NYLS Journal of International and Comparative Law

Article Title

The Environment and the World Trade Organization


The meeting of the members of the World Trade Organization ("WTO") in Seattle in late 1999 was seriously disrupted by street demonstrations which turned the meeting into a disaster. Prominent among thedemonstrators were people purporting to be from environmental non-governmental organizations (or "NGOs"). A number of these protestors costumed themselves as sea turtles and received considerable attention on television as well as from the Seattle police department. Dissemination by the media of images of people masquerading as sea turtles was expected to, and did, seriously taint the image of the WTO, causing it to be seen as the headquarters of forces hostile to the environment.

The purpose of this article is not to defame environmental NGOs. Indeed, so far as the author knows, they did nothing more in respect of the Seattle fiasco than to countenance, or subsequently to refrain from disavowing, the antics of protestors cavorting as anthropoid sea turtles. Rather, the purpose of this article is to argue that the WTO was badly used by the Seattle demonstrators, that its role as regards sea turtles has been quite the opposite of what those demonstrators were suggesting, and that environmental NGOs should exert informed efforts on behalf of the WTO, because it is the very type of multilateral body that they should support if they expect to succeed in protecting the world's environment.