The World Trade Organization's Sharp Teeth

By Ralph Nader Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 17, 1994 | Go to article overview

The World Trade Organization's Sharp Teeth


Ralph Nader Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The proposal for the United States to become a member of the 120-nation World Trade Organization has produced a unique alliance.

A recent letter to President Bill Clinton calling for a postponement of the congressional vote on the organization, for example, was signed by Gloria Steinem and Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Buchanan and Jerry Brown, and the editors of the liberal Progressive magazine and right-wing American Spectator magazine.

Whether one is liberal, conservative or just commonsensical, joining an international entity with the power to judge, to legislate and to impose sanctions - leaving the largest economy in the world with just one vote and no veto - should signal caution.

Every major international organization of which the United States is a member provides our country with either weighted voting (the International Monetary Fund and World Bank) or a veto (the U.N. Security Council). In stark contrast, St. Kitts, Luxembourg, Singapore or any other tiny country - whether a dictatorship or not - would have the same vote as the United States in the World Trade Organization.

The organization would have sharp teeth. Its tribunals, based in Geneva, could rule for a foreign country challenging our food safety, motor vehicle safety, pollution or other laws as disguised barriers against products they want to export to the United States.

The United States would then be faced with a cruel choice: Repeal or alter the law, or pay perpetual trade fines or suffer trade sanctions. Mere proposals to advance U.S. safety laws would be chilled by the omnipresent authority of the World Trade Organization.

These tribunals would be cloaked in secrecy and closed to all except national government representatives. The media and citizen groups would be excluded from their proceedings. Public transcripts would not be available, and there would be no independent public appeal of tribunal decisions. Tribunal judges would be three trade specialists who would not have to meet any conflict of interest standards.

There is no reason for us to subjugate our democratic practices and domestic laws to such an autocratic override by an unaccountable international regime.

These concerns are not merely speculative or hypothetical. Three recent reports by the European Union, Japan and Canada describe U.S. federal and state consumer and environmental laws that these countries believe will be open to challenge as illegal trade barriers before the tribunals in Switzerland.

On the lists, for example, are laws covering food labeling, fuel efficiency, the ban on asbestos, recycling, food safety and nuclear non-proliferation. The European Union wants to force us to change the non-proliferation law because it mandates that the United States must maintain a final say over how countries buying American nuclear materials will use them. …

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