Challenges WTO Agenda
corporate media may not want to report on it, but the World Trade
Organization is alive and well and will be meeting this September, and
our federal government seems ready to let it run our country, according
to a recent trade and investment conference in Vancouver.
“Canada is continuing to pursue a
‘deregulation’ agenda by agreeing to let WTO panels decide our economic
standards, zoning bylaws, environmental and health and safety, business
hours and other standards,” says Ellen Gould, veteran trade and
investment researcher who spoke at the conference. “Any laws or bylaws
or standards set by any government can be challenged (by a corporation)
at these WTO panels, which will decide what is acceptable.”
Gould says, like the panels of the North
American Free Trade Agreement, the WTO panels are made up of life-time
appointed trade and fiscal bureaucrats and corporate executives who
make rulings in secret and are not subject to public scrutiny or the
She adds Ottawa is once again supporting the
creation of an international capital investment regime similar to the
failed Multi-Lateral Agreement on Investment in 1999. The MAI called
for turning control and regulation of all multi-national investments
and capital deployment over to similar secretive tribunals.
The proposed deal was being negotiated in
secret, starting in 1997. However, it was made public through the
efforts of labour unions, non-governmental organizations and concerned
citizens. As news of the MAI became more public, opposition to it began
to grow. Finally, two years later the deal was scrapped.
“The government released a study claiming
these type of investment regimes don’t actually increase investment in
national economies,” she said. “Yet they keep on promoting them. They
got really bruised over the MAI. So this agreement isn’t exactly the
same. But it is based on the same idea.”
Federal government officials repeatedly
insist they are not trying to revive the MAI, nor are they giving away
the sovereignty of the country to the WTO. However, they have admitted
through various reports that they pursuing the idea of creating a
regulatory regime that is “less burdensome to multi-national
corporations,” she said.
Gould agrees these regimes, including NAFTA,
are not about “free trade” between countries as much as they are about
“taking regulatory power out of public hands and putting into private
The WTO, Gould says, is being empowered to
administer a variety of international trade, investment and regulatory
standards agreements, such as the General Agreement of Trade and
Tariffs (GATT) and the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS),
though its secret tribunals. Currently, 28 broad international
agreements are under its control.
NAFTA, which by WTO standards is considered a
regional agreement, is administered by similar tribunals appointed by
the national governments of the signatory countries (Canada, United
States and Mexico). It is not directly administered by the WTO.
However, Gould says its provisions are
largely harmonized with the WTO, and the same corporate take-over of
trade regulation applies. More secretive negotiations are under way to
expand NAFTA to all countries in North and South America. This proposed
pact is called the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.
“Any standard that is higher, or is less
favourable to multi-national corporations, is ruled as invalid,” she
said. Anyone who does not comply with any ruling is subject to trade
retaliation and economic sanctions.
Despite this, a recent Ipsos-Ried poll
claimed that about half of Canadians feel NAFTA has been an overall
benefit to the country, and 70 per cent say we should stay in the
agreement regardless of whether or not it is beneficial.
But Gould says the proof of the failure of
such agreements is in the track record of trade disputes between the
“The signing of these agreements has not
lessened the number of trade disputes between Canada and the US,” said.
“They haven’t stopped the US government from taking unilateral action
against Canada, like with the Softwood Lumber Tariff, which has really
hurt our economy.”
conference, sponsored by the Council of Canadians, was held to inform
people about these trade regimes and the current negotiations for the
upcoming WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun this September.