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Figures on stilts, dressed as managers of DuPont, Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta, the world's largest agro-multinational, tag patent clips on plants and seeds around a three-meter globe.

Why is the WTO a problem?

The WTO is a tool of the rich and powerful. By placing trade above all other goals, it threatens our health and the environment. Its more powerful members use arm-twisting tactics to push developing countries into making bad deals. And it's being used by corporate interests and the US to force-feed the world genetically engineered food.

It's controlled by the rich and powerful

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) essentially protects multinational corporations based in the North and acts as a tool of rich and powerful countries - notably the US, the EU, Japan and Canada.

Although the majority of other WTO members are developing countries from Africa, Asia/Pacific and Latin America, many of them have little say in decisions that are taken at WTO meetings. They don't have enough to offer from an economic standpoint to have any real power.

Many of these countries are not even invited to key meetings, which are invitation-only (although no one knows exactly how these invitations are handed out, since this is done in a completely non-transparent way). Find out more about the secretive and undemocratic nature of the WTO and how decisions are taken.

It is strongly influenced by narrow corporate interests

Corporations are driven by the bottom line - profit. Environmental, social and development concerns are distant priorities, and tend to be a corporate focus only when they bring commercial advantage. Given this narrow agenda, the trend of powerful business lobbies influencing government positions at the WTO is worrying.

It is not just in the case of genetically engineered food, where you can see a corporate lobby group influencing government positions. In fact, this is the norm.

The US has also blocked an agreement at the WTO that promised developing countries access to vital medicines - even though WTO member countries already agreed to this in Doha in 2001. The reason is that the agreement on the table threatens to cost its pharmaceutical companies lost revenues in the billions.

And it is not just the US: the European Union (EU) is under great pressure from the agricultural industry to maintain its huge subsidy programme.

The EU is also looking to expand markets for its huge drinking water companies under the WTO agreement on services. Even though freshwater resources are drying up, the EU has been pushing a corporate agenda, not one that works for the environment and development.

The list goes on and on. Where WTO agreements can bring profit to big industry groups, those groups go to work on their governments to make sure that the most advantageous agreement is negotiated for them.

More information

How does the WTO affect you? View the slideshow

The latest updates


Activists block US genetically engineered

Image | 12 September, 2003 at 3:00

Activists block US genetically engineered maize from offloading at Vera Cruz, Mexico

Activists from the Greenpeace ship MV Arctic

Image | 11 September, 2003 at 3:00

Activists from the Greenpeace ship MV Arctic Sunrise intercepted the MV Ikan Altamira carrying 40.000 t of US GMO contaminated maize/corn as in response to fresh evidence that the US was dumping genetically engineered crops across the border...

Greenpeace Position Paper for the 5th Ministerial Conference of the WTO

Publication | 1 September, 2003 at 2:00

Greenpeace positions on issues coming to the table at the Cancun meeting of the WTO, including Multilateral Environmental Agreements, WTO and Agriculture, GATS, TRIPS, and the CBD.Plus Greenpeace's recommendations for an alternative sustainable...

Biodiversity, genetic resources and a new agenda for reforming the intellectual...

Publication | 1 September, 2003 at 2:00

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) establishes minimum standards for intellectual property rights (IPRs), including patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. While balanced IPRs can promote...

How does the WTO affect you, and why should you care about it?

Publication | 29 August, 2003 at 2:00

Since the 1990s, and in particular since the creation of the WTO, international environmental agreements have been under threat from the international trading regime. Increasingly, trade rules and practices under the WTO have been used to...

Questions and Answers about the 5th Ministerial Meeting of the WTO in Cancun, Mexico

Publication | 29 August, 2003 at 2:00

The Cancun meeting is the first time that environmental issues are directly on the agenda of a WTO Ministerial conference. There is a deep concern that the WTO mandate to discuss the relationship between trade rules and multilateral environmental...

Maize Under Threat - GE Maize Contamination in Mexico

Publication | 18 August, 2003 at 2:00

Hands Off Our Maize Briefing Package.

Monsanto's seeds of destruction

Feature story | 18 August, 2003 at 2:00

Mexicans are being forced to swallow Monsanto's seeds of destruction, while back in the US, Monsanto is not allowed to grow its genetically engineered (GE) cotton for fear of GE contamination. To expose this double standard our activists blocked...

A Guide to the 5th Ministerial Conference of the WTO

Publication | 15 August, 2003 at 2:00

The 5th WTO Ministerial Conference is set to take place in Cancun, Mexico, from 10th to 14thSeptember 2003. The preceding four Ministerial meetings were held, respectively, in Singapore(1996); Geneva (1998); Seattle (1999); and Doha (2001). The...

Greenpeace activists dressed as security

Image | 28 July, 2003 at 3:00

Greenpeace activists dressed as security guards confiscate a bag of genetically modified organisms from 'George Bush'.

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