GATT

A forerunner of the impact which forthcoming international business agreements called GATT & NAFTA will have on our nation’s sovereignty came down recently in the form of a GATT panel decision regarding dolphins.

The GATT panel, composed of three trade specialists from Hungary, Switzerland, Uruguay, ruled in favor of Mexico who challenged a U.S. law that banned imports of tuna caught with encirclement nettings that also destroy dolphins. Mexico claimed the tuna ban by the U.S. was an unfair non-tariff trade barrier that violated an existing international trade treaty.

If this GATT decision is affirmed at the highest GATT authority, the US would be subject to trade penalties unless the US changes its law.

Hold on to your health, safety and consumer laws, America, because the next versions of GATT and NAFTA (the latter involving Mexico-US business relations), is really going to show you whose boss. George Bush is on the side of GATT and NAFTA — openly and unabashedly.

Why is the President supporting Treaty provisions that could over-ride the environmental and workplace protections passed by local, state and Congressional lawmakers? Because the President has pursued a political career that favors the wishes of big corporations which, in this case, want to weaken or repeal these laws. How much easier to have far-away secret tribunals in Rome or Geneva rule that these laws are non-tariff trade barriers, if they are not repealed or amended, than trying to do the same out in the open before Congress or state legislatures.

These concerns are not resting just on the dolphin case and mere future predictions. Canadian asbestos manufacturers, joined by the Canadian government, have sued in the U.S. courts to overturn the U.S. ban on deadly, cancer-causing asbestos — the Canadian argument is the same as Mexico’s — the ban is an unfair barrier to trade under the US-Canada Trade Agreement and GATT (which includes over 90 nations).

Other consumer or environmental standards that have recently been challenged, using the GATT but, as alleged illegal barriers to trade include Danish recycling laws, the European Community’s meat hormone ban, Asian countries ban on cigarette advertising, a U.K. ban on “moist snuff” tobacco and Canadian fish conservation programs.

Until recently, international trade treaties were narrower in scope. They focused on reducing or eliminating tariffs and facilitating investment flows. Now, these country trade negotiations are surrounded by hundreds of corporate lobbyists who also dominate completely the official advisory committees attached to various sector by sector (e.g. food, drugs, motor vehicles, chemicals, etc.) commissions. Look for Coca-Cola, Ralston Purina, Kraft, Dupont, GM and others at these gatherings.

Now the latest proposals for revised GATT and the Mexican agreements range deep into the American standard of living. In the name of free trade, big corporations are moving their strategy to push downward US standards in the workplace, marketplace and environment to lower levels found overseas.

Companies played the game earlier this century when they pitted one state against the other, favoring the most insensitive-to-workers state until federal standards, such as a minimum wage, leveled the playing field more!

At the GATT negotiating table and in the enforcement process, these is no freedom of information act, no public docket for citizen comments, no rules against secret contacts, no public record and no rights for consumers or workers to appeal. There is only a closed door grip growing on an American democracy, already weakened by corporate power over Washington, that comes from global corporations with no allegiance either to this country or the finer values for which it has stood on behalf of its people through years of struggle for justice.

For more information, write to Congress Watch, P.O. Box 19404, Washington, DC, and learn about what you can do to stop this power grab while there is time.

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