Magazine article Earth Island Journal

World Trade Threatens Massachusetts

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

World Trade Threatens Massachusetts

Article excerpt

Europe -- On July 4, the Japanese government and the European Commission (EC) unveiled plans to challenge US sovereignty before the World Trade Organization (WTO). At issue: a Massachusetts law that penalizes companies doing business with Burma.

Massachusetts, in an effort to put pressure on Burma's brutal military dictatorship, enacted a selective purchasing law on June 26, 1996 that imposed a pricing penalty on state procurements from firms that contract with Burma.

The EC, the executive branch of the European Union, claims that the purchasing law violates a WTO provision barring the use of "political" criteria in granting federal and state procurement contracts. EC spokesperson Ella Krucoff explained that, under WTO rules, the Massachusetts restriction is unfair "to the trade and investment community." Apparently, doing business with dictators is fair.

Disappointed with Washington's failure to crack down on Massachusetts, Japan and the EC have vowed to file a complaint against the law before the WTO, the Geneva-based international trade tribunal.

On June 19, the EC requested formal consultations with the US about the Massachusetts law under the WTO's dispute settlement procedures. These consultations are the final step before the dispute goes before a WTO tribunal.

(Ironically, in June, the 626-member European Parliament unanimously called for the EC to abandon its attack on Boston. The call went unheeded by EC Vice President Sir Leon Brittan.)

Modeled after earlier legislation boycotting trade with South Africa's apartheid government, the Massachusetts law has encouraged several corporations to withdraw from Burma, including Apple Computer, Eastman Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Obayishi of Japan and Philips Electronics of the Netherlands.

One Japanese official, apparently ignorant of the states' rights provisions of the US Constitution, told Japan Times that Japan would give the US government one week to "abolish" the Massachusetts law. …

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