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10 Reasons to Dismantle the WTO By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman 1. The WTO prioritizes trade and commercial considerations over all
other values. 2. The WTO undermines democracy. 3. The WTO does not just regulate, it actively promotes, global trade. 4. The WTO hurts the Third World. 5. The WTO eviscerates the Precautionary Principle. 6. The WTO squashes diversity. 7. The WTO operates in secrecy 8. The WTO limits governments' ability to use their purchasing dollar for human rights, environmental, worker rights and other non-commercial purposes. 9. The WTO disallows bans on imports of goods made with child labor. 10. The WTO legitimizes life patents.
Add a new community to the long list of World Trade Organization (WTO) critics which already includes consumers, labor, environmentalists, human rights activists, fair trade groups, AIDS activists and animal protection organizations, those concerned with Third World development, religious communities, and women’s organizations. The latest set of critics includes WTO backers and even the WTO itself. As the WTO faces crystallized global opposition -- to be manifested in massive street demonstrations and colorful protests in Seattle, where the WTO will hold its Third Ministerial meeting from November 30 to December 3 -- the global trade agency and its strongest proponents veer between a shrill defensiveness and the much more effective strategy of admitting shortcomings and trumpeting the need for reform. WTO critics now face a dangerous moment. They must not be distracted by misleading or cosmetic reform proposals, nor by even more substantive proposals for changing the WTO -- should they ever emerge from the institution or its powerful rich country members. Instead, they should unite around an uncompromising demand to dismantle the WTO and its corporate-created rules. Here are 10 reasons why: 1. The WTO prioritizes trade and commercial considerations over all other values;
The WTO prioritizes trade and commercial considerations over all other values. WTO rules generally require domestic laws, rules and regulations designed to further worker, consumer, environmental, health, safety, human rights, animal protection or other non-commercial interests to be undertaken in the "least trade restrictive" fashion possible -- almost never is trade subordinated to these noncommercial concerns. 2. The WTO destabilize democracy: The WTO undermines democracy. Its rules drastically shrink the choices available to democratically controlled governments, with violations potentially punished with harsh penalties. The WTO actually pushes this dominating of domestic decisions about how economies should be organized and corporations controlled. "Under WTO rules, once a commitment has been made to liberalize a sector of trade, it is difficult to reverse," the WTO says in a paper on the benefits of the organization which is published on its web site. "Quite often, governments use the WTO as a welcome external constraint on their policies: 'we can't do this because it would violate the WTO agreements.'" 3. The WTO does not just regulate, it actively promotes, global trade: The WTO does not just regulate, it actively promotes, global trade. Its rules are biased to facilitate global commerce at the expense of efforts to promote local economic development and policies that move communities, countries and regions in the direction of greater self-reliance. 4. The WTO hurts the Third World: The WTO hurts the Third World. WTO rules force Third World countries to open their markets to rich country multinationals, and abandon efforts to protect infant domestic industries. In agriculture, the opening to foreign imports, soon to be imposed on developing countries, will catalyze a massive social dislocation of many millions of rural people. 5. The WTO removes the spirit from the Precautionary Principle: The WTO eviscerates the Precautionary Principle. WTO rules generally block countries from acting in response to potential risk -- requiring a probability before governments can move to resolve harms to human health or the environment. 6. The WTO crushes diversity: The WTO crushes diversity. WTO rules establish international health, environmental and other standards as a global ceiling through a process of "harmonization;" countries or even states and cities can only exceed them by overcoming high hurdles.
7. The WTO operates in secrecy: The WTO operates in secrecy. Its panel rule on the "legality" of nations' laws, but carry out their work behind closed doors. 8. The WTO limits governments' ability to use their purchasing dollar for human rights, environmental, worker rights and other non-commercial purposes: The WTO limits governments' ability to use their purchasing dollar for human rights, environmental, worker rights and other non-commercial purposes. In general, WTO rules state that governments can make purchases based only on quality and cost considerations. 9. The WTO disallows bans on imports of goods made with child labor. The WTO disallows bans on imports of goods made with child labor. In general, WTO rules do not allow countries to treat products differently based on how they were produced -- irrespective of whether made with brutalized child labor, with workers exposed to toxics or with no regard for species protection. 10. The WTO legitimizes life patents: The WTO legitimizes life patents. WTO rules permit and in some cases require patents or similar exclusive protections for life forms. Some of these problems, such as the WTO's weaknesses for secrecy, could potentially be fixed, but the core problems -- prioritization of commercial over other values, the constraints on democratic decision-making and the bias against local economies -- cannot, for they are inherent in the WTO itself. Because of these unfixable problems, the World Trade Organization should be shut down, sooner rather than later. That doesn't mean interim steps shouldn't be taken. It does mean that beneficial reforms will focus not on adding new areas of competence to the WTO or enhancing its authority, even if the new areas appear desirable (such as labor rights or competition). Instead, the reforms to pursue are those that reduce or limit the WTO's power -- for example, by denying it the authority to invalidate laws passed pursuant to international environmental agreements, limiting application of WTO agricultural rules in the Third World, or eliminating certain subject matters (such as essential medicines or life forms) from coverage under the WTO's intellectual property agreement. These measures are necessary and desirable in their own right, and they would help generate momentum to close down the WTO.
