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Corporate Europe Observer

European Industry in Seattle

hile tens of thousands of protestors were jamming the streets of Seattle during the WTO Ministerial Conference last year, up in the conference rooms and luxury suites of many four star hotels, business carried on as usual. Insulated from the sounds of protest and the clouds of tear gas, lobby teams from the major industry groups met daily to coordinate their strategies and update each other with the latest information. Almost all of the major European and international lobby groups had a presence in Seattle, including UNICE (the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe), the ESN (European Services Network) and the TABD (Transatlantic Business Dialogue).

UNICE in Seattle: An Opportunity Not Missed

"By being present in Seattle, European business wants to make its views heard and listened to. UNICE, together with its national member organisations from across Europe and representatives of European business sectoral organisations will not miss such an opportunity."

                        — Dirk Hudig, Secretary General of UNICE [1]

By far the most visible European lobby group in Seattle was the employers confederation UNICE. Often sighted with European delegates and other officials, its team of over 20 lobbyists were hard at work championing the cause of industry. One of the chief reasons UNICE committed to getting such a strong presence in Seattle was "linked to the strong lobby of labour, consumer, environmental and development non-governmental organisation (NGOs) in the trade policy debate", said UNICE head, Hudig. [2]

Citing the failure of the MAI as an example why business should be more proactive in its lobbying efforts, Hudig called for increased cooperation among business groupings and a more coordinated lobbying strategy: "The objective is also to join forces to counteract with the impressive media campaign launched around the world by many activist NGOs to denounce globalisation and block the start of any negotiations." [3]

UNICE's sixty-six page lobby document "UNICE and the WTO Millennium Round" details European industry's priorities for a new 'Round' of multilateral trade negotiations. Items covered, include the 'Singapore issues' of investment, market access, government procurement, trade facilitation and competition policy. Other issues include electronic commerce, services, agriculture, and intellectual property as well as environment and labour.

With regards to investment, UNICE calls for "a new approach and not an attempted second-coming of the MAI," deeming it as one of its "highest priorities." [4] However, the "new approach" is not new at all. Instead of demanding a comprehensive agreement on investment in one fell swoop, they call for an entry-level agreement on foreign direct investment, with full liberalisation of investment as the long term goal. [5]

Elsewhere, UNICE calls for, among other things, increased cooperation between the World Bank and the IMF, a European Union "offensive" position on agriculture, and rejection of core labour and environmental standards in the WTO. While the position paper states that it is not realistic to undergo further negotiations on the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), a joint press release by UNICE and Keidanren (the largest Japanese corporate lobby group) in October contradicts this by demanding full implementation of the TRIPs agreement and calling for new negotiations to begin with a "single undertaking" in a new round. [6]

By far one of the biggest initiatives of UNICE is in the promotion of comprehensive services liberalisation through its work in the founding of the European Services Network.

European Services Network

"I am very pleased to see how quickly and enthusiastically the different services sectors have organised themselves to provide business input for the GATS 2000 negotiations. Our negotiating priorities need to be rooted in the real concerns of business and we will be paying very close attention indeed to the negotiating priorities that the ESN identifies."

                     — Former Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan [7]

Claiming to be responding to the request by the European Commission and the Member States for more contributions from business with regards to trade policy, Barclays Bank Chairman, Andrew Buxton with the aid of UNICE and other European services firms and associations as well as enthusiastic support from the Commission, formed the European Services Network. [8] The ESN's primary purpose is to lobby for services liberalisation during the negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in 2000, but that didn't stop the ESN, with the help of UNICE and others to champion their cause in Seattle.

Currently, services agreements in the WTO are varied and have different members and different levels of commitments by Members States. The ESN, and other services lobbies such as the US Coalition of Services Industries, and the Global Services Network umbrella group, are pushing for a comprehensive services agreement stringing together all the existing WTO agreements as well as further liberalisation of the services sector as a whole. In a policy document distributed to the Seattle delegates, the ESN praised bilateral and regional initiatives such as the Transatlantic Economic Partnership (TEP) for their achievements in services liberalisation, but stressed the need for a 'firm' and 'comprehensive' multilateral agreement on services to be part of any new round in the WTO. [9] The elements of such an agreement, as outlined in the ESN document, include many of the elements we've come to be familiar with from the MAI, such as standstill and rollback of national legislation regulating trade and investment in services, broad coverage and definition of services with minimal exceptions, a concept of investor 'rights', national treatment and most favoured nation status, and severe restrictions on a Member State's ability to apply 'emergency safeguards' for example to protect public health. [10]

With the upcoming services negotiations on the minds of many of the Seattle delegates at the time, such demands may not have fallen on deaf ears. The majority of corporate sponsors of the WTO Ministerial itself through the Seattle Host Organisation, were major players in services industries, such as air transport services (Boeing, Lufthansa, and Northwest), telecommunications and postal services (US West, AT&T, UPS, FedEx), financial services (Chase Manhattan Bank, Bank of America, Deloitte & Touche), and information technologies (Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Intel), among others. [11]

TABD in Seattle?

