Magazine article Multinational Monitor

Slow Motion Coup D'etat: Global Trade Agreements and the Displacement of Democracy

Magazine article Multinational Monitor

Slow Motion Coup D'etat: Global Trade Agreements and the Displacement of Democracy

Article excerpt

IN THE 1980s, THE SAME IDEOLOGICAL and business interests behind the Thatcher and Reagan "revolutions" opened a second front in their campaign to create a world in which the role of government would be shrunk and the fulfillment of basic human rights and needs would be left to the mercies of markets and corporations.

Their strategy, was to transform the 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) into a powerful new system of global governance that would fence in the permissible scope of accountable democratic governance. This new system of global governance was envisioned to be an instrument to implement one-size-fits-all, within scores of countries, the policies that would enable corporate rule to thrive.

The GATT was a narrowly-cast 20-page trade pact created after World War II to set tariff rates and quota levels for trade in goods between countries. Countries met several times a decade for a "round" of GATT negotiations during which they agreed to cut tariffs or quotas further. In the United States and some other nations, these new tariff and quota terms would then be brought to legislative bodies for approval. However, because the narrowly construed GATT and the notion of free trade generally enjoyed broad support, these votes in the U.S. Congress were not controversial.

Press and parliamentarians assumed it was business as usual when GATT signatories met in Uruguay in the mid-1980s to launch a periodic round of GATT talks. This lack of scrutiny made these obscure "Uruguay Round" GATT negotiations an ideal Trojan horse within which an expansive non-trade policy agenda could be developed and signed, and that could then be rolled in disguise through legislatures.

The Uruguay Round eventually resulted in the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. The WTO totally transformed the nature and scope of "trade" agreements--replacing a relatively brief list of objective norms (domestic and foreign goods must be treated the same, for example) that only applied to trade in goods between nations. The WTO in contrast sets subjective policy--establishing, for example, how safe a country may choose to make its food supply through regulation--and imposed policies on a range of issues reaching far beyond trade, including patents, investment rules and matters related to the service sector. Contained within the legislation implementing the WTO and in the pact's 900 pages were many Reagan Administration proposals that already had been specifically rejected by the then-Democratic Party-controlled U.S. Congress.

During the same period as the GATT Uruguay Round negotiations, the Reagan administration also proposed negotiating new regional "free trade agreements." A U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement was launched in 1988 and was replaced by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Like the WTO, NAFTA exploded the boundaries of what was included in so-called trade agreements. The deals are more accurately dubbed corporate globalization agreements.


International commercial agreements, like WTO and NAFTA, include a broad deregulatory agenda, slashing food safety, environmental and other public interest protections by labeling them "illegal trade barriers" that must be eliminated.

These pacts also promote commodification of common resources by, for instance, requiring signatory countries to issue patents on plant varieties or traditional medicinal plant uses so that the planet's natural biodiversity and the common heritage of the planet's people can be transformed into tradable units of property for profit.

The WTO and NAFTA rules covering the service sector operate to transform services like healthcare, education, electricity and other basic utility essentials into commodities by encouraging broad privatization and deregulation. The WTO and NAFTA establish a right for foreign corporations to own, operate or establish an unlimited array of providers of such critical services, which now are often either provided by governments or via highly regulated monopolies. …

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