While the World Trade Organization meets in Seattle, demonstrators in the street have plenty to protest: WTO policies are devastating for the vast majority of the globe’s inhabitants and for the planet itself. The WTO is a weapon of transnational corporations and giant banks against all the world’s workers as well as a weapon of the richest countries against the poorest. It is one of the key enforcement agencies of “neo-liberalism”: the push for deregulation, privatization, and wideopen markets that devastated Asian economies in 1997 and has widened inequality everywhere. In the name of free trade, WTO officials have the authority to override local and federal laws with impunity. And what legislation do they overturn? The labor standards and health, consumer, and environmental protections won during the last century by the blood and sweat of unionists, radicals, and social reformers. Given that the whole point of the WTO is to maximize profits by increasing exploitation, it cannot be reformed. But because those who benefit from the WTO are only a tiny minority, and those it is used against are the overwhelming majority, it can be stopped! Let’s make internationalism work for workers! Free trade: the freedom to plunder (steal): The WTO is only four years old. But it is a direct descendant of an earlier trade agency, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), formed under United Nations auspices after World War II. Although 134 countries are members, WTO is in practice dominated by the capitalist heavyweights — the European Union, Japan, and above all the U.S. Under the slogan of free trade, the reality of WTO is trade carefully managed to benefit the corporations and countries already on top. And while the WTO itself may be young, its basic methodology — capitalist growth through global trade, theft, and exploitation — is as old as the profit system itself. Throughout its rise and development, capitalism has based itself on international and everexpanding markets for resources, labor, and consumers. Globalization is capitalism’s natural and inevitable tendency because in order to survive, each enterprise must grow. The system’s competitive nature demands it. To stay afloat, all businesses are constantly trying to produce more goods more cheaply. But this leads inevitably to a crisis of overproduction — a tsunami of commodities that workers, who have been laid off or whose real wages have been eroded in order to keep profits high, cannot possibly afford. This dilemma was the underpinning to the international economic crisis that started in Asia two years ago.
Capitalism, with all its internal contradictions, is a bomb threatening to detonate. The job of the WTO is to referee global chaos, guarantee the endangered profits of the very rich, and attempt to postpone the disaster. The Seattle Round: accelerating the race to the bottom: In its function as referee, the WTO settles disputes between members. When a country challenges another nation’s regulation or policy as a restraint on trade, the WTO appoints a panel of trade bureaucrats to deliberate in secret and issue a ruling. If the panel finds that an unfair trade barrier exists, the country responsible must change its practice or be punished with fines or sanctions. So far, the WTO has upheld every complaint against environmental protections or public health laws that it has heard. Thus, Venezuelan oil companies brought about lower cleanair standards in the U.S., while the U.S. won a ruling forcing the European Union to buy beef laced with growth hormones or pay stiff penalties. In Seattle, some of the most influential WTO members will be campaigning to make their monster even stronger. They will try to extend its already existing authority over agriculture, intellectual property (patents, copyrights, and trademarks), and services (including education). Moreover, they plan to lobby for new pacts that would < prevent governments from regulating currency speculation and foreign investment — even though a storm of international protest recently halted progress on the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI), which was designed to have the same effect. A world of hurt and women suffer the most: In the drive to make the rich richer, the damage falls on those who create the products and generate the wealth. Workers are left with layoffs, diminishing wages, toxic air, and poisoned food. And when they cross borders in search of decent employment, they are hounded as “illegal aliens” — while big business claims the freedom to make its obscene profit anywhere. As always, women are hit the hardest. In 200 export-processing “free” economic zones in 50 countries, 80 percent of the workers are young women. What they earn is only half of the low wages paid to men in the same areas. In the maquiladoras of Mexico, women labor 12-14 hours a day for six to seven days a week, a throwback to the grotesque English factories of Dickens’ time. But the super-exploitation of women also spurs them to become fierce opponents of the deadly status quo. From South Korea, where the Korean Women’s Trade Union formed to fight for job security, better wages, and childcare, to Mexico, where Native women in Chiapas were leaders in the protest against NAFTA that reverberated around the world, the resistance of women is shaping up to become capitalism’s worst nightmare.
