WTO "shutdown" excites lawyers, Canada

This press release was sent out in 2002. None of the links work anymore.

May 28, 2002
Contact: representatives@theyesmen.org

Latest in series of WTO pesterings by The Yes Men

On Tuesday, May 21, a representative of the World Trade Organization announced the dissolution of his organization to a shocked but supportive Sydney audience (the speech, release about the appearance). He stated the WTO would reconstitute as a new organization dedicated to assisting the world's poor instead of the rich (statistics).

The bombshell announcement has had worldwide repercussions, sparking debate on the floor of the Canadian Parliament, where MP John Duncan took the floor to ask "what impact this will have on our appeals on lumber, agriculture and other ongoing trade disputes" (article).

At that point, WTO headquarters in Geneva denounced the "representative" as an impostor. "While we can appreciate [the impostors'] sense of humour, we would not wish for reputable news organizations like yours to be counted among those duped."

"It isn't humor this time," said Andy Bichlbaum, who "represented" the WTO in Sydney. "We really do want to dissolve the WTO and rewrite its charter so that the poor benefit rather than suffer from trade policy." The group he belongs to, The Yes Men, have previously represented the WTO at two international conferences (in Austria and Finland) and on mainstream TV (CNBC Marketwrap Europe). Each time, they have been invited by people who mistook a Yes Men parody website (www.gatt.org) for the official WTO site (www.wto.org). The WTO reacted to previous appearances with outrage and attempts to shut GATT.org down.

After overcoming their initial shock, the audience of Australian accountants expressed enthusiasm for the change, and offered many thoughtful suggestions for how world trade could benefit the poor--moving the headquarters from Switzerland to a Third World country, for example.

"I'm as right-wing as the next fellow," said one of the accountants, "but it's time we gave something back to the countries we've been doing so well from."

In past appearances, the Yes Men hoped to horrify audiences by taking free-trade ideas to their logical conclusions. They argued for selling votes to the highest corporate bidder (see this PowerPoint), making the poor "recycle" hamburgers to cure endemic hunger (speech and PowerPoiont here), allowing countries to commit human rights abuses with a system of "justice vouchers" modelled after pollution vouchers, and even enabling managers to administer electric shocks to sweatshop workers from afar by using a futuristic telepresence technology embedded in a three-foot-long golden phallus (photos here).

The joke was on the Yes Men, however, when these proposals failed to shock audiences, who repeatedly found it credible that such ideas would come from the WTO.

Finally, the Yes Men decided to say "no."

"We've already demonstrated that audiences of experts will accept anything whatsoever so long as it comes from the mouth of the WTO," said Mike Bonanno, a Yes Man who helped to prepare the lecture in Sydney. "This time, we decided to use the WTO's authority to lead people on a useful exercise that could actually produce something positive."

"It really is possible to dissolve and remake the WTO," said Bichlbaum. "The WTO, after all, was put together from a bunch of wishful thinking and previous agreements one day in 1994. It can just as quickly and easily be replaced by something much better, based on other agreements--the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example."

After the events in Sydney, the Yes Men are even more optimistic. "The accountants offered us all kinds of useful suggestions on how to make sure the new version of the WTO benefits the poor," said Bonanno. "We feel kind of bad for misleading them, but they came up with much better plans for the future than we could. We hope they'll accept our apologies and keep working with us."

The Yes Men: representatives@theyesmen.org
CPA Australia: barbara.magee@cpaaustralia.com.au,
WTO Public Relations (current): enquiries@wto.org
WTO Public Relations (previous): jean-guy.carrier@wto.org

The WTO representative's speech in Sydney
CPA Australia
The CPA's press release
WTO dissolution announcement
Statistics about trade liberalization's effects on the poor
World Development Movement
United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The primary goal of RTMark (rtmark.com) is to publicize corporate subversion of the democratic process. It has helped to sponsor three of the Yes Men's appearances.