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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Bill Clinton and GATT

Question: When does President Clinton really become a tiger on the back of Congress? When getting health insurance reform through the legislature? When getting labor law reform through Capital Hill? When getting campaign finance reform through the national legislature? Legislation for the people that is being blocked?

Oh, not at all. He becomes the Arkansas hurricane when the global corporations give him his marching orders on the Uruguay Round of GATT (The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). Then our President really gets his adrenaline up and successfully demands a special session of Congress after the election to approve this international autocratic regime, the World Trade Organization (WTO).

He made this extraordinary move after Senator Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, declared he was going to have public hearings and explore the many ramifications of this trade pact for his entitled 45 days. That time period would extend beyond the Congressional adjournment date in early October.

Bill Clinton is setting records for turning his back on the very people who elected him and dropping to his knees for the corporate interests that favored George Bush in 1992.

To Clinton, it does not matter that all the environmental groups, all the trade unions (who know a little about losing jobs) and all the consumer groups, except for one consumer magazine, oppose this GATT treaty. Also the Citizens Trade Coalition, composed of these and many other grass roots organizations, including farm, church, and health groups, has been active in informing more Americans of what is in this massive agreement between 123 countries.

Mr. Clinton completely ignores these citizens. He declines to respond to public letters by heads of 51 media organizations and 130 prominent Americans from widely different political persuasions protesting the secrecy, the shutout of citizen participation and the damage to democracy and our domestic laws that would flow from the new GATT.

Instead he gives brief media pep talks about how much economic growth and jobs would flow from this global trade pact. To ballyhoo GATT he pulls wild statistics from his hat and dances the GATT Numbers Shuffle. Why, didn’t you know that this GATT will increase the U.S. GNP an annual average of $100 billion over ten years, according to his speculation agency, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) next to the White House? Even other GATT boosters offer estimates that are only one-twentieth to one sixth of USTR’s imagination.

There are more critical views of what the GATT will do. European Parliament member and billionaire, Sir James Goldsmith, has written about the downward pull of this Pact because it opens the way for new factories in authoritarian countries using serf-paid laborers to drive down the labor gains and displace the jobs in the U.S, and Europe.

He adds that many white collar jobs will be moved to nations such as India where English-speaking, computer-skilled people in the millions can do the work and electronically send the results daily back to companies in western cities with high unemployment and declining wage rates.

Clearly, the GATT agreement has a broader downward bias in its mandate. Dictatorial nations who harshly or brutally treat their workers, consumers and the environment do not violate this trade agreement, except when they try to sell abroad products made by prison labor. Even products made by cruel child labor, spreading rapidly throughout the Third World, cannot be lawfully banned by GATT-member nations.

What are vulnerable are above average humane laws in countries that have health and safety standards to protect their people. Already, even Japan, Canada and the European Community (EC) have issued reports complaining that many of our federal and state food, safety, environmental and workplace health laws or standards are GATT-illegal under the new agreement.

Should the President succeed and pull the United States into this World Trade Organization, established by the new GATT, the tiniest nation-members, such as St. Kitts or Singapore, would have an equal vote with the U.S. and there is no U.S. veto power as we have on the UN Security Council.

Any of these countries could take our nation to the WTO’s secret tribunals in Geneva and if they win their case that a federal safety law or state environmental statutes, for example, is unlawful under the GATT Pact, the U.S. would either have to repeal that law or pay perpetual trade fines.

These and other issues in the new GATT might have led a more democratically-incline President to take the proposed Pact to the nation, discuss it throughout the country, make copies easily available and detailed summaries understandable.

He conducted such an outreach to the people with his health care proposals. But with global trade agreements, he has the backing of many Republicans in Congress and their big business backers. So, he resorts to airy pep talks and drives toward an end run around the American people with an up or down, no amendment vote in the Senate around December 1.

That is just enough time for the American people to rise and use the November elections to demand Senate disapproval of this global autocratic regime over our modest democracy.