Free Trade Runs Amok

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, November 26, 1999

The WTO (World Trade Organization) will hold its Third Ministerial meeting in Seattle next week amid pomp and protests. The countries which set the agenda for the WTO, the US, the EU, Japan and Canada, hope to further liberalize, that is, create conditions to increase, world trade. Simply put, the WTO's goal is that more and more of all the goods and services that everyone in the world purchases will come from farther and farther away.

Trade liberalization is an untested theory promoted with near religious zeal by true believers, primarily large corporations and the governments of wealthy countries. Skeptics believe that so-called free trade, as promoted by the WTO, will further sacrifice the health of people, the environment, communities and democracies all over the planet. Labor interests, environmentalists, human rights activists, small farmers, women's, religious, and fair trade groups, as well as developing countries, see the WTO as a distant, undemocratic organization, doing the bidding of global corporations by elevating narrow economic concerns above all others.

To encourage more global trade, the WTO has the power to overrule laws that countries have enacted to protect their citizens' health and the environment. For example, the WTO told the EU that it couldn't refuse to import American beef which contains hormones Europeans don't want to eat. It has also told Americans that they could not ban the importation of shrimp caught in ways which endanger sea turtles and has overturned part of the US Clean Air Act. The mere threat of the WTO's power effectively overturned a Guatemalan law passed to protect infants from predatory advertising by global baby-food companies. The same threat is being used on behalf of pharmaceutical corporations to overturn laws passed by South Africa, India and Thailand to make medicines more affordable and available to their citizens. If its power is unchecked, the WTO may make it impossible for us to even know in what country or under what labor or environmental conditions a product is produced.

The US belief in free trade is self-serving. Propaganda from the USDA makes it clear that if this WTO meeting is successful, ever more of the goods and services needed by citizens of the rest of the world will come from the United States, of course.

The world's most powerful corporations will also be at the meeting in Seattle, rolling out the tax-deductible red carpet and spurring on the trade liberalization which will make them even richer and more powerful. Considering the ease with which corporations control politicians in Washington, it's not difficult to conceive that the same scenario might be unfolding in Geneva, Switzerland, the home of the WTO. The WTO's secrecy and its distant location put even developing countries let alone citizens, at a severe disadvantage. The whole enterprise seems to be managed by corporate lawyers.

At the Seattle meeting, developing countries and NGOs, or Non-Governmental Organizations, will try to slow down or stop the corporate steamroller. Although the opposition represents the vast majority of the Earth's inhabitants, they are like David against the global corporate/political Goliath. Out in the streets, grassroots organizations from all over the world will wage peaceful, passionate, and principled protests against the anti-nature, anti-people, anti-environment imperialism of global corporations.

It's worth paying attention because the health of people, communities and ecosystems all over the planet is at stake.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 1999 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.