For Four Days This Fall, The World Will Revolve Around Seattle -- Ringside Seats Are Going Fast
Seattle Times Business Reporter
When Weyerhaeuser's top executives received a letter from a Boeing vice president pitching sponsorships for a Seattle gathering of the World Trade Organization, the decision they faced was not whether to contribute, but how much.
After all, the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings, lasting four days in late November and early December, are expected to transform the city into an international hub, host to the equivalent of the Olympic Games of world trade. The import-export elite, trade ministers from 135 countries, will converge here. And they are expected to attract thousands of onlookers, protesters and journalists.
The timber giant has a lot at stake. Despite a recent rebound, profits had fallen, along with U.S. wood exports overall, over the past four years, in part because of factors influenced by the Geneva-based WTO: high tariffs overseas, low tariffs in the United States, and the cheap taxes and labor that Weyerhaeuser says are unfair advantages for its foreign competitors.
With the WTO delegates from all over the world convening in Seattle from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, Weyerhaeuser wants to convey a message: Foreign tariffs on U.S. wood products must be reduced.
No private citizen will be allowed to sit in on official meetings of the WTO trade ministers, but corporate sponsors will receive tickets to ministerial social gatherings and have a role in business meetings held on the side. They also will receive promotional benefits and access to group briefings by the delegates - all perks that help raise the profile of companies that donate tens of thousands of dollars but have millions, or much more, at stake.
With that in mind, corporations such as Weyerhaeuser, Boeing, Microsoft and AT&T are lining up as WTO sponsors in much the same way Nike, Reebok, Budweiser and Coca-Cola sign on with the Olympics.
The prospect of having an impact on the most important gathering of trade officials in the world this year has led nearly 60 local and nationwide companies to contribute $5 million so far toward a $9.2 million goal.
"It didn't take much cajoling, because this is an exciting thing to do," said Pat Davis, a Port of Seattle commissioner and president of the Washington Council on International Trade. Davis, credited with spearheading Seattle's WTO bid, individually recruited early volunteers and won support from Puget Sound-area congressional representatives along with state and local politicians.
Davis' team of early backers helped persuade the White House to choose Seattle from 40 cities seeking to host the meetings.
The Seattle Host Organization, the ad-hoc group formed by Davis and the trade council to lead WTO planning, has since attracted as honorary chairmen Boeing Chief Executive Phil Condit and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. And it has drawn hundreds of volunteers, including high-level executives from Boeing and Seafirst Bank and local "celebrities" like Seattle's former first lady, Constance Rice.
"The state is so trade-dependent, there were just a number of people knocking down my door saying, `We want be involved'," said Rice, by way of explaining how her education committee, which is developing trade-related lesson plans for the school year, has grown to include about 300 volunteers and a budget of nearly $150,000.
Unlike the Olympics, the WTO meetings likely won't produce immediate winners and losers; it's uncertain whether tariff disputes, for example, will be resolved here or will drag on into future ministerial meetings. And this gathering won't give sponsors the chance for prime-time television coverage.
But just as with the Olympics, the meetings that will take place at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center will draw thousands of onlookers: in this case, government bureaucrats, journalists, consultants, corporate trade officials and activists from labor, environmental and other causes. Even without the TV exposure, corporate sponsors have much to gain in visibility.
They'll also have informal opportunities to press their favorite causes, whether tariffs on lumber, subsidies for European-made jets or copyright protections for software.
"Anyone who has a trade issue on the table is well-served by having a presence so (WTO) is reminded of those issues," said Fred Benson, Weyerhaeuser's vice president of federal and international affairs.
The trade organization, for instance, plans to discuss rules relating to electronic commerce and intellectual-property rights, the latter an issue the software industry has publicized highly in recent years. Microsoft operates subsidiaries in 60 countries and earns 53 percent of its nearly $20 billion in sales outside the continental United States. Executives have cited "piracy," or illegal copying of computer programs, as one of the company's chief obstacles to growth overseas.
Microsoft doesn't estimate the amount of money it loses in potential sales because of piracy, but as the largest software company in the world, it likely shoulders the bulk of the industrywide loss, estimated by a trade group at $11 billion a year.
Weyerhaeuser's executives decided to give $150,000 to the Seattle Host Organization. The donation places the company at the "Diamond" sponsorship level, the second-highest level and one that provides three to four tickets apiece to various events.
"We would hope we'd have a chance to see (delegates), not to discuss issues but to develop relationships with folks from other countries," Benson said. Those include Japan, South Korea and China, among the largest of Weyerhaeuser's 65 foreign markets. Sixteen percent of the company's annual sales - some $1.7 billion - comes from exports.
