By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
These agreements had an oddly appropriate name: Structural Adjustment Programs.
New foreign operators want their profits. In 2000, Bechtel Corp. took over the Bolivian water system, bringing on a minirevolution that sent the San Francisco firm packing. Usually, the agreements require busting unions, reducing the workforce, trimming wages and eliminating benefits. For instance, the IMF recently told Bulgaria that, in a climate of globalizing labor, it should work to reduce average wages, already at about $125 per month, in order to be more competitive. This is mainstream neoliberal advice: better a sweatshop than no shop at all.
The WTO has similar practices. It sanctions countries for refusing to halt tariffs on foreign products or passing laws to protect workers from exploitation.
Be kind to the environment
The WTO has a perfect anti-environmental record. In the trade organization‘s first six years, every environmental law challenged at the WTO (including several in the United States) was declared illegal and an ”unfair trade barrier.“ This, critics say, is its basic nature: The WTO exists to liberalize trade, and these and other protections are simply in the way.
For instance, the WTO ruled that the European Union’s (E.U.) ban on imports of hormone-laden beef from the U.S. was illegal. Under the new world order, then, it‘s illegal for Europe to protect its food supply. The E.U. refused to budge, so the WTO authorized the United States to smack it with $120 million in trade sanctions. The United States is thereby charging the E.U. for the meat even though people won’t eat it, allowing U.S. farmers to ignore the demands of the sacred ”market“ and carry on as though nothing‘s wrong.
Venezuela challenged the U.S. Clean Air Act rules on reformulated gasoline, saying they were too tough. The WTO agreed, forcing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to change the law and allow imports of gasoline with high concentrations of known pollutants. These pollutants are now in our gasoline. Unlike the E.U.’s decision on beef, however, the pro-industry EPA gladly capitulated, creating a new nightmare scenario: A reactionary administration like, say, the current one, can strip any inconvenient law from the books just by inviting another country to challenge it as a trade barrier.
Respect the sovereignty of nations
Some would have us all living in a global village, but we‘re not quite there yet. In the race to global markets, labor and environmental standards are the two biggest losers. The best way to stop this is to let nations adopt and enforce their own laws.
The IMF and World Bank sponsor this contest by making loans conditional on cuts in regulations. Sovereignty is leaking away the fastest through two new global devices that Juliette Beck, trade campaigner at Global Exchange, a trade monitoring group in San Francisco, calls ”corporate courts.“
For example, the U.S. bans the export of raw logs to protect jobs at local sawmills and to reduce the spread of insects and diseases. Japan wants to challenge this law. If it does, a WTO dispute-settlement panel of three to five experts would have the power to force the U.S. to change the law or pay a fine. No dispute panel has ever found an environmental or labor law not to be a trade barrier, and only a couple of the rulings have ever been overturned in the WTO’s appeals process. So, odds are that the U.S. will lose sovereign control over what it does with its trees. The biggest loser, however, will be U.S. and Japanese native forests and forest workers.
Similarly, NAFTA‘s ”Foreign Investor“ clause allows the U.S., Mexico and Canada to sue one another if any regulation results in a loss of profits.
”This is a classic Newt Gingrich--era Republican-revolution pro-business ’takings‘ issue,“ says Steve Porter, a policy analyst at the Center for International Environmental Law. ”It turns the ’polluter pays‘ principle on its head.“
Limit intellectual property rights
For many transnational corporations, a new WTO agreement called TRIPS -- Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights -- is the key to untold billions in profits.
TRIPS, and the issue of global patents, is not just a matter of pirated DVDs. Activists say that patents on living organisms could put the whole world’s food supply, biodiversity and access to medicines at risk. Many firms, on the other hand, would like their patents protected by one worldwide process.
Biotechnology firms are now in a mad gold rush for patentable genes. Labs are creating genetically modified organisms (GMO), such as new varieties of corn and bacteria and even pigs, or they ”bio-prospect“ from organisms already in use but not ”owned“ by anyone. They patent strands of human DNA, laboratory processes and proprietary research in order to protect marketable products. Some of those products are cancer and AIDS drugs.
This year, for instance, Brazil started making generic versions of an expensive AIDS drug, because the country‘s people are dying and cannot afford the name-brand drugs. As the whole world saw, during the bitter fight over AIDS drugs in South Africa, drug companies want this stopped.
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