Top Ten Reasons to Oppose the WorId Trade Organization
Global Exchange, Fall 1999
The WTO only serves the interests of transnational corporations
The WTO is not a democratic institution, and yet its policies
impact all aspects of society and the planet. The WTO rules are
written by and for corporations with inside access to the negotiations.
For example, the US Trade Representative relies on its 17 "Industry
Sector Advisory Committees" to provide input into trade negotiations.
Citizen input by consumer, environmental, human rights and labor
organizations is consistently ignored. Even requests for information
are denied, and the proceedings are held in secret.
The WTO is a stacked court
The WTO's dispute panels, which rule on whether domestic laws
are "barriers to trade" and should therefore be abolished,
consist of three trade bureaucrats who are not screened for conflict
of interests. For example, in the tuna/dolphin case that Mexico
filed against the US, which forced the US to repeal its law that
barred tuna from being caught by mile-long nets that kill hundreds
of thousands of dolphins each year, one of the judges was from
a corporate front group that lobbied on behalf of the Mexican
government for NAFTA.
The WTO tramples over labor and human rights
The WTO has refused to address the impacts of free trade on
labor rights, despite that fact that countries that actively enforce
labor rights are disadvantaged by countries that consistently
violate international labor conventions. Many developing countries,
such as Mexico, contend that labor standards constitute a "barrier
to free trade" for countries whose competitive advantage
in the global economy is cheap labor. Potential solutions to labor
and human rights abuses are blocked by the WTO, which has ruled
that it is: I ) illegal for a government to ban a product based
on the way it is produced (i.e. with child labor); and 2) governments
cannot take into account the behavior of companies that do business
with vicious dictatorships such as Burma.
The WTO is destroying the environment
The WTO is being used by corporations to dismantle hard-won
environmental protections, who call them barriers to trade. In
1993 the very first WTO panel ruled that a regulation of the US
Clean Air Act, which required both domestic and foreign producers
alike to produce cleaner gasoline, was illegal. Recently, the
WTO declared illegal a provision of the Endangered Species Act
that requires shrimp sold in the US to be caught with an inexpensive
device that allows endangered sea turtles to escape. The WTO is
currently negotiating an agreement that would eliminate tariffs
on wood products, which would increase the demand for timber and
The WTO is killing people
The WTO's fierce defense of intellectual property rights-patents,
copyrights and trademarks-comes at the expense of health and human
lives. The organization's support for pharmaceutical companies
against governments seeking to protect their people's health has
had serious implications for places like sub-Saharan Africa, where
80 percent of the world's new AIDS cases are found. The US government,
on behalf of US drug companies, is trying to block developing
countries' access to less expensive, generic, life-saving drugs.
For example, the South African government has been threatened
with a WTO challenge over proposed national health laws that would
encourage the use of generic drugs, ban the practice of manufacturers
offering economic incentives to doctors who prescribe their products
and institute "parallel importing," which allows companies
to import drugs from other countries where the drugs are cheaper.
The US adoption of the WTO was undemocratic
The WTO was established out of the Uruguay Round of the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations. On December
1, 1994, Congress approved GATT under Fast Track during a lame
duck session of Congress. Fast Track limits public debate by not
allowing amendments. The approval of the WTO required entire sections
of US laws to be rewritten to conform with the WTO rules, similar
to the way that treaties often redefine how the US will interact
with other states. Had the agreement been voted on as a treaty,
requiring a two-thirds majority in the Senate, it would have been
The WTO undermines local development and penalizes poor countries
The WTO's "most favored nation" provisions requires
all WTO member countries to treat each other equally and to treat
all corporations from these countries equally regardless of their
track record. Local policies aimed at rewarding companies who
hire local residents, use domestic materials, or adopt environmentally
sound practices are essentially illegal under the WTO. Under the
WTO rules, developing countries are prohibited from following
the same polices that developed countries pursued, such as protecting
nascent, domestic industries until they can be internationally
The WTO is increasing inequality
Free trade is not working for the majority of the world. During
a the most recent period of rapid growth in global trade and investment-1960
to 1998-inequality worsened both internationally and within countries.
The UN Development Program
reports that the richest 20 percent of the world's population
consume 86 percent of the world's resources while the poorest
80 percent consume just 14 percent. WTO rules have hastened these
trends by opening up countries to foreign investment and thereby
making it easier for production to go where the labor is cheapest
and most easily exploited and environmental costs are low. This
pulls down wages and environmental standards in developed countries
who are having to compete globally.
The WTO undermines national sovereignty
By creating a supranational court system that has the power
to economically sanction countries to force them to comply with
its rulings, the WTO has essentially replaced national governments
with an unelected, unaccountable corporate-backed government.
For the past nine years, the European Union has banned beef raised
with artificial growth hormones. The WTO recently ruled that this
public health law is a barrier to trade and should be abolished.
The EU has to rollback its ban or pay stiff penalties. Under the
WTO, governments can no longer act in the public interest.
The tide is turning against free trade and the WTO!
There is a growing international backlash against the WTO
and the process of corporate globalization over which it presides.
Movement-building by coalitions such as People's Global Action
against the WTO in Europe and the Citizen's Trade Campaign in
the US are growing fast, as public support for corporate-managed
free trade dwindles. Recent polls show that 58 percent of Americans
agree that foreign trade has been bad for the US economy, and
81 percent of Americans say that Congress should not accept trade
agreements that give other countries the power to overturn US
laws. This is why tens of thousands of people will converge in
Seattle Nov. 29-Dec. 4, 1999 to confront the World Trade Organization
at its ministerial meeting.