Globalization vs. Nature
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been granted spectacular powers to
challenge every nation's environmental laws. So far, its victims include
dolphins, sea turtles, clean water, clean air, safe food, family farms and
democracy itself. But it's just getting started.
In a democratic society, we presume the right to make laws that reflect the
deepest values of citizens. But this is no longer the case. With the emergence
of the World Trade Organization (WTO), democracy has moved to the back burner.
It no longer matters what democratic societies want; what matters is what global
corporations want, as expressed and enforced by global trade bureaucracies in
Created in 1994, the WTO is already among the most powerful, secretive,
undemocratic and unelected bodies on Earth. It has been granted unprecedented
powers that include the right to rule on whether laws of nations - concerning
public health, food safety, small business, labor standards, culture, human
rights, or anything - are "barriers to trade" by WTO standards. If so, the WTO
can demand their abrogation, or enforce very harsh sanctions.
Here's the tradeoff: Nation-states and their citizens sacrifice their democratic
rights. Corporate interests gain them. Commercial values are the only ones that
I. Against the environment
The very first ruling of the WTO held that regulations under the U.S. Clean Air
Act, which set high standards against polluting gasolines, was non-compliant
with WTO rules. It was ruled unfair to foreign oil companies that produce dirty
oil. As a result, the U.S. government rewrote our regulations so that autos can
emit dirtier exhaust. Because of this ruling thousands of people may become
sick; some may die.
The very popular Marine Mammal Protection Act - specifically the provision that
protects dolphins from being slaughtered by tuna fishermen - was found non-
compliant (under a GATT rule; now part of the WTO). And the sea turtle
protections under the Endangered Species Act were found "WTO illegal." The U.S.
may have to rewrite those protections too. Millions more animals may die.
Soon, we can expect challenges to American laws controlling pesticide use,
protecting community water rights, and banning raw log exports, by which both
forests and processing jobs are saved. (See photo caption.)
Is this a conspiracy against American laws? No. The WTO has made similar rulings
against Japan for refusing imports of fruit products that carry dangerous
invasive species. And the European Union (EU) was told it could not forbid
imports of beef from animals fed potentially carcinogenic hormones. (In its
entire history, no WTO ruling has ever favored the environment.)
Examples abound. Laws in all countries are being homogenized to the lowest
common denominator, penalizing countries with higher health and environmental
Such rulings also have secondary, "chilling" effects. Nation-states are
increasingly frightened to stand-up to corporations. Guatemala recently
cancelled a health law that forbade baby food/infant formula companies from
advertising their products as healthier than breast milk. And Canada cancelled
its ban on the gasoline additive MMT, a well-known potential neurotoxin. (This
was under a NAFTA rule now proposed for the WTO.) Canada and Guatemala hoped
that by canceling their public health laws, they would save their taxpayers the
costs of a legal battle. But whatever is saved may later be spent on medical
It's no conspiracy against the U.S.; it's a conspiracy against the environment.
And it's a conspiracy in favor of freeing corporations from democratic laws that
regulate their excesses.
II. The deeper problem
These attacks on environmental laws are symptoms of a larger environmental
problem: globalization itself. Under globalized free trade, countries as diverse
as Sweden and India, Canada and Thailand, Bolivia and Russia are meant to merge
their economies, and homogenize their values toward maximum commodity
accumulation. This puts the whole planet in a single giant economic (and
political) structure, with global corporations in charge.
Such corporations depend on never-ending resource supplies, never-ending growth,
ever-expanding markets, and constant supplies of cheap labor. So, WTO rules give
top priority to such goals. Older values like preserving nature, or protecting
workers, or public health, or communities, or democracy are viewed as
impediments to global corporate growth.
But how long can this go on? Already we see serious ozone depletion, global
warming, habitat and species destruction, epidemic pollution; we are on the
brink of a global environmental collapse. How long can we keep growing on a
finite earth? This system is unsustainable. And one of its most unsustainable
aspects is the emphasis on export production, as the following case shows.
III. The case of globalized food
Any nation's people are most secure when they can produce their own food, using
local resources and local labor. This creates livelihoods, minimizes costly
transport and waste, and solidifies communities. It also helps make countries
Until recently, most people in the world were fed by small farmers, producing
diverse staple food crops to serve local communities and local markets. But
under WTO rules small farmers are disappearing. In much of the world (including
the U.S.) global corporations have taken over most aspects of farming, using
chemical-intensive methods, and now biotechnology. Small farmers have given way
to miles of single crop luxury monocultures, for export to foreign markets.
Today the average meal Europeans and Americans eat travels about 1,500 miles
from source to plate. Instead of eating food grown ten miles away, we eat food
from overseas. And every mile the food travels causes environmental havoc. The
increase in ocean, road, and air transport to ship food back and forth across
the planet massively increases energy use, ocean and air pollution, and climate
change. It also increases refrigeration, with negative effects on the ozone
layer. And it requires far more packaging, putting added pressure on forests. It
also requires new infrastructures: roads, ports, airports, and canals, often
built in pristine places. Anyway, industrial food is less healthy; heavy with
chemicals that pollute soil and water and cause public health problems.
Self-sufficiency is giving way to dependency. The situation is already bad, but
the proposed new expanded agriculture rules of the WTO will make it far worse,
codifying globally the export-oriented agriculture model.
SEE YOU IN SEATTLE?
So much for the bad news. The good news is that hundreds of groups are now
protesting what's going on. This year, many will be focused on the World Trade
Organization's Ministerial meeting in Seattle, November 30-December 3. They are
demanding an immediate halt to WTO expansion and a total reassessment of its
performance. For information about public events these groups are sponsoring
(from Friday Nov. 26th to Dec. 3rd), and new publications, please contact us.
Friends of the Earth
Food First / Institute for Food & Development Policy
Defenders of Wildlife
David Suzuki Foundation
International Forum on Globalization
Rainforest Action Network
The Humane Society of the United States
Institute for Policy Studies-Global Economy Project
50 Years Is Enough: US Network for Global Economic Justice
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
Native Forest Council
People Centered Development Forum
YES! A Journal of Positive Futures
Pacific Environment & Resource Council
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Sea Turtle Restoration Project
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 #2 in the Economic Globalization
series. Other ad series discuss the 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: email@example.com