So far, eight companies have contributed at the maximum, or "Emerald," level, giving $250,000 or more. Top donors include Boeing, Microsoft and the accounting/consulting firm Deloitte & Touche, which also have loaned executives to the cause.
Acknowledging a vast amount of work left to do, leaders of the Seattle Host Organization, or SHO, are busy raising more money and laying plans for the four-day gathering. An ad-hoc group of trade boosters, port officials and corporate "loaned executives," SHO must build meeting spaces, arrange social events, run side conferences, provide transportation for visiting delegates and help journalists cover the event for audiences all over the world.
"We think we can spend every penny" of the $9.2 million, said Ray Waldmann, SHO's director and Boeing's vice president of international trade. As the state's largest exporter, Boeing has perhaps the largest stake of any local company watching the WTO's proceedings. Seventy percent of Boeing's commercial jets are sold overseas.
"The WTO is the only universal organization that has the capacity for providing rules and tariff agreements for the world," Waldmann said. "And we do like to see a rules-based system where countries know what the rules are and abide by them."
Waldmann, who six years ago helped host Seattle's meeting of APEC (the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum), said the WTO meeting is much larger. Though APEC drew heads of state to Seattle and therefore attracted worldwide headlines, it included only 15 countries and cost only $400,000.
This year's WTO meetings will draw mostly trade ministers instead of world leaders (although President Clinton is expected to attend), but it includes 135 countries and a much larger budget. Waldmann said some 1,300 volunteers will help keep the event running smoothly.
The largest expenses, he said, include transportation (from airports to downtown and also between events); equipment such as telephones, computers and furniture; security and construction, including finished meeting space in both the convention center and hotels. Waldmann wouldn't reveal specific numbers, but the Legislature approved $970,000 for the convention center build-out.
The city of Seattle, acting on behalf of the city, county and state governments, has asked for up to $5.5 million from the federal government to cover police overtime and other expenses. The request has not yet been approved. SHO, however, has agreed to reimburse the city $1.5 million, said Clifford Traisman, director of intergovernmental affairs for Seattle Mayor Paul Schell.
The WTO covers only the expenses it would pay if the meeting were held in Geneva, such as translators' wages and paper for photocopying. The U.S. government will pay travel and lodging for WTO staff and the delegations of some of the poorest countries. Other countries pay for their own delegates' expenses.
Otherwise, nearly all "host" costs fall back on SHO.
With so many expenses and so little public financing, SHO is relying on the generosity - and enlightened self-interests - of corporations.
"I think people are becoming much more strategic about how they evaluate sponsorship opportunities," said Diane Aboulafia-D'Jaen, senior vice president of Apco Associates in Seattle.
Apco, a Washington, D.C.-based trade-consulting firm, has contributed $50,000 to SHO and is providing free consulting. Last month, the firm hosted a fund-raising breakfast for SHO in the nation's capital. About a dozen corporate executives and trade officials heard a pitch by Seattle trade official Mike Mullen, a SHO committee chairman.
"We have a lot of clients that are manufacturers of goods, and they'd like to see tariffs reduced around the world," said Apco's Harry Leff, a senior associate based in Brussels. Seattle presents "the best opportunity just to get people together to talk."
"It's the discussions that go on outside the policy-making arena," Leff said. "Industry leaders, policy-makers. We build some consensus on strategy."
Until now, SHO's fund-raising committee, led by former Boeing international-sales specialist Larry Clarkson, has focused primarily on big Seattle-area companies along with some national and international companies. The committee now is preparing its biggest push yet, targeting many more local and national companies with letters later this month and follow-up phone calls in September. Condit and Gates may even be enlisted to call their peers and urge contributions (Condit reportedly has done some calling already).
Fund-raisers must tread carefully. They got into trouble with the White House earlier this year. Environmental activists complained about a fund-raising letter that promised corporate sponsors special access to government officials at a WTO "preparatory conference" planned for early July. Clinton's trade representative, in a sternly worded letter to the local committee, said government officials are accessible to the entire public, not just corporate donors. Future fund-raising letters were to be approved by the White House, which is co-sponsoring the WTO event because the United States is the host country.
SHO later canceled the preparatory conference, citing difficult logistics and its wish to avoid an appearance it was taking a pro-WTO stand.
Mullen, the SHO organizer who traveled to D.C. to raise money, dismissed the flap, saying SHO is working to include free-trade critics and has even helped some protest groups make hotel arrangements for the meetings. The Clinton administration has said it hopes to persuade the WTO to set aside a day for consumer, environmental and labor organizations to address the trade ministers.
