Opinion

Viewpoint

"Time to consider WTO’s far reaching ecological and human consequences Last weekend, 16 hours of attending the International Forum on Globalization’s “teach-in” at Benaroya Hall in Seattle left us changed -- and stunned -- by the impact of the World Trade Organization in its short five-year life. The panels, presented by fine minds from around the world, covered topics including the impacts on agriculture, environment, biotechnology, economics, patents on life forms, labor, intellectual property rights, the scope of corporate rule and the dismantling of democracy. It’s as if everything we’ve dreaded about corporate globalization has been put into high gear and moved subtly and almost secretly into our world. And the supposed “trickle down” effect isn’t happening and shows no sign of happening. In fact the economic gaps continue to widen.We were here on Whidbey during the following days of demonstration, watching as the real issues we heard about in the pre-conference became obscured during the unfolding drama.If you have an inkling, follow up on this WTO situation with your own research. Get hold of “Whose Trade Organization: Corporate Globalization and the Erosion of Democracy,” a thoroughly foonoted yet readable volume written by Lori Wallach and Michelle Sforza, published by Public Citizen. Or check it out on the wtowatch site. The International Forum on Globalization, which represents organizations from 20 countries, has some excellent publications on water, food insecurity, corporate rule, invisible government, and more at IFG or telephone 415-771-1121 in San Francisco.Jerry Mander of the IFG called the World Trade Organization the “greatest transfer of real power in history.” It has more power than any prior international organization. Power shifted when the 135 nations that created WTO vested in it authority that is legislative: They have the power to cause the laws of a nation to change; judicial: They have authority to penalize non-compliant countries; and executive: The “quad” -- United States, European Union, Japan and Canada -- have authority to set agendas for the group’s consideration. The organization is prosecutor, judge and enforcer -- all done in secret sessions where the process and facts are never revealed, only the binding decisions. The WTO’s only consideration is trade. The organization’s devotion to the bottom line and the elimination of trade barriers threatens environmental protection and food safety and undermines the ability of our nation and others to govern their own affairs. Its record in its five years of existence raises questions of economic stability, human well-being, and environmental degradation.The details are complex and intricate. People from developing countries spoke of impacts that continued and deepened the patterns of colonialism. The trend is toward export agriculture, forcing people away from subsistence farming and into urban centers where there are no jobs. Canadian geneticist David Suzuki explained that there’s not enough protection from new biotech products before they are rushed into production. The burden of proof that something is harmful is shifted from the producer to the consumer, perhaps after unintended consequences and damage. The patenting of seeds, with “terminator” characteristics -- and some of which require specific herbicides or fertilizers to germinate -- means that farmers in India and elsewhere cannot use the seeds they’ve collected for generations. They have to buy new commercial seeds each planting. Labeling restrictions mean that Americans cannot identify meat produced in Australia and inspected by manufacturers to their own standards rather than our government inspectors. We’ve all heard about the related difficulty in pushing our own hormone-fed beef on Europe, where their research questions its safety. The WTO responded with tough sanctions.Few of the people we heard wanted to fully turn away from global trade, and that’s not what we are personally advocating. We are truly an interconnected planet. But it seemed clear to us, and later to most of the soggy demonstrators, that it is time to open up and democratize the process, to make it “transparent” and accountable and to consider all of the effects of decisions, not only trade. It’s time to think about those ships we see on our horizons as they become world class sources of air pollution. It is time to consider the far reaching ecological and human consequences of what is under way.And lest in reading this you presume us to be radical youths, let us inform you that we in fact are somewhat moderate elders who are very concerned about what we see happening, about the welfare of the world’s societies and inhabitants and indeed the welfare of the planet. We are very concerned as to the impact upon our children and our five grandchildren. Singleminded expansion (and consumption) may be the factor which prevents us from saving the rainforests and thus the air we breathe, from eliminating pollution and thus increasing the greenhouse effect, from continuing to pollute our bodies with the food we eat, from cleaning up the world’s nuclear radiation, from creating a sustainable ecology of life.Bernie and Ellen Camin live in Langley."

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