In just one day of their coverage, the television networks have paid more attention to Michael Jackson, Lorena Babbitt, Tonya Harding and O.J. Simpson than they have to the proposed World Trade Organization (WTO).
The WTO you ask? What’s that? Oh, “that” is a big boring international trade and investment agreement between over 100 countries that may affect whether or not you keep or get a job. “That” is a complex, legalistic system of international governance, to be headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, that can chill your citizen campaigns in the environmental, consumer and worker justice areas.
“The media is not interested in the WTO,” declared Clinton’s trade representative, Mickey Kantor, who wants to whisk this agreement through Congress later this summer as fast as possible.
The proposed World Trade Organization, with its secret tribunals, harmonization committees and one nation, one vote, no veto procedures, is the darling of the global corporations. They played a large role in drafting its terms and structure so as to give the auto, drug, food, chemical and other goliaths advantages over workers, children, small farmers, sick people, and the environment.
For example, there are no protections for children who are exploited for 70 hours a week in some countries to produce goods for export to the United States and other nations. Child labor is not a violation of this WTO agreement.
For example, the price of medicines in poorer countries will increase because the WTO deal virtually provides for member nations to grant 20 year monopoly drug patents instead of a system of compulsory licensing that stimulates competition.
The WTO is a pull down trade agreement. Nations do not violate its terms by treating consumers, workers and the environment badly; member nations violate its terms by having what other nations can convince secret tribunals to be too advanced or protective health, safety and workplace standards.
Since the U.S. has more advanced standards than many countries in these areas, our country is vulnerable to such tribunal decisions that these standards are really designed to keep out imports, such as food with impermissible residues of pesticides.
You may ask? How can this be happening? Two answers: one is that the WTO agreement subordinates non-commercial issues like health and safety standards to the supremacy of foreign trade imperatives. It does not require trade to bend beneath health and safety standards.
Second, in the arcane, tunnel-vision world of international commerce, global corporate lobbyists and government bureaucrats have had an extended immunity from citizen scrutiny and public attention. Dealing in past years with dumping, countervailing duties and complex preferences is one matter; but now this aggressive WTO proposal invades and subjugates, with secret, autocratic procedures, public values that are far removed from trade.
Both existing auto safety, recycling, food safety, chemical controls and any number of proposals to improve our society’s health and safety can be construed as impairing or blocking certain exports. If these tribunals rule against the U.S. — and there is no independent appeal from these decisions — the U.S. would have to repeal its laws or pay perpetual trade penalties.
Is all this just theoretical? Well, in the past few months, Japan, Canada and the European Community issued reports naming the very U.S. federal laws and state laws they intend to take to Geneva as being illegal under the WTO.
Already under the weaker trade agreement that the WTO would replace, Mercedes, through the European Community, is challenging our fuel efficiency and gas guzzler laws.
Americans have enough problems with Albany, Sacramento and Washington without losing control to secret tribunals in Geneva which don’t even allow state and local officials or citizen groups to plead their case.
May I suggest that you communicate with your Senators and ask them how they intend to vote when President Clinton sends this WTO proposal to Congress for approval. Your Senators and Representatives have already tied their own hands by prohibiting any amendments. The vote will be up or down without changes on this Declaration of Dependence.
You will either find out about the WTO before it is voted on or you will surely feel the boomerangs afterward should it be approved. Better for you and democracy and our legitimate sovereignty as a nation that you know about it before.
(For a free citizen information kit on the WTO, send a self-addressed, stamped, large envelope to Citizens Trade Campaign, P. 0. Box 19404, Washington, DC 20036.)