By Donella Meadows
–October 20, 1994–
If NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) was controversial, GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) should be inflammatory. NAFTA linked the economies of Canada, the United States, and Mexico in a “free trade” zone; GATT links the world. NAFTA had weak agreements to protect labor and the environment; GATT has none.
But the nation is not talking about GATT, though Congress is returning after the coming election to a lame-duck session to approve it. Both parties favor GATT. President Clinton loves it. The reason they’re waiting till after the election to put it through is (choose all three):
a). Senator Hollings of South Carolina blocked it because it will devastate the textile industry of his state,
b). The Republicans don’t want Clinton to get credit for it,
c). They’d all rather pass it when they’re no longer under the scrutiny of the voters, because they know GATT will enrich the rich, rip off the worker, unprotect the environment, strengthen large corporations, and weaken government at all levels.
The same strange coalition that opposed NAFTA — home-rule conservatives, labor, and a raft of grassroots organizations — is even more opposed to GATT. Environmental groups that reluctantly endorsed NAFTA are horrified by GATT. But the people are sleeping through this world trade agreement, which tells you not so much about GATT as about the need for a billionaire prankster like Ross Perot to dramatize an issue into newsworthiness.
There are plenty of non-billionaires speaking dramatically against GATT:
Ralph Nader — “Secrecy, abstruseness, and unaccountability: these are the watchwords of global trade policy-making…. Multinational corporations … demanded that they be free to invest anywhere in the world with no restrictions; that environmental and safety standards be “harmonized” (made the same everywhere) — with the practical result that they would be pulled down toward a lowest common international denominator.”
Jerry Mander (Foundation for Deep Ecology) — “[GATT] is actually a new and very aggressive economic arrangement that is centrally structured, has fixed rules of procedure, makes many exceptions in individual cases, and is not free. The only freedom it provides is the freedom of transnational corporations to circumvent national laws.”
Martin Khor (The Third World Network) — “[GATT] will result in an economic ‘monoculture’ with only one … model dominating the world. This strengthens the strong and big (the North, big companies, the rich) while marginalising and damaging the weak and small (the South, small farms and firms, the poor)…. The WTO [World Trade Organization, set up by GATT] would not be open or transparent nor accountable to those who would live under its rules. It would not give an equal voice to developing countries, and its narrow commercial approach would render it unable to take account of development needs or environmental concerns.”
Herman Daly (University of Maryland) — “Free trade and free capital mobility … increase the separation of ownership and control and the forced mobility of labor which are so inimical to community. Community economic life can be disrupted not only by your fellow citizen …, but by someone on the other side of the world with whom you have no community of language, history, culture, law. These foreigners may be wonderful people — that is not the point. The point is that they are very far removed from the life of the community that is affected significantly by their decisions.”
Wendell Berry (farmer and writer) — “What these proposals actually propose is a revolution as audacious, far-reaching, and sudden as any the world has seen. Though they would deny to the people of some 108 nations any choice in the matter of protecting their land, their farmers, their food supply, or their health, these proposals were not drafted and, if adopted, would not be implemented by anybody elected by the people of any of the 108 nations. Their purpose is to bypass all local, state, and national governments in order to subordinate the interests of those governments and of the people they represent to the interests of a global ‘free market’ run by a few supranational corporations. By this single device, if it should be implemented, these corporations would destroy the protections that have been won by generations of conservationists, labor organizers, consumer advocates — and indeed by democrats and lovers of freedom.”
Assuming that these anti-GATT people are sane and informed (I know them all, and I know they are), why are their voices not being heard? Why are the tremendous issues they are raising not at the center of national attention? If what they claim is even approximately right, GATT is one of the most momentous decisions of this century. Is it an accident, or a lack of billions, or a deliberate policy of the media (who are themselves multinational corporations), that GATT’s opponents are unheard?
(Voices quoted in this column and others are gathered in The Case Against Free Trade, available for $12.50 from North Atlantic Books, P.O. Box 12327, Berkeley CA 94712. Telephone 800-559-8337.)
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1994