATO meets, they don't include the anti-war movement in deciding whether or not to take a military action."
In the years ahead, it may be more difficult for the WTO to exclude those interests. The protests at their Seattle meeting shone a brilliant spotlight on the WTO for the first time. And now, the whole world is watching.