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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > WTO – “Pull Down” Trade Agreement

The intense struggle, yet to be reported by the press, over the United States becoming a member of the 120 nation World Trade Organization (WTO) has produced some strange alliances. I find myself, for example, having a joint press conference with Pat Buchanan to denounce the way the WTO damages our democratic practices and impermissibly undermines our sovereignty.

Whether one is liberal, conservative, or just commonsensical, joining an international entity with the power to judge, to legislate and to impose sanctions that leaves the largest economy in the world with just one vote and no veto raises interesting yellow lights.

The U.S. belongs to a number of international organizations and all provide either weighted voting or a veto to our country. In stark contrast, under the WTO, St. Kitts or any other tiny country, whether a dictatorship or mostly democratic, has the same vote as does the U.S.

The WTO has teeth. Its tribunals can rule for a foreign country challenging our food safety, motor vehicle safety, pollution and other laws as disguised trade barriers against products they want to export to the U.S. Our country would then either have to repeal the law or pay perpetual trade fines.

These tribunals are secret to all except the national government representatives. There is no press permitted, no citizen groups, no public transcript and no independent public appeal from its decisions. The tribunals’ judges are three trade specialists who do not have to meet any conflict of interest standards.

We do not operate this way in the U.S. Why then do we subjugate our democratic practices, to such an over-ride, and our domestic laws to such risks by an international autocratic regime called the WTO?

Yellow lights go off when one reads three recent reports by the European Community (EC), Japan and Canada literally describing the federal and state laws — consumer, environmental and others -­that these countries intend to take to the tribunals in Switzerland as illegal trade barriers.

These are, for example, food labeling, fuel efficiency, asbestos-ban, recycling, food safety, and nuclear non­proliferation laws. The EC wants to force us to change the nuclear law because it requires proof of how countries buying our nuclear materials are going to use these materials. The EC maintains that a “process” requirement is illegal should the U.S. join the WTO.

The revealing bias of the WTO agreement is that member nations do not violate its terms by treating their people too harshly as consumers, workers or allow massive poisoning of their environments. Oh, no, only the nations whose safety protections are deemed too advanced (read too humane) can be charged with impeding trade. Other countries can say your food standards regarding pesticides are too stringent, your cars have too strong safety standards and haul the U.S. off to Geneva.

This is why I call the WTO a “pull down” trade agreement, pulling down our standards. Certainly, enough yellow lights have been going off among state officials in recent days. Forty two Attorneys General, thirty state treasurers, many state tax officials and the National Association of Counties have called for an immediate consultation summit with the Clinton Administration. Their concern: state and local laws and how the federal government intends to defend them from foreign nations’ attack.

Mickey Kantor, Clinton’s trade representative, wants to rush this gigantic trade agreement through Congress this year under procedures that permit no amendment.

A number of influential fellow Democrats in Congress think this would be political suicide for some shaky legislators up for re-election. Almost thirty Senators want Clinton to postpone the vote on the WTO until next year.

The remaining Senators need to hear from the folks back home. These are the same folks who have enough problems with their state and federal governments without giving more control to an autocratic international regime in Switzerland, under the influence of global corporations looking for the cheapest and most permissive place on the globe.