by Amy Jenniges and Josh Feit

It's been exactly three years since the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Seattle sparked massive demonstrations that escalated into a standoff between anti-corporate protesters and tear-gas-happy police. This year, to commemorate the event, an estimated 300 activists marched between Westlake Center and the downtown federal building on Saturday, November 30. But looking back on 1999 now, it seems that anti-corporate-globalization activists should consider this: It could be that the WTO is the best mechanism for checking international encroachment by corporations.

For example, during trade talks last year in Doha, Qatar, the WTO played the role of corporate cop, hammering out an contract that will allow developing countries to purchase and import generic pharmaceuticals while the drugs are still under patent. In other words, poor African nations can get cheaper versions of AIDS drugs to their sick residents.

Sarah Anderson, an analyst at the liberal Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., says the agreement was "one positive thing we can say came out of that meeting."

"We don't think it's a perfect agreement, but it's a big step forward," she explains. "[The agreement] was clearly in response to work by AIDS activists."

The agreement helps allay the fear that the WTO is intent on protecting corporate interests. Historically, decisions involving intellectual property--like the drug patents--went in favor of biotech and pharmaceutical companies. This time, under the WTO's eye, it went in favor of poorer nations and people with AIDS.

And the WTO may represent the only way to rein in the Bush administration's corporate aspirations. Bush is currently trying to negotiate smaller trade agreements with blocs of countries--like the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, an extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement--that would have less regulation than agreements created through the WTO, and could hinder global trade talks. Again, at the behest of concerned activists, the WTO is playing the role of corporate watchdog, eyeing the talks because they could undermine the Qatar drug agreement.

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