As we reported in our briefing "Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD): Putting the Business Horse Before the Government Cart", the TABD claims to set the agenda for the EU and US negotiators in the WTO. [12] At their Berlin summit in October of last year, over 120 Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of EU-US TNCs met with their trade representatives and WTO officials, to do just that. As such, the main thrust and substance of TABD influence is largely in the runup to WTO negotiations rather than direct involvement.

Therefore, it came as some surprise to see that the TABD was holding private meetings in the Madison hotel in Seattle during the Ministerial Conference. Normally, the CEOs hold two official meetings a year, and the rest of the time they work within various working groups. An official TABD presence at a WTO meeting therefore, is something quite new. All attempts to get information about the TABD in Seattle, were met with stiff resistance.

The WTO refused to publish information on who is registered as an NGO, despite not being able to provide any plausible reason why the information should be kept confidential. Nor were they willing to provide contact details for any TABD personnel or pass on a journalist's contact details to a TABD official, although they did confirm their presence there. No press releases were issued or any other visible presence of the TABD. Any presence in Seattle would have likely involved members of the Global Issues group of the TABD which focuses primarily on the WTO.

Singing in the Corporate Choir

UNICE, the ESN, and the TABD, represented some of the most significant European corporate lobby groups active in and around the 3rd Ministerial Meeting of the WTO. Others, such as the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), also threw their voices in support of a comprehensive new round. [13]

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the International Council on Metals and the Environment (ICME -- representing the mining industry), Information Technology Industry Council, the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations, also urged the Ministers to begin new negotiations in a comprehensive round.

The US industry groups with a visible presence in Seattle included the US Grains Council, the Alliance for Better Foods, the National Food Processors Association, the Farm Bureau, US Chamber of Commerce, the US Council for International Business ("Giving business a seat at the table in promoting an open system of world trade, finance, and investment.") and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

To Be Continued...

As reported in previous issues of the Corporate Europe Observer, [14] much of the corporate lobbying activity in the runup to a WTO Ministerial takes place months and sometimes years before official negotiations commence. While this continues to be the case, the rallying cry of UNICE to better coordinate corporate lobby efforts in order to 'counteract' the efforts of NGOs did not go unheard. Industry groups were present in full force, clamouring for attention, meeting with delegates, exchanging information, and working with the media.

Critique of the corporate influence over WTO negotiations was central in the mass protests which took place all over the world. With the failure of the MAI and now Seattle hanging over their heads, industry will be stepping up its efforts even more as services and agriculture, together representing over 80% of total global economic activity, will be negotiated in the WTO in 2000. [15]


1. Hudig, Dirk. "Seattle: an opportunity not to be missed" article appearing in "The European Union in 2000", published by the European Voice in association with Adamson BSMG Worldwide. Page 30. | Back to Text |

2. Ibid. | Back to Text |

3. ibid. | Back to Text |

4. "European business is aware that free access to markets for investment is not a realistic short-term objective for WTO. The investment agreement envisaged should nevertheless introduce the first welcome steps in this direction." UNICE and the WTO Millennium Round, Page 15. | Back to Text |

5. "Like other WTO agreements, the agreement on treatment of foreign direct investment should not only be accepted by all WTO members (with any necessary derogations for less/least developed countries), but also provide for periodic review and the possibility of negotiations on future liberalisation as and when this can be sustained by WTO members." UNICE and the WTO Millennium Round, Page 16.  | Back to Text |

6. "Joint Statement by UNICE and Keidanren," Brussels, November 9, 1999.  | Back to Text |

7. Sir Leon Brittan, address to the US Coalition of Service Industries on European strategy for GATS 2000, Washington DC, September 24th, 1999. | Back to Text |

8. "I have been struck by the highly positive response of CEOs and European services federations and the strong UNICE support for Sir Leon's call for them to work together to press the case for further liberalisation in international trade in services ." Andrew Buxton, Chairman Barclays Bank in an address to the US Coalition of Service Industries on European strategy for GATS 2000, Washington DC, September 24th, 1999. | Back to Text |

9. European Services Network Set of Principles, 26 January 1999. | Back to Text |

10. ESN Position Paper on GATS 2000 and Emergency Safeguard Measures, 23 April 1999. | Back to Text |

11. The Seattle Host Organisation was the primary sponsor of the event and included some of the largest Fortune 500 companies, and chaired by Microsoft's Bill Gates, and Boeing's Phil Condit. Major sponsors included Boeing, Microsoft, Allied Signal, Honeywell, Deloitte & Touche, US West, General Motors, Nextel, UPS, Ford, Hewlett Packard, Lucent Technologies, Motorola, United Technologies, Weyerhauser, AT&T, Bank of America, Proctor & Gamble, Fed Ex, IBM, Intel, and Chase Manhattan Bank.  | Back to Text |

12. See "Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD): Putting the Business Horse Before the Government Cart". Published by CEO, October 1999. | Back to Text |

13. See "CEFIC Comments on a New Multilateral Trade Round", | Back to Text |

14. See CEObserver, Issue 4, "The WTO Millennium Bug: TNC Control Over Global Trade Politics", July 1999. | Back to Text |

15. See "Business Responses to Seattle" in this issue. | Back to Text |

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