Mullen and other host-committee leaders recognize they need to step carefully as they recruit more fund-raisers and broaden their drive, especially given that the WTO has become a target for advocates of causes as varied as human rights, religious freedoms, environmental protections and job security.
Bill Glassford, who heads international private banking for Seafirst, said he sees special sponsorship opportunities during the three hospitality events he's organizing: an opening reception at the new exhibition hall south of the Kingdome (still under construction), a dinner at the the Museum of Flight, and an "arts evening" based at the Seattle Center.
Some companies see the WTO event as a catalyst for gatherings of their own.
Deloitte & Touche, an "Emerald" sponsor with $13 billion in annual sales and clients in 140 countries, may run some of its own side meetings in Seattle as executives gather here to track issues of interest to their customers. The firm might even hold its board meeting here then, said Bob Gerth, a partner in the Seattle office.
Not every company is jumping at the chance to buy an official sponsorship, though.
Teledesic, the $10 billion satellite venture based in Kirkland, has not ruled out a sponsorship. "But that's typically not our m.o.," spokesman Roger Nyhus said. "We're a startup, five years away from service. So we don't have any revenue."
Instead, the company hopes to set up one-on-one meetings with representatives of foreign governments, Nyhus said. Because it needs worldwide approval for its satellite plan, Teledesic relies on good international relations.
And in this case, a startup might stand a good chance of grabbing some attention without paying for a sponsorship. The company's backers are celebrity billionaires: Gates and cellular-phone pioneer Craig McCaw.
Michele Matassa Flores' phone message number is 206-464-8343. Her e-mail address is: email@example.com
Opportunities in the classroom, too
The Seattle Times Newspapers in Education Program will provide a free World Trade Curriculum (grades 6-12) and complimentary newspapers to teachers within the Times daily delivery area this fall as part of our Teen Destination: Ireland 2000 program. Students from participating classrooms can enter in one of two categories (visual or written) to win free educational round-trip tours to Ireland. An independent panel of judges will select four winners.
For more information, call the NIE department at 206-652-6290, toll free at 888-775-2655 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
What: World Trade Organization ministerial meeting. Purpose: To continue ongoing talks on tariffs and other trade barriers, and to set an agenda for the next "round" of trade talks, lasting three-plus years. When: Nov. 30 to Dec. 3. Where: Washington State Convention and Trade Center. Attendance: 3,000 official delegates from 135 countries; 2,000 journalists and registered observers; thousands of protesters (exact number unknown). Seattle Host Organization budget: $9.2 million. Money raised so far: $5 million. Biggest corporate sponsors include: Boeing, Microsoft, Deloitte & Touche.
. The perks of sponsorship .
Corporate sponsors of the WTO's Seattle ministerial meetings earn promotional opportunities, and, at the highest contribution levels, a chance to mingle with the world's top trade officials. .
. Emerald Level - $250,000 and up .
. Opening reception, Kingdome exhibition hall (5 guests) . Ministerial dinner, Seattle Museum of Flight, (5 guests) . Closing event/arts evening, Seattle Center (5 guests) . Business conference participation (4 guests) . Briefing updates on the progress of the ministerial meetings . Room reservations assistance . Signage & display of corporate materials . Logo & link on Web site . Press event & photo opportunity . Hospitality service .
. Diamond Level - $150,000-$249,999 .
. Opening & closing receptions (4 guests) . Ministerial dinner (3 guests) . Business conference participation (2 guests) . Briefing updates . Room Reservations assistance . Signage & display of corporate materials . Logo & link on Web site . Press event & photo opportunity . Hospitality service .
. Platinum Level - $75,000-$149,999 .
. Opening & closing receptions (3 guests) . Ministerial dinner (1 guest) . Business conference participation (1 guest) . Briefing updates . Room reservations assistance . Signange & display of corporate materials . Logo & link on Web site . Press event & photo opportunity . Hospitality service .
. Gold Level - $25,000-$74,999 .
. Opening & closing receptions (2 guests) . Business conference participation (1 guest) . Briefing updates . Room reservations assistance . Signage & display of corporate materials . Logo & link on Web site . Press event & photo opportunity .
. Silver Level - $10,000-$24,999 .
. Business conference participation (1 guest) . Brieifng updates . Signage & display of corporate materials . Listing on Web site . Photo opportunity .
. Bronze Level - $5,000-$9,999/in-kind donations .
. Signage & display of corporate materials . Listing on Web site .
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