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SpirE-Journal 2008 Q2

The Battle in Seattle

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The Battle in Seattle

In the annals of trade history, the events in Seattle in November 1999 hold a special place. “The Battle in Seattle”, as these events have come to be called, reminded governments and companies world-wide of the hugely important political dimension to international trade.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference has been held at least once in two years since the inaugural conference in Singapore in December 1996. Its objective has been to help accelerate the process of lowering trade barriers around the world.

Also known as the N-30, the largest protest activity associated with economic organizations – even the lowest estimates put the crowd at over 40,000 – occurred around the third WTO Ministerial Conference. It was to be the launch of a new millennial round of trade negotiations, and WTO members convened on November 30, 1999 in Seattle in the USA’s Washington state. The negotiations were quickly overshadowed by massive street protests held outside the hotels and the Seattle Convention Center.

Among the most notable participants were national and international NonGovernmental Organizations (NGOs)
concerned with labour issues, the environment, and consumer protection as well as student groups, religiously based groups and political activists.

Over several hours in the morning, activists arrived in the deserted streets near the convention center to take control of key intersections and held rallies and teach-ins. At least one group staged an early morning street party. Meanwhile, a number of protesters blocked the intersections using lockdown formations.The opening of the meeting was delayed, and it took police much of the afternoon and evening to clear the streets.

Over 600 people were arrested over the next few days. The massive size of the protest pushed the city of Seattle 50 percent over their estimated budget of USD6 million, partly due to city cleanup and police overtime bills. In addition, the damage to commercial businesses from vandalism and lost sales has been estimated at USD20 million.

Shortly after, a book was written to chronicle the protest activity, aptly titled ‘The Battle in Seattle’. The soon-to-be-released movie was produced in 2007.

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