Who's afraid of the WTO?

Who's afraid of the WTO? It's only a bunch of liberals, hippies, tree huggers, pinkos, commies, socialists a nutjobs, right? Wrong. You should be and here's why:

What is so bad about the WTO that people have been prepared to risk becoming victims of police violence and media vilification to protest against it? The reason that people are so passionate about speaking out against the WTO is that the WTO makes decisions that affect the whole world. This includes you.

The World trade Organization is an organizational body that exists to “promote international free trade” at any cost. It has no connection with the UN and although its members are governments, they represent the interests of corporations rather than ordinary citizens. In its own words, the WTO exists to eliminate what it defines as barriers to trade. But, increasingly around the world, people are finding that what is being removed is simply their basic rights. From human rights, workers rights and free speech to public health, education and the environment, these issues are steamrolled by the WTO in the quest for profit.

Thousands of concerned citizens have protested against the WTO’s valuing of profits over people. Now, it’s easy to think that a group of high flyers making decisions about trade is a bit irrelevant to you. But actually, their decisions have an impact on almost every aspect of your life, from your wages and conditions at work to education, health, the food you eat to indigenous issues and the environment.

The fundamental difference between the WTO and other international bodies is that the WTO exists expressly to advocate the interests of business and does NOT represent the interests of citizens. The WTO sees issues of human rights, workers rights, health and the environment simply as “barriers to trade” and forces governments to neglect these issues or suffer penalties. Under WTO law, it is illegal to give preference to a company just because it has good human rights or environmental practices. It is also illegal to discriminate against a company because it has a bad human rights record or causes environmental damage. With these laws, how can we prevent trade in endangered species or the production of toxic wastes? How can countries limit exports of food when there is a national famine or of tree trunks when the forests are laid to waste? How can we guard against human rights abuses in child labor in sweat shops?

The WTO also penalizes countries in other ways. If our government urges us to buy American made, it will be penalized by the WTO. If an impoverished country with a starving population tries to give financial assistance to its farmers to provide food for their own people, the WTO will penalize that government. In fact, policies that give preference the use of local materials or labor are illegal under WTO Laws. These rules of the WTO are unfair because they favor rich, developed countries and have terrible impact on developing countries. For example, their laws promoting free trade allow floods of cheap imports to wipe out the livelihoods of small farmers. Maize prices received by poor, Mexican farmers have halved since Mexico was force to open its borders to cheap, U.S. maize, causing havoc in the countryside. But, even more unfair is that the richest countries break these rules under the WTO’s blatant double standards. For example, the WTO has a law that makes governments reduce subsidies to farmers, yet loopholes in this law allow Western governments to increase the support to their own farmers. The U.S. government forks out twenty thousand U.S. dollars per farmer per year in subsidies.

The WTO encourages human rights abuses in its quest for “free trade”. It gives advantage to countries that break international human rights and labor rules. The WTO laws override existing national laws, deeming them all “barriers to trade” and sweeping aside all environmental, social, public health considerations. WTO rules have had a devastating effect on world health in an effort to protect the profits of large drug companies. Seven million people in developing countries die every year from preventable diseases because the WTO prevents them from accessing basic medication. In Africa, eleven million people have died of AIDS, yet the WTO discourages them from buying cheaply produced, generic, life saving drugs, insisting that the rights of drug companies to protect their profits through patents is more important than saving lives.

The WTO does not even allow countries to refuse to import a product that may be hazardous to the health or destructive to the environment unless they have undeniable scientific proof to the satisfaction of the WTO. Canada, the world’s biggest asbestos producer hopes to take advantage of this to force Europe to accept the carcinogenic substance again. The rules passed by the World Trade Organization protecting patents mean that the world’s indigenous people cannot use the medicines that they have used for thousands of years and find that they have to buy back their traditional knowledge from corporations.

So, if the WTO is so extreme, why don’t ordinary people know more about it? The answer is that commercial media, a supposedly “liberal” media, doesn’t cover these issues. If people knew how their lives were affected by the WTO’s decisions and how the interests of overrode the needs of people, there would be a worldwide revolution. Commercial media is protecting its own profits by suppressing discussion about the WTO. We are prevented from taking part in the media, so now we are forced to shout over the top of it.