QUOTE: Renato Ruggiero, the former WTO secretary-general,
has admitted environmental standards in the WTO are
"doomed to fail and could only damage the global
National Post (Toronto)
Tuesday, August 31, 1999
Global rules could paralyze us
The dominant development model of our time is economic
globalization, a system fuelled by the belief that a single
global economy with universal rules set by global corporations
and financial markets is inevitable. Everything is for sale, even
those areas of life once considered sacred. Increasingly, these
services and resources are controlled by a handful of
transnational corporations that shape national and international
law to suit their interests. At the heart of this transformation
is an all-out assault on virtually every public sphere of life,
including the democratic underpinning of our legal systems.
The most important tool in this assault has been the creation of
international trade agreements whose tribunals and enforcement
measures supersede the legal systems of nation-states and
supplant their judicial processes by setting up independent
dispute resolution systems that exist outside the confines of
their courts and their laws.
For instance, the North American Free Trade Agreement gave
American corporations Chapter 11, the first "investor state
clause" in any international agreement. For the first time, a
corporation can sue a foreign government if that government
enacts any law, practice or measure that negatively affects the
company's profits or reputation, even if that law, practice or
measure has been enacted by a democratic legislature for
legitimate environmental, social, health or safety reasons.
There are several active Chapter 11 cases now in process. The
first was lodged by Ethyl Corp. of Virginia, when Canada
legislated a ban on the cross-border sale of MMT -- which Jean
Chretien, the Prime Minister, called a dangerous neurotoxin --
and Ethyl sued the Canadian government for $350-million in
damages for lost future profit. Rather than allow the case to go
to a NAFTA panel where it feared it would lose, the Canadian
government reversed its ban in July, 1998, paid Ethyl $20-million
in compensation for its "trouble," and gave the company a letter
of apology containing a statement that there is no scientific
evidence MMT poses a threat to human health or the environment.
The first NAFTA Chapter 11 case on water was filed in the fall of
1998. Sun Belt Water Inc. of Santa Barbara, Calif., is suing the
Canadian government because the company lost a contract to export
water to California when the government of British Columbia
banned the export of bulk water in 1991. Although Sun Belt's
agreement was with a Canadian company, Snowcap, and not the B.C.
government, Sun Belt alleges the ban contravenes NAFTA and is
seeking $400-million in damages. The corporation understands
NAFTA gives it the right to shape Canadian government policy.
"Because of NAFTA, we are now stakeholders in the national water
policy in Canada," declared Jack Lindsay, its chief executive.
The other major global institution that is swiping national legal
jurisdictions is the World Trade Organization. The WTO enforces a
number of international trade agreements on goods, services,
intellectual property rights, food safety, animal and plant
health, financial services, food, agriculture policy, investment,
technology and telecommunications.
What makes the WTO so powerful is that it has both the
legislative and judicial authority to challenge laws, policies
and programs of countries that do not conform to WTO rules and
strike them down if they are seen to be too "trade restrictive."
Cases are decided -- in secret -- by a panel of three trade
bureaucrats. Once a WTO ruling is made, worldwide conformity is
required. A country is obligated to harmonize its laws or face
the prospect of perpetual trade sanctions or fines.
The WTO, which contains no minimum standards to protect the
environment, labour rights, social programs or cultural
diversity, has already been used to strike down a number of key
nation-state environmental, food safety and human rights laws.
Recently, U.S. laws to protect endangered Asian sea turtles from
shrimp nets and dolphins from drift nets have been successfully
challenged at the WTO. All WTO agreements set out detailed rules
intended to constrain the extent to which governments can
regulate international trade, or otherwise "interfere" with the
activities of large corporations. WTO agreements provide
extensive lists of things governments can't do.
Says U.S.-based Public Citizen, "The emerging case law indicates
that the WTO keeps raising the bar against environmental laws."
Renato Ruggiero, the former WTO secretary-general, has admitted
environmental standards in the WTO are "doomed to fail and could
only damage the global trading system." Another WTO official was
quoted in the Financial Times in April, 1998, saying, "The WTO is
the place where governments collude in private against their
domestic pressure groups." Democracy is a fragile creature.
Through massive privatization and deregulation, people all over
the world have already lost control over many areas of social and
environmental policy. Now, backed by the International Chamber of
Commerce that wants to establish a binding global legal system to
protect transnational corporate interests, citizens are losing
their democratic rights to a fair, open and just legal system as
Maude Barlow is the national chairperson of The Council of
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NEW CITIZEN'S GUIDE TO THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION!
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Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch
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