Drop the GATT

Article excerpt

Ignoring the rising public pressure to postpone the matter until next year, the Clinton Administration is about to send a seriously flawed World Trade Organization agreement to Congress for approval under fast-track procedures allowing no amendments. The W.T.O. pact, a creation of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), is more than an economic document. It is a system of international governance with powerful legislative, executive and judicial authority over member nations. As such, any evaluations of the W.T.O. regime should use the democratic yardsticks we apply domestically.

Such an inquiry seems to have escaped the self-described free traders at The New York Times and The Washington Post as well as other national media. Practicing the official-source journalism that uncritically reports the Administration's inflated estimates of the pact's economic benefits, the Times and the Post routinely turn their backs on the troubling political and legal issues raised by the W.T.O.'s secrecy, inaccessibility and its one-nation-one-vote/no-veto system of decisionmaking that gives St. Kitts, Luxembourg and Singapore equal power with the United States.

A gauge of the extent of this indifference was the media's treatment of a remarkable public letter sent to President Clinton on September 14 by fifty-one leaders of major news organizations and journalism groups. The signers urged the President to open World Trade deliberations to the American public and press. The letter, signed by such people as Greg Favre, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Lawrence Beaupre, vice president of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association, and Bill Kovach, curator of the Nieman Foundation, listed five anti-democratic areas of concern.

They include a lockout of the press and the public from W.T.O. tribunals; suppression of the briefs and other documents presented by governments that are parties to disputes before these tribunals; denial of citizens' right to petition; the absence of conflict-of-interest standards for the tribunals' three trade specialists, who act as judges and may simultaneously pursue private business careers; and a prohibition of any independent appeals of W.T.O. tribunal decisions. The perfunctory internal appeals process within the W.T.O. is secret. The letter was circulated by John Seigenthaler, chairman of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, who told Clinton, We must "restore democratic openness to this crucial process. To do otherwise would break a sacred pact with the American people."

This unprecedented appeal to the President was not considered worthy of even a squib by the Times or the Post. Nor did any columnist or editorial writer mention this criticism of the W. …