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BUSINESS WEEK                            8 November 1999
 DANGER: Activists have given free trade a rotten rep--and if
 governments and business don't get busy, it's going to get worse.
 By Jeffrey E. Garten
 Dean of the Yale School of Management,
 Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade in the
 first Clinton Administration
        In late November, Seattle is likely to be the scene
 of a big test for global capitalism. That's when more than 1,000
 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are planning to
 disrupt the  kickoff of a new round of global trade negotiations.
 The NGOs'  collective claim is that unfettered commerce hurts
 workers, consumers, and the environment, and that it is being
 propelled by an arrogant World Trade Organization unaccountable
 to ordinary citizens. With the very real possibility that the
 trade talks will be derailed, the question is whether the strategy of
 Washington and the business community is as lame as it looks.
       Of course, not all NGOs have a political agenda and
 many, such as the Red Cross or the International Rescue
 Committee, provide unique critical services. But the gathering in
 Seattle will be dominated by NGOs that take strong public-policy
 stands, such as Human Rights Watch, United Students Against
 Sweatshops, and the Sierra Club. While these organizations are
 supporting important causes, their public-spirited missions shouldn't
 obscure their intention to retard the momentum for a more open
 world economy -- the best hope, even with its flaws, for a better
 life for billions of  people.
      Today's NGOs are not the ragtag protesters of
 the 1960s. They are well-organized and amply funded
 and have become a powerful new force on the global scene.
 They have skillfully exploited the void between shrinking
 governments unable to cushion the impact of change on ordinary
 citizens and multinational companies that are the agents of that
 change. They have gained influence by joining forces across
 borders, aggregating power under broad umbrella groups such as
 Consumers International, and building alliances with unions
 such as the AFL-CIO. They have harnessed the Internet to build huge
 global coalitions and to coordinate lobbying in multiple
 capitals. While governments and chief executives bore the public
 and the media with sterile abstractions about free markets, NGOs
 are sending more nuanced messages sensitive to the anxieties of
 local communities around the world. At the same time, they
 are preparing sophisticated strategies to influence
 television networks, newspapers, and magazines.
        There is plenty of evidence of NGOs' growing clout.
 In recent years, they have changed the policies of global
 corporations such as Nike (over treatment of workers abroad),
 Monsanto (over genetically engineered products), and Royal Dutch
 Shell (over environmental issues). In 1997 more than 600 NGOs,
 representing 70 countries, caused the collapse of international
 governmental negotiations to create global rules for foreign
        If Washington and Corporate America don't move
 decisively, NGOs could dominate public opinion on global trade
 and finance. In the first instance, government officials and
 business leaders should mount a much better campaign to explain
 the benefits of globalization. They should also promote more
 effective policies to help people adjust to changing trade patterns
 -- such as education, professional training, and portable health and
 pension benefits. Third, the Administration should also apply
 intense pressure to the WTO to make its goals and its work
 more visible and understandable to people around the world,
 and to open up effective channels of communications to public
 interest groups everywhere.
        Beyond that, Washington and business should
 challenge the NGO community to practice what they preach.
 Every organization that calls itself an NGO shouldn't be
 granted a free ride to influence. Governments and business
 associations should demand that NGOs part the curtain on
 their own activities--including disclosing exactly who their
 members are and how they are financed. The media
 should be continually prompted to scrutinize the
 accuracy of the facts that underlie NGOs' arguments against
 globalization. They should treat the situation as if it were a hotly
 contested long-term political campaign for public opinion--
 which it is.
        NGOs can play an indispensable role in bridging the
 responsibilities of the public and private sectors.
 But if they are allowed to hijack the WTO talks, it will be a
 dangerous precedent that every government and every global
 company will regret long after the protests in Seattle. It's important
 to broadcast the message that a global market economy can
 promote not only growth but individual freedom as well a cleaner
 environment. Warning for President Bill Clinton, the Business
 Round Table, and their counterparts in Europe and Japan:
 There is less than a month to get your act together.
 You are already in deep trouble.