Mark Ritchie is president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, based in Minneapolis, Minn., which works to keep family farmers on the land. He also serves as national co-chair of Sustainable America and director of the International Forum on Food and Agriculture, and is on the boards of Mothers and Others, Libraries for the Future, Organic Growers and Buyers Association, and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.

Monday, 11 Oct 1999


Today I am just returning to my office after an incredible weekend in New England. I have spent the last two days waking up to a mellow sun peeking out over Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Each day it took me a few moments to remember that I was not back home in Minnesota, but instead at Bretton Woods, in the heart of the White Mountains. I was staying at the Mt. Washington Hotel as part of a conference on the future of the World Trade Organization. I was there primarily to make a presentation on environment and trade, along with attorney Steve Charnovitz and New York Times international economic affairs reporter David Sanger.

Although I participate in a lot of conferences on trade and globalization issues, this one was pretty unusual for me. First, it was predominately made up of former U.S. trade representatives and people who served in similar positions in other countries such as Canada, Japan, and China. This is not exactly the crowd I normally hang with. Second, it was focused on industrial goods and services with virtually no discussion of the soon-to-be-launched WTO agriculture talks — the focus of much of my own day-to-day work. Third, I was clearly the only person who had serious doubts about the current direction of the world’s trading system — at least the only person who makes a habit of expressing these doubts in public. Despite these unusual circumstances, and perhaps even due to them, I found the session extremely thought-provoking, challenging, and rewarding.

I had been to this wonderful old hotel once before, exactly five years ago. My organization, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, sponsored a conference called Bretton Woods Revisited, where we gathered all of the surviving founders of the so-called Bretton Woods Institutions — the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. These institutions were created at an international conference of governments held at this site in the summer of 1944. We organized our conference to hear from the founders what their political intentions were at the time and what their hopes and dreams were for these institutions. We also asked these founders to give us perspective on what had gone right and what had gone wrong. It was an incredible gathering — truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me that has shaped my analysis of globalization and my vision of what could be the basis for international cooperation and solidarity. It was such a success that we decided to do similar events with the surviving founders of all of the major post-war institutions, including the United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

At breakfast on Sunday morning we saw a gigantic moose, one of the largest I had ever seen. It was just the motivation I needed to get packed up and out into the wilderness. My wife Nancy Gaschott and I piled into our rental car and headed out for the Appalachian Mountain Club trail that winds its way to the top of Mt. Willard. The colors on the trees along the drive were spectacular, but nothing prepared us for how beautiful this hike was going to be, or the breathtaking view from the top.

We were lucky to have made this hike fairly early in the day. By noon it was beginning to cloud up and it then began to rain buckets just as we were heading out to Manchester, where we were to catch a plane back home in the evening. We had set aside enough time to be able to take the long, slow route back, winding down U.S. Highway 3. This route seemed to follow the beautiful Merrimack River and comes with wooden covered bridges, wild pheasants and deer along the road, beautiful lakes, and vibrant small towns.

Lovely as all of this scenery was, my mind kept drifting away from the bright red and gold trees to the three big work challenges that awaited me back in Minnesota. First, the family farm economic crisis. Second, the upcoming Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization, where government officials from around the world will soon gather to try to further deregulate global trade. Third, the fast-moving train called biotechnology, with all of its unprecedented social, economic, moral, ecological, and personal challenges.

As I start back to work this Monday morning, I am a bit tired, having arrived home around midnight, but I am still filled with the magic of that New England fall spectacle.