Understanding "Fast Track"
"Fast Track" Trade Rules Explained
Below are some remarks by top-notch Congressperson Dennis Kucinich.
What is Fast Track (a.k.a. Trade Promotion Authority)?
Fast Track is a procedural straightjacket designed to speed Congressional votes on international trade agreements. Congressman Kucinich has opposed Fast Track legislation since coming to Washington. He was one of the leaders of the effort that defeated Fast Track in 1997 and 1998. Fast Track would have enabled the U.S.Trade Representative to negotiate an expansion of NAFTA to the rest of South America and other countries.
There is good reason to oppose Fast Track. Namely, it ushered in NAFTA. The North American Free Trade Agreement has caused numerous problems since it was enacted in 1993. The U.S. trade deficit with Mexico and Canada has ballooned. As a result of increased imports from our NAFTA partners, American workers have lost thousands of good paying jobs. At the same time, some companies have used the threat of moving jobs to Mexico to place downward pressure on wages and benefits for American workers. Meanwhile, the labor side agreement to NAFTA has proven to be totally ineffective. The real value of wages for Mexican workers has declined since NAFTA was enacted, and not a single company has been cited for violations of worker rights or labor standards.
In addition, serious concerns have been raised about environmental problems and food and truck safety under NAFTA. The degradation of the environment has escalated along our border with Mexico, and the environmental side agreement has proved to be a complete failure. At the same time, it is abundantly clear that the U.S. government is not adequately inspecting trucks and agricultural products that enter this country, thereby threatening the health and safety of the general public. Furthermore, the sovereignty of local, state and federal authorities to protect their constituents from environmental and other dangers is severely undermined by the investor rights section (Chapter 11) of NAFTA.
If granted Fast Track authority, the new administration hopes to expand NAFTA to encompass all countries in the Americas. This Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) would export the destructive effects of NAFTA throughout our hemisphere.
For all of these reasons, Rep. Kucinich is convinced that Congress should continue to reject any fast track legislation. We need to make sure that the serious problems which have arisen under NAFTA are addressed in a meaningful way before we rush ahead with expanding this trade agreement to the rest of South America.
What is the WTO?
The World Trade Organization (WTO) was established in 1995. It is the result of Uruguay Round of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations. The WTO consists of 16 agreements on subjects ranging from domestic patent law to food safety regulations - and has 135 member countries. The WTO transformed the GATT, a consensus-based trade pact that focused primarily on tariff and quota cuts, into a new global commerce agency that allows member countries to challenge any of each other's laws as "illegal barriers to trade." The WTO can enforce its rulings and force countries to get rid of disputed laws by approving retaliatory economic sanctions against the losing country. In its five-year existence, WTO dispute panels have almost exclusively ruled against the challenged laws, which are often health and safety related. The WTO Has No Minimum Human or Worker Rights Criteria for Membership:
Under WTO rules, as long as it met WTO commercial obligations, Nazi Germany would not be disqualified from WTO membership based on its conduct. WTO rules do not require that member countries (or countries wishing to gain WTO membership) respect or enforce internationally agreed core human and labor rights standards. WTO policy explicitly enables countries to ignore global norms relating to collective bargaining, child labor, and forced labor as a strategy to reduce production costs and gain a competitive advantage vis-a-vis manufacturers in other countries. The WTO thus has put in motion a global trading regime whose rules reward the players who are most exploitative of labor, promoting a race-to-the-bottom that undercuts advancement of international labor rights and the improvement of standards of living worldwide.
GATT/WTO Rules Threaten Efforts to Protect Labor Rights:
Many people want to stop child labor, but the WTO blocks the most obvious ways of doing that. For instance, the WTO prohibits our use of a ban on the import of products made with child labor. GATT rules prohibit distinguishing among products based on how they are made. This means that a WTO Member country cannot ban goods produced in forced labor camps, goods made by children under abusive conditions or goods produced in violation of other internationally recognized labor or human rights. This is confirmed by a U.S. Congressional Research Service report, which warned that a U.S. proposal to ban the products of child labor would subject the U.S. to a GATT challenge.
The WTO agreement on government procurement bans the consideration of non-commercial factors (such as human and labor rights) in government purchasing decisions. One mechanism with which to improve both government and corporate accountability is to reserve lucrative public contracts for socially responsible businesses. But the WTO denies citizens this type of control over the use of their own tax dollars. Under WTO government procurement rules, countries can only take into consideration commercial factors when awarding contracts. These rules have been used by the EU and Japan to challenge a Massachusetts state selective purchasing law against corporations in business with Burma's human-rights-violating regime.
WTO rules on product standards cast worker safety safeguards as illegal trade barriers: Under new WTO rules, even workplace safety laws can be challenged as illegal trade restrictions. Canada is pressing such a challenge against France's ban on asbestos.
The WTO undermines the sovereignty of countries. The WTO has taken away the freedom of citizens to pass laws freely. The proof is in the numbers: The total number of completed WTO cases: 65. The number of instances countries have changed their laws or policies in response to WTO challenge: 59.
The U.S. uses the WTO to protect compact disk makers and bananas, not workers.
The WTO is not used by the U.S. to protect worker rights. Instead, the U.S. is most likely to use the WTO to protect patents and copyrights. The number of WTO challenges initiated by the US: 30. The chances that a US challenge targeted patent or copyright laws: 1 in 3. Another U.S. priority is bananas. The U.S. has vigorously used the WTO to open Europe to bananas grown in Central America by Chiquita brands, a U.S.-based multinational corporation. Bananas did not build America. Steel and auto did. But this shows that the administration cares more about bananas than about steel or automobiles. Such a trade policy is, in a word, bananas.
The WTO has been used to rollback advances in public health programs. Developing countries face a health and economic crisis due to HIV/AIDS. At the same time, they cannot afford the market price for antiretroviral drug treatment.
Brazil's answer has been to manufacture generic antiretroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV/AIDS and provide them free of cost to all Brazilians who need them. Brazil's program has been successful; it has reduced the AIDS death rate by half. The World Bank and the United Nations cite Brazil's HIV/AIDS program as one of the best in the world. Nevertheless, the U.S. challenged Brazil for violating WTO intellectual property laws, and the WTO agreed to establish a panel to rule on the case. If the U.S. had won this case, the WTO would have authorized the U.S. to impose punitive economic sanctions on Brazil. Fortunately, the U.S. withdrew its case against Brazil on June 25, 2001, in response to public pressure.
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