Why Rush GATT? WHEN U.S. SENATOR Ernest Hollings announced that he would exercise his prerogative as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee to delay a vote on the General Agreement on Tariffs New York Times called it “Trade Bill Sabotage.” There may not be enough dynamite to blow this train off the tracks but resistance led by Hollings, the Democrat who is seeking to protect his South Carolina textile industry, and some belated attention stirred by radio talk shows may at least slow it down. President Bill Clinton had hoped to get Congress to vote quickly and without amendments on the agreement that was worked out with 123 countries last April in Morocco. GATT, like the North American Free Trade Agreement last year, is one of those issues that can bring together members of Congress to support big business at the expense of people. The legislation was passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee after the White House agreed to Republicans’ demands that workers’ rights and environmental regulation be stripped. GATT is supposed to open foreign markets to American goods but critics fear it will simply open American markets to foreign competition, accelerate the flight of American manufacturing jobs overseas and surrender sovereignty over domestic trade matters to an bureaucracy in Geneva that will be authorized to overrule U.S. trade policy. Originally launched in 1948 to reduce tariffs, the latest Uruguay round, which culminated in the agreement in Marrakesh, has become, as Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon described in their syndicated column, “a power play by multinational corporations to weaken the authority of national legislative bodies in protecting consumers, workers and the environment.” Although the honchos at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the TV networks and Texas media appear to have bought the Administration line that the treaty is a “win-win” situation that will reduce tariffs an average of 40 percent and open markets overseas, you have to look farther afield to discover that the secretive World Trade Organization, which the GATT creates to administer the treaty, would have the authority to overrule domestic health and safety regulations, environmental laws, farm subsidies and other measures that might restrain international trade. Also, the WTO would be governed by a one-nation, onevote system that would give Luxembourg or St. Kitts equal power with the United States. GATT tribunals already have obliged Thailand to lift its ban on tobacco imports and ruled in favor of Mexico when it challenged the U.S. dolphin protection law as an “illegal barrier,” Cohen and Solomon noted. The European Union is using GATT to challenge U.S. auto fuel economy standards as a barrier to European gas guzzlers. Europe says other “trade barriers” include the U.S. Consumer Nutrition and Education labeling act as well as state recycling laws. The WTO, in a process that would be closed to the public, could direct the United States or state legislatures to change the laws in question or face automatic economic sanctions. While U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor has said U.S. sovereignty is fully protected and the new GATT does not impose rules that states do not already observe, Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, has argued that GATT represents “a significant restructuring of the power alignment as between the national Government and the States.” The Center for Policy Alternatives recently reported that GATT gives license to nations that want to challenge state and federal laws that inhibit international trade. “GATT explicitly favors ‘national consensus’ over state differences, putting at risk progressive, cutting-edge responses to developing needs such as fuel efficiency, timber conservation, asbestos phaseout, bans on toxic materials and food labeling for cancer risk. Foreign countries also may object to the fragmentation of regulations among the states. GATT requires a “harmonization” process to achieve uniformity of standards to facilitate trade. The Sierra Club also warned that GATT places state environmental laws at risk. Texas laws at risk, according to the Sierra Club, include limits on the amount of volatile organic compounds in windshield wiper fluid in smog-prone areas; labeling of plastic containers to ease recycling; and the requirement that school . and commercial buses be fueled with natural gas to reduce smog. A study by the Texas A&M Agricultural and Food Policy Center forecast that GATT would cause generally higher prices for feed grains and livestock, mainly due to increased exports. However, it found that eight of 10 cotton farms nationally would see lower net incomes. So would Texas rice farms and dairies. The AFL-CIO Executive Council predicted GATT would cause further economic disruption, job losses for millions and suppression of worker rights. The unionists also noted that the agreement had weakened the link between worker rights and trade negotiations that U.S. negotiators had insisted upon for the past 20 years. “World trade will not significantly improve living standards in the underdeveloped nations unless and until multilateral trade agreements enforce the rights of working people to associate freely, to form unions, to share in economic progress and thereby to create broad markets for goods and services,” the council stated as it urged Congress to reject GATT. “GATT doesn’t establish level playing fields. There are still huge differences in tariff rates among countries and the United States still will have the lowest average tariffs in the world,” said Mark Anderson of the AFL-CIO task force on trade. “It certainly makes things easier for multinational corporations. It’s very difficult to organize and bargain a contract when the company threatens to close down and move to Guatemalaand that happens. And they’re not bluffing.” AFL-CIO lobbyist Bill Cunningham said most Democratic members of Congress were flopping around on GATT, but he expected it would pass by a wider margin than NAFTA unless the public rises against it. While Senator Phil Gramm of Texas sent conflicting signals that indicated he had reservations about GAIT, Cunningham snorted at the suggestion that the right-wing Republican might end up on the same side with the AFL-CIO, Ralph Nader and the Sierra Club. The union lobbyist said Gramm and other Republicans questioning GATT were merely posturing to get partisan digs at Clinton before the election but would be safely within the GATT fold whenever the votes finally are counted. Progressives may squirm as they find themselves in the same pew with Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan but, despite the rush order Clinton is putting on it, GATT does not require nations to decide on WTO membership until July 1995. Ralph Nader, who in testimony before Congress denounced GATT and the “megacorporations” that negotiated it, has yet to be taken up on his offer to pay $10,000 to the charity of choice for any member of Congress who has read the entire 540 pages of the agreement and could correctly answer 10 questions on it. As he wrote in The Nation of October 10, “there is no need for Congress to rush to judgment on a trade pact that was conceived and negotiated secretly. More time is needed to let the American people know just what our country is getting into.” If you agree, call your member of Congress at 202-225-3121. J.C. 4 OCTOBER 14, 1994
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