The myth of fair trade: Can the WTO be made kinder and gentler? If labor gets a seat at its table, as the AFL-CIO is pushing for, can the WTO be persuaded to incorporate “fair trade” provisions that will protect workers and the environment? Not a chance. As a New Zealand anti-WTO activist put it, “Expecting the WTO to reform itself is like expecting a tiger to turn into a vegetarian.” The fundamental purpose of the WTO is to make and enforce rules that guarantee trade that is neither truly free nor fair, but is rigged in favor of the mega-capitalists. Moreover, an acute danger of promoting fair trade is how easily this “alternative” becomes a banner for whipping up national chauvinism. Politicians in both parties and misleaders in the labor movement do the dirty work of the bosses: they encourage workers to think that their problems aren’t caused by homegrown profiteers or the system in general, but by unscrupulous foreigners. If fair trade is impossibility under the current system, does that mean that economic globalization is inherently evil? Should we be insisting on the building of self-contained local economies, as some WTO critics propose? No. As technology continues to advance and to increase the ability of people on opposite sides of the planet to interact with each other in a proliferating number of ways, there is no turning back from globalization. And why should we want to? The problem is not that people all over the world can communicate, work, and exchange with one another. This is marvelous! The problem is that capitalism uses this development to increase the wealth of the few and the misery of the many, rather than to make sure that the world’s bounty is shared among all its citizens. A case in point is Cuba, where the U.S. is using a decades-long trade embargo to try to kill a society where wealth is social, not private. But even though the very existence of Cuba as a workers state is antithetical to everything the WTO stands for, the island country must remain inside the organization because of WTO’s power in the global economy. Cuba uses its membership in the WTO as a vehicle for opposing the U.S. blockade and for trying to find desperately needed trading partners. In China, on the other hand, a section of the bureaucracy is trying to win entry into the WTO as a maneuver against the Chinese people. These officials want to use WTO regulations as an excuse to dismantle the state-owned enterprises that provide millions of people with their livelihoods, pensions, education, and medical care. This is insupportable. At the same time, however, the WTO — a club dominated by the world’s largest legal gangsters and pirates — has no right nor grounds to exclude the world’s most populous country.
Fight corporate rule with working-class power: For globalization of trade to benefit humanity, it must be directed by workers, not corporate CEOs. And that means that the response to the WTO should be the creation of the WLO — a World Labor Organization. The WLO would need to be independent from the bosses and all their agencies to be effective — in contrast to the current International Labor Organization (ILO), a toothless U.N. entity that includes representatives from government and business. The program of the WLO could include demands like these:
Dismantle the WTO!
Raise — not lower — labor, health, education, and environmental standards everywhere. Expand civil rights for women, people of color, immigrants, queers, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Strengthen Native sovereignty. Cancel the entire debts owed by post-colonial and poor nations to imperialist countries, banks and institutions. No interference by the advanced capitalist countries with the trade and investment policies of less developed nations.
Open the financial books of all corporations and trade agencies; nationalize the banks an organization such as the WLO can become reality. But it will be up to socialists, who have a firm understanding of the power of the world working class, to initiate it. Organizing against the WTO provides a perfect opportunity for the fractured international Left to work together to provide leadership in this crucial struggle.
At the dawn of the 21st century, harmony and liberation can and must prevail over the destructive, uncontrollable competitiveness of the current global economy. To make this happen, the people who do the work must take over and transform the system, setting new priorities dedicated not to creating profits but to unleashing human potential, fulfilling human needs, and preserving the planet. This is called socialism, and if humanity is to survive through the next millennium, it’s the only way to go.
REFERENCES: Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Common Courage Press, http://www.corporatepredators.org). (c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman Issued by: November 1999 Freedom Socialist Party & Radical Women
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