In reality, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is not about trade at all. It is a power grab. It has to do with institutionalizing “free ride economics” once and for all in order to protect Transnational Corporation (TNC) shareholders from environmentalists and other people who think there are other things of value to human society besides the profits of commercial companies. It also has to do with the transfer of sovereignty of nation states to the WTO, and how a three-man WTO team can dictate what laws your country may and may not pass in the future.
The chief negotiator of the USA for one of the preparatory meetings for the Rio conference estimated that as much as 80% of America’s environmental legislation could be challenged and declared illegal before WTO panels.7
But it is not only American laws that are under attack. It is a every country’s laws that are at risk, with the TNCs as the only winners. Every country could make up a list similar to the American’s. For example, American TNCs objected to EU restrictions on the banning of bovine growth hormones, which EU consumers feel are a potential health hazard. In this case, the tribunal ruled against the EU, infuriating many Europeans. This is just the beginning of a trend which is going to become much worse. The name of the game now is for countries to compete with each other in what Nader calls “a race to the bottom” to see who can offer the TNCs “the most miserable wages, the most lax pollution standards, and the lowest taxes”, with the WTO three-man tribunal making the decisions. Nader sums it up in one word. “Neat”. He adds, “Workers, consumers, and communities in all the countries lose, short-term profits soar, and the corporation ‘wins’ .” 8
Let us look more closely at some of the provisions that will enable the TNCs to enforce their wishes on the nations of the world through the WTO.
The decisions of the three-man tribunal are final. There is no appeal. Furthermore, all documents and transcripts of the proceedings are secret. No media or citizen group can observe or comment. There is no required disclosure of possible conflict of interests of the panel members. While national government representatives are allowed to participate in the process, there is no mechanism to allow for opinions of other interested parties, such as, environmentalists, the medical profession, anthropologists, nor for human rights, labor, consumer or health activists. The only qualifications for panel members are legal training and previous experience as a foreign trade bureaucrat.
Under WTO rules, certain “objectives” are forbidden to all regional and national legislative bodies, including, for example, subsidies to promote energy conservation and sustainable farming practices.
The tribunal has the power to enforce sanctions on countries that refuse to remove laws that it, in its unilateral wisdom, considers WTO-illegal. Only unanimous opposition of all member countries can overrule a tribunal decision to impose sanctions – an impossible event in practice.
WTO rules are enforceable as concerns all existing and future laws of every member country. The WTO can challenge any law if the attainment of any WTO objective is being impeded, even laws that were never seen as trade-related.
The WTO is authorized to conduct ongoing negotiations on WTO provisions and to make binding decisions with a simple majority vote, leaving dissatisfied individual nations with no leverage to negotiate. The old GATT rules required unanimity.
Ralph Nader offers the comment that most people, including members of the American Congress, probably find the above “unbelievable”. It is almost an invitation to the TNCs to take over as the first world government in a bloodless coup. People assume that their democratically elected governments can impose whatever standards they want on products that enter their marketplace without being second-guessed by a biased panel of foreign trade bureaucrats in Geneva. But alas, they are wrong. In effect, they have voluntarily sacrificed a vital part of their sovereignty to the TNCs.
In this connection, Nader tells how he offered a prize of $10,000 to a charity of his choice to any congressman, who would sign an affidavit that he had actually read the 500 page agreement, and could answer ten simple questions about the contents. Only one congressman took up the challenge, republican Hank Brown of Colorado. After fulfilling the conditions, he held a press conference, where he announced that he was “aghast” at the contents, and was switching his vote from “yes” to “no”.