The World Trade Organization (WTO) is emerging as the world's first global
government. But it was elected by no-one, it operates in secrecy, and its
mandate is this: To undermine the constitutional rights of sovereign nations.
How could this happen? What can we do?
Starting tonight, the World Trade Organization (WTO) begins its Ministerial
Meeting in Seattle. Just created in 1994, it is now the principal rule-making
body of the global economy. 134 nation-states have ceded it powers that once
firmly resided within nations. The WTO is already among the most powerful,
secretive, and undemocratic bodies on Earth. Its authority extends deeply into
the internal political processes of sovereign countries, forcing them to alter
laws and priorities. It is fast becoming a bonafide global government for the
new millennium. WTO former Director-General Renato Ruggiero called it the "new
constitution for a single global economy." And a European trade minister said:
"It's not undemocratic, it's anti-democratic."
The central idea of the WTO is that free trade - actually the values and
interests of global corporations - should supersede all other values. Any
obstacles to global trade are viewed with suspicion. In practice, these
"obstacles" are the laws of nation-states that protect the environment, small
businesses, human rights, consumers, labor as well as national sovereignty and
democracy. The WTO views these as possible impediments to "free trade," and they
become subject to challenge within closed WTO tribunals. Unlike other global
bodies (including the UN), the WTO enjoys unique enforcement powers. Offending
countries must conform with WTO rules, or face harsh sanctions.
The WTO's judicial system ("Dispute Resolution Body") operates in secret: no
press, no public, no public interest organizations. Three bureaucrats (former
corporate or government trade officials, with no social or environmental
training) make profoundly important judgements affecting human health, jobs,
agriculture and food, and the environment. The only standards these invisible
judges apply concern consequences to the freedom of corporate trade. They have
never once ruled in favor of the environment.
It would be impossible to list the many dozens of cases they have heard (though
we can send you information about them; see number below). But, here are a few:
- The WTO ruled that the U.S. must rewrite parts of its Clean Air Act to permit
imports of less pure gasoline; the result may be more air pollution and lung
- The European Union was told it cannot ban imports of beef products (from the
U.S.) that had been treated with potentially cancer-causing hormones.
- Japan was told to lift its import ban on certain fruits that carry dangerous
invasive insects. Such products require heavy doses of harmful pesticides at the
border. The WTO ruled Japan must import the fruits, regardless.
- And, after a challenge by the U.S., Europe was told to stop favoring bananas
grown in the Caribbean by small independent farmers over Chiquita Bananas grown
by corporate, plantation-style, agriculture.
Do you begin to see a bias in this?
Actually, the WTO achieves most of its purposes by a "chilling" effect. The mere
threats of actions have been sufficient to get most small nations to voluntarily
change their laws and legal structure to be "WTO compliant." For example,
Guatemala decided voluntarily to lift a ban on advertising by Gerber Infant
Formula that claimed it was healthier than breast milk. Canada removed its ban
on a suspected neurotoxin, MMT, under threat of a challenge (under a NAFTA rule
that's now proposed as a WTO rule). Thailand quit manufacturing its own low cost
AIDS drug after the U.S. threatened a WTO suit to help American drug companies.
(Thailand's AIDS victims can't afford to pay American drug prices. The U.S. is
also threatening South Africa.)
Here's what's most important: Whether challenges are brought by the U.S. against
a country, or by another country against the U.S., or by other countries against
each other, the composite effect is "cross-border deregulation" which ratchets-
down standards for safety, health and the environment everywhere. That is the
WTO's goal: Free trade for corporations, but severe controls upon nations and
citizens that try to protect the safety of their food, their jobs, small
businesses or Nature.
In Seattle, the WTO will propose a new "Millennium Round" of negotiations. One
proposal for this round would make it nearly impossible for any government to
ban the import of genetically engineered foods. Another would permit global
corporations to enter "public sectors" like education, healthcare, public
broadcasting, water delivery. We might find Mitsubishi controlling American
schools, or Exxon running BBC. There's also a move to cut tariffs on wood
products, which would ravage the world's last pristine forests.
But the Godzilla of WTO plans is to revive some of the old, discredited
Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Those rules would impose restrictions on
every level of government; down to states, counties and cities. Foreign
companies would have to be given "national treatment," i.e., treated exactly as
if they were local companies. So, let's say your city now favors local or
minority owned businesses to build municipal buildings, roads, or to provide
school lunches. This would be illegal.
Let's say your state wanted to stop the cutting of forests, or fishing for
endangered species; a foreign company could sue, saying this deprives them of
profits that local companies had already enjoyed. Let's say your state requires
new investors to use "domestic content," or to hire local workers, or to not
send their profits back to Europe (but to reinvest some in the community). Such
local rules would be illegal.
It would also be impossible for any country to regulate rapid capital entry or
exit, leaving all countries vulnerable to currency speculators and financial
crashes. Neither would your country, state or city be able to "discriminate"
against countries with terrible human rights or environmental records, as was
done against South Africa during apartheid. If this law had existed back then,
South Africa would not have democratized. Nelson Mandela would still be in jail.
Winners & losers
There is an ideological rationale for free trade. It supposedly benefits all
segments of society. The homily goes like this: "A rising tide will lift all
boats." So far, however, it's only lifting yachts.
Following 20 years of the most rapid expansion ever of global trade, only a tiny
group at the top of the corporate pyramid has experienced significant benefits.
Gaps between rich and poor have been widening, even in the U.S. For example,
American CEOs are now paid, on average, 419 times more than line workers, and
the ratio is increasing. Median hourly wages for workers is down by 10% in the
last ten years. The top 20% of the U.S. population owns 84.6% of the country's
wealth. And the wealth of the world's 475 billionaires now equals the annual
incomes of more than 50% of the world population combined. Lifting all boats,
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Right now, hundreds of public interest groups are in Seattle to protest the WTO.
Most want the WTO to stop in its tracks: No Millennium Round. No expansion of
powers. A full public re-assessment of the WTO's performance till now. Many feel
the WTO can never be democratically reformed.
Meanwhile, there are many ways you can participate. Lots of information is
available. Please contact us.
International Forum on Globalization
Institute for Policy Studies-Global Economy Project
Friends of the Earth
International Center for Technology Assessment
United Steelworkers of America
Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment
Defenders of Wildlife
People Centered Development Forum
Rainforest Action Network
The Council of Canadians
Sea Turtle Restoration Project
The Humane Society of the United States
Pacific Environmental Resources Center
Earth Island Institute
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
International Forum on Food and Agriculture
International Society for Ecology and Culture
Signers are all part of a coalition of more than 60 non-profit organizations
that favor democratic, localized, ecologically sound alternatives to current
practices and policies. This advertisement is #3 in the Economic Globalization
series. Other ad series discuss extinction crisis, genetic engineering,
industrial agriculture and megatechnology. For more information, please contact:
Turning Point Project, 310 D St. NE, Washington, DC 20002
1-800-249-8712 www.turnpoint.org email: firstname.lastname@example.org