Dismantle the WTO

Article excerpt

ADD A NEW CONSTITUENCY to the long list of World Trade Organization (WTO) critics which already includes consumers, labor, environmentalists, human rights activists, fair trade groups, AIDS activists, animal protection organizations, those concerned with Third World development, religious communities and women's organizations. The latest set of critics are 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 29 to December 3 -- the global trade agency and its strongest proponents veer between an ineffective defensiveness and the much more dangerous strategy of admitting shortcomings and trumpeting the need for reform.

WTO critics now face a perilous moment. They must not be distracted by illusory 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. They should unite around an uncompromising demand to dismantle the WTO.

The White House is already gearing up its cooptation machinery. It has proposed formation of a study group at the WTO on trade and labor issues, and has announced that it will henceforth subject all trade agreements to an environmental review.

For the Clinton administration, this is tried and tested ground. It helped defuse environmental, if not labor, objections to NAFTA by negotiating environmental and labor "side agreements" -- now almost universally acknowledged to be of little or no consequence.

There will undoubtedly be other reform initiatives, especially relating to openness and emanating from a variety of sources worldwide, in the weeks and months ahead.

None of them, however, will address three fatal, corporate-biased flaws in the WTO.

First, the WTO's trade rules intentionally prioritize trade and commercial considerations over all other values. Never does the WTO say, "Trade should be undertaken in such a way as promote values that the international community has agreed are important in their own right, such as protection of human rights, the environment or labor tights." 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. …