Traditionally, free trade agreements provide corporations the freedom to manufacture in countries where they are unhindered by labor laws or environmental protections. In these aspects, such agreements might more aptly be termed "morality-free trade."
The astounding innovation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is that rather than allowing international trade to 'merely' circumvent domestic laws, it also enables direct attacks by foreign corporations on U.S. environmental protections, labor laws, and health and safety laws. (Just a few examples are: Mexico forced the repeal of the protection of dolphins in tuna fishing covered by the U.S. Marine Mammal Act; Venezuela forced the repeal of portions of the U.S. Clean Air Act for its oil companies; and Canada is trying to thwart a California ban on gasoline with the groundwater-pollutant MTBE, a known neurotoxin and carcinogen.)
The WTO is a tribunal of business representatives whose operations are completely undemocratic. The members of the tribunal are not elected, there is no access by outside groups to the decision-making process, and the meetings of the tribunal are not open to the public or the press. Yet over 170 countries have given this organization the power to attack their national laws.
The WTO is one of the most consequential political-economic restructurings of the century, and it has been opposed by every major environmental, labor, and consumer-protection group. But prior to Seattle, little had been heard of opposition to the WTO since the major media are owned by corporations which stand to benefit from it and have agressively lobbied for it.
Trade representatives from around the world met in Seattle in late November 1999 with the intention of further increasing the WTO's political and economic influence. But the efforts of fifty-thousand protesters forced the major media to acknowledge the existence of opposition to the WTO. Yet most of the public still has little understanding of how the WTO has, and will continue to, reverse U.S. environmental protections, labor laws, and consumer health and safety laws when they limit the profitability of international trade, and that the process is outside the purview of any democratic process.
For more information about the WTO see www.wtowatch.org, or the Global Trade Watch page of www.publiccitizen.org. Or, to see what is happening in local activisim, check out independent media websites, such as San Francisco's indybay.org.
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