Get US Out of WTO

Perhaps the best thing that can come out of the invasion of Iraq (other than the freeing of its people from the rule of Saddam Hussein) is the backlash by the rest of the world against the US government's demonstration that it will do what is in the interest of its business elites, backed by its unparalleled military force, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

Free-trade talks with Morocco, moved from Rabat to Geneva amid security concerns, now may be delayed, as Moroccan officials fear rising anti-US sentiment, the Wall Street Journal reported April 4. A US-Chile deal, finalized in December, faces trouble in Congress after Chile refused to back the war resolution at the United Nations. Some Congress members are hesitant to extend normal trade relations to Russia, which also opposed the use of force in Iraq.

US Trade Rep. Robert Zoellick (a former lobbyist for Enron) hopes to reach an agreement on a trade deal with Central American nations by the end of the year. Leftist presidents in Brazil and Venezuela might stand in the way of plans for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (or, as Jim Hightower refers to it, "NAFTA on Steroids"). And given war rifts with Europe and Moslem nations, global talks at the World Trade Organization aren't expected to be finished by a deadline of the end of next year. Only five countries -- Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the US -- met the March 31 deadline to file offers of areas to be opened up to foreign companies under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

Globalization sounds good, as "free trade" promises to open every nation's industry to foreign trade, eliminate stodgy old tariffs and welcome foreign corporations to do business in a worldwide free market. But as Greg Palast noted in his excellent book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (recently published by Plume in an updated US paperback edition), the "free trade" story also involves cutting pensions, cutting welfare, cutting subsidies that help farmers and industry compete against lower-cost producers and letting health and labor standards fall to the lowest common denominator.

Palast, a California native, now practices investigative journalism for the BBC and the Guardian and Observer newspapers in London because, he quips, investigative reporting has become illegal in the US. Palast writes about an unassuming six-page WTO memo he got his hands on, a summary of a March 2001 meeting of member nations' trade ministers that was supposed to remain secret. The memo set out the trade group's plan of attack on the regulatory authority of governments. GATS proposes to replace sovereignty with a "necessity test" that allows GATS dispute panels, meeting in secret, to determine if a law or regulation is "more burdensome than necessary." If the panel decides the law or regulation is too burdensome, the government will be required to relax it or reimburse affected corporations for damages.

A similar provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement allowed a Canadian producer of the gasoline additive MBTE to sue the state of California for banning the additive after it was found to contaminate water supplies. The Canadians argued that there were other, less trade restrictive ways to prevent the additive from leaking into groundwater. Now California has the choice of backing down and allowing the pollutant to remain as a gasoline additive or pay the producer nearly $1 billion in damages.

Environmental groups have sued to halt the Bush administration's proposed change to the popular "dolphin-safe" labeling law for tuna after the White House announced on Dec. 31, 2002, that it planned to weaken the rules protecting dolphins from encirclement nets used to catch tuna. Since 1992, the US has been under orders to weaken the dolphin law after it was ruled to be an illegal trade barrier by an international tribunal under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Under GATS the "more burdensome than necessary" standard is even more business-friendly than "least trade restrictive" standard in NAFTA, Palast says. Among other things, he writes, GATS would prevent local governments from adopting zoning rules prohibiting giant retail stores such as Wal-Mart. The March 2001 memo specifies that trade ministers agreed that simply "safeguarding the public interest" would not be an acceptable defense for a regulation that limited businesses.

The memo suggests, "It may well be politically more acceptable to countries to accept international obligations which give primacy to economic efficiency." In other words, unaccountable GATS can do things that rulers know their Congress or parliaments would never accept.

We believe in fair trade rules that raise labor and health regulations to the standards of the developed world, instead of reducing them to the level of the Third World. It might be too much to hope that the worldwide fear and resentment of George W. Bush and his cronies will ungrease the skids of globalization, but it's worth a try. If the US is too good to surrender its sovereignty to the UN or the World Court, it shouldn't knuckle under to the World Trade Organization either.

The Road from Baghdad

Even before US troops had taken Baghdad there was a struggle over who will rule Iraq after Saddam. We doubt that George W. Bush and his brain trust have any intention of allowing the people of Iraq to control their own destiny. Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims, if left to their own devices, probably would massacre Sunnis who formed the base for the Ba'ath Party that at least ran a secular government and resisted Islamic fundamentalists. The Shi'ites also likely would run the Christian minority out of the country and seek an alliance with Iran. Kurds in the north are in no mood to rejoin the rest of Iraq, but if they try to break off to form Kurdistan Turkey has warned it will intervene.

The US already has set up retired US Air Force Gen. Jay Garner to run Iraq, along with other high-profile Americans, including former CIA director Jim Woolsey to run the Ministry of Information. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and most of the rest of the world think the UN should be brought in to legitimize the new Iraqi order. A bitter struggle also is shaping up over who gets contracts to rebuild Iraq and its oil production.

The Pentagon, led by Rumsfeld, Cheney, Perle and Wolfowitz, want to replace the Ba'athists with the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a group of exiles led by Ahmed Chalabi. He is largely unknown in Iraq, since his family fled in 1958 when the Ba'ath Party overthrew the monarchy, but Chalabi is best known in the Mideast for the spectacular 1989 failure of his Petra Bank in neighboring Jordan. That resulted in 1992 fraud convictions against Chalabi on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds and currency speculation after he skipped the country. The CIA severed its relationship with INC after it was unable to account for millions of dollars in covert US aid. But the Pentagon reinstated the aid and now Chalabi appears to be Bush's choice to follow Washington's orders. Maybe Bush can also find a spot for his old pal Ken Lay in Baghdad.

And while the US focuses on taking out Saddam the Taliban is moving back into Afghanistan -- remember Afghanistan? Al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, who unlike Saddam actually has a connection to 9/11, remains at large and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the US-led war on Iraq would produce "100 new bin Ladens" as Muslims are driven to militancy.

Former CIA director Woolsey, in an April 2 speech at the University of California in Los Angeles, said the invasion of Iraq was merely the opening campaign of World War IV (assuming the Cold War was WWIII). The new war, he said, is actually against three enemies: the religious rulers of Iran, the "fascists" of Iraq and Syria, and Islamic extremists like al Qaeda.

The road from Baghdad goes nowhere near home. -- JMC

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