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Exercise Your Right and Write
December 15, 1999

What exactly is the World Trade Organization? Many of us have heard the name and may even know a few details, but how informed are we really? Seeing as it is an organization which directly or indirectly affects us all, we should be well informed. Created in January 1995 at a trade summit in Uruguay, the World Trade Organization has its roots in another organization, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT. GATT was established in the wake of World War II. In over the fifty years since WWII, the world has witnessed an exceptional growth in world trade. The World Trade Organization, WTO, is an international organization which controls and mediates global rules of trade between nations. Yes, the word used was "controls." The membership is comprised of over 130 nations worldwide, including the United States. Among some of the issues addressed by the WTO include: the Environment, development, services, goods, intellectual property, electronic commerce, regionalism, trade policy review, dispute settlements and government procurements. The WTO promotes free market international trade systems by reducing tariffs, prohibiting import/export bans and quotas and eliminating discrimination against foreign products based on how they are produced.

Vocabulary Box

quotas - total number or amount required or permitted
procurements- bring about or cause by others' agency
sanctions- economic or military action to coerce a State to conform to agreement
homogenized- bring about uniformity, sameness
eviscerates- disembowled

The World Trade Organization claims their "main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible" and that their goal is to "improve the welfare of the people's of member countries" and to create a "more prosperous, peaceful and accountable economic world" as noted on their official web site. While the goal and intent may be applaudable, the reality of the WTO's impact is an abuse of power. Democracy does not factor into the interworkings of the WTO. As quoted from the New York Times: Series on Economic Globalization, "The WTO is among the most powerful, secretive, undemocratic and unelected bodies on Earth. It has been granted unprecedented powers that include the right to rule on whether laws of nations- concerning public health food safety, small business, labor standards, human rights, or anything- are 'barriers to trade' by WTO standards." If the WTO finds something to be a 'barrier to trade' they have the power to demand change or impose heavy sanction on the county or act affecting trade.

The WTO supports and benefits global corporations, not democratic societies. The basic democratic right to vote and pass on a law does not apply in the WTO. This organization operates in secrecy. Any rulings on disputes or challenges to the "legality" of nations' laws are carried out behind closed doors. The public is shut out of the process. Further, if a dispute panel finds a law to be in violation of the WTO rules, it recommends that the law be changed. Although most countries heed the recommendation, if the country refuses, the WTO intervenes further. Often the WTO authorizes an imposition of the trade sanctions against the country presenting the challenge. An example of this dispute process occurred between the WTO and the European Union (EU). The EU had imposed a ban on hormone-treated beef because of the adverse affect it had on consumers, namely young girls. As mentioned, the decision-making process of the WTO is secretive, however, the final outcome is known. The panel reviewing the case for the WTO decided that the rules of the WTO require proof of harm before any harm may be restricted. The EU, however, refused to repeal its ban and opted to pay the $120 million trade sanction imposed by the WTO. Although the EU stood their ground, many nations, such as Canada and Guatemala, are increasingly afraid to go to battle with the WTO and corporations.

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 by forcing them to abandon efforts to protect infant domestic industries.
5. The WTO eviscerates the Precautionary Principle.
6. The WTO squashed 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.

Among the many issues at hand involving the World Trade Organization, three of the most prominent are the environment, globalization and globalized food. At the forefront of the WTO's adverse impact of environmentalism is the U.S. Clean Air Act. This act intended to impose high standards against polluting gasoline, came under the regulatory power of the WTO. The Act was ruled "unfair to foreign oil companies" by the WTO. As a result of this ruling, the WTO demanded change and the regulations of the U.S. Clean Air Act were rewritten to allow automobiles to emit dirtier exhaust. The Clean Air Act was intended to create less pollution in the air, which would then result in greater health and maintenance of the environment. Instead, the WTO's claims of the Act as an "unfair trade barrier" was victorious - but at what cost? Worldwide, laws in all countries are being homogenized and sanctions are being imposed on those with higher health and environmental standards. It is important to note that in the history of the WTO, no ruling has ever favored the environment. The WTO favors corporations and many of the sanctions imposed are beneficial to ridding corporations from democratic laws.

At the heart of many of the problems at hand, such as the environmental laws, is globalization. The idea of globalization is to merge the economies of very diverse countries and streamline their values. As a result, the entire globe would be economically structured the same with corporations at the helm. "Values like preserving nature, or protecting workers or public health or communities, or democracy are viewed as impediments to global corporate growth" as sited from the New York Times: Series on Economic Globalization. This is extremely dangerous and serious ramifications will be felt on a global scale if the WTO goes unthwarted. However, such countries as Egypt are supportive of globalization. Egypt is the second recipient of the largest parcel of American foreign aid, after Israel. As a result, globalization is translated to opposition to the government. Therefore, there is not a strong resistance to globalizations and privatization. Perhaps the most vocal group in Egypt in opposition to globalization is the Muslim Brotherhood.

The topic of the World Trade Organization is immense, too much to be covered in a brief synopsis. Therefore a final area of great concern is the globalization of food. Throughout much of history, nations have produced their own food through the use of local resources and local labor. As a result, countries became more self-reliant. Recently, this system has been giving way to a more globalized food system. The WTO is eliminating small farmers to make room for global corporations. Food is now imported and exported throughout the world. This new system is having an adverse affect on the environment - creating more waste, increase in transport and increase in refrigeration. Among the areas these changes are impacting include: increase in energy use, ocean and air pollution, climate change and negative effects on the ozone layer. It seems we, as a global world, are becoming more dependent as a result of globalization.

The extent to which the World Trade Organization extends is mind boggling. These issues touched on do not come close to covering the multi-faceted WTO or the struggle against it. To find out more about activism and the World Trade Organization, visit the following web sites:



Power in Numbers - Act on your rights!

The World Trade Organization summit recently held in Seattle, Washington from November 29-Decemember 3, 1999 sparked a massive grassroots mobilization of opposition to the WTO. Thousands and thousands of activists took to the streets in protest of the WTO's "betrayal of the public interest." The reality of the World Trade Organization is that the entire population is affected by their decisions, sanctions and overall biases towards global corporations. The environment, globalization and food safety are issues which will affect you, as well as the rest of the world population. Therefore, joining the movement to eliminate the intense power of the WTO is vital. Each new individual to join the cause is valued and will make a difference in the uphill climb.

20/20 Vision, based out of Washington D.C., is currently mobilizing efforts to write action letters to Vice President Al Gore's campaign chairman for the 2000 presidential campaign. Below is the action letter outline, along with a contact address:

Contact Mr. Tony Coelho, campaign chairman for Vice President Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. Tell him that, as a voter, you oppose WTO expansion and its policy of "free trade at any cost." Specifically mention the Forest Products Agreement and the devastation it will cause to forests, ecosystems and biodiversity. Remind him that Gore should be living the rhetoric by supporting trade agreements that safeguard the public health and the environment rather than profits for transnational corporations.

Write to:

    Mr. Tony Coelho, Gore 2000, Inc.
    P.O. Box 23250
    Nashville, TN 37202

Phone: (615) 340-2000
Fax: (615) 329-0407

You can use or edit the following sample letter.

Your Name
Your Email Address 


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