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NAFTA / GATT

"... Think about that. A foreign corporation is asking our taxpayers to give it $1 billion because the people in California do not like the taste of paint thinner in their drinking water and think it is good public health to ban this gasoline additive [MTBE]."
 U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown


WTO / ENVIRONMENT
[Remarks by Representative Sherrod Brown
October 28, 1999
From the Congressional Record]

Mr. BROWN of Ohio. Mr. Speaker, next month, the world's power brokers are going to meet in Seattle so they can kick off a new round of trade talks for the World Trade Organization. Although one will not learn much about the WTO summit from television news casters or read about it on the front pages of newspapers, there are few events this year that will be more important to workers in Ohio and around the world.

While the WTO corporate supporters and allies in Washington see the Seattle negotiations as a fresh opportunity to completely deregulate the international economy, the truth is that their agenda has systematically gutted our worker, consumer, and environmental protections that we have fought for in this body, and deliberately usurped the rights of individual nations to make their own laws, especially when those laws protect the environment and especially when those laws protect workers.

Mr. Speaker, a report, "Whose Trade Organization," written by Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, dramatically demonstrates why the WTO requires fundamental change before the bureaucrats in Seattle take us down another road of trade negotiations.

When Congress approved the World Trade Organization and other agreements, like NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], we essentially ceded our authority to independently advance health and safety standards that protect America's families. Let me say that again. Thanks to the WTO and to NAFTA and other trade agreements, we are losing our ability to protect the health and the well-being of the men and women that voted us into office.

That is because we have to ensure that we are not violating some bureaucrat's view of what constitutes a trade barrier or what constitutes a legitimate health concern.

None of the lawyers, Mr. Speaker, from the U.S. Trade Representative's office or the Commerce Department or their supporters on Wall Street has been elected to office. Yet these are the very people that will represent us in Seattle, the people that will weaken our ability to erect meaningful worker and environmental standards.

Their fascination with a healthy bottom line is how we wind up with trade agreements that give more rights to corporations and their stockholders than they do to individual citizens and to our elected governments. That is how we wind up giving unelected bureaucrats the authority to determine whether or not our consumers have to eat foods that have been treated with carcinogenic pesticides or whether or not we have to drink water that tastes vaguely like paint thinner.

That is what is happening right now in California. The governor has banned the gasoline additive MTBE because it is leaking into the drinking water. The Canadian corporation that makes it is using NAFTA to sue the United States for nearly $1 billion because they think this constitutes a trade barrier. Think about that. A foreign corporation is asking our taxpayers to give it $1 billion because the people in California do not like the taste of paint thinner in their drinking water and think it is good public health to ban this gasoline additive.

This case is just one of the dozens that are included in this book I mentioned which meticulously documents how every single health safety or environmental law reviewed by the WTO has been declared an illegal trade barrier that must be eliminated under the threat of sanctions.

In addition to these cases, Public Citizen documents that much of the WTO's damage is done merely by threatening the use of its powerful dispute system, a fact evidenced by the increasing number of countries that are preemptively eliminating their environmental or health laws just to avoid the steep political and fiscal costs involved in defending a law from a WTO challenge.

Mr. Speaker, if we want to preserve American jobs, if we want to continue protecting our environment, we need to make sure that negotiators in Seattle, U.S. taxpayer financed negotiators in Seattle, respect the principles that let us stand here during this debate tonight.

Rather than letting unelected officials from the Trade Rep's office or their friends on Wall Street tell us what is good for America, we need to make sure they hear what our constituents want.

Every weekend that I go home to Ohio, they tell me they do not want to eat contaminated strawberries; they tell me they do not want to drink unsafe water. They do not want to lose their jobs because the WTO does not care whether some foreign workers, no older, sometimes, than the age of 13 or 14, or that work 18 hours a day for what amounts to less than a dollar an hour, that WTO does not care whether workers like that are taking American jobs and being exploited in developing countries.

Mr. Speaker, it is vital that we in Congress, that the American people, realize what is at stake when the world's largest assembly of millionaires meets in Seattle this year. We have to keep fighting to make labor standards, environmental standards, and human rights as important to our trade bureaucrats as intellectual property rights.

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