US activists accuse WTO of undermining global environmental laws

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been accused of undermining environmental, food safety, and public health and safety laws throughout the world in a new book published by US civil activist group Public Citizen.

The book cites as examples the United States’ watering down of dolphin protections and clean air regulations, Guatemala’s weakening of its implementation of the UNICEF baby formula marketing code that protects babies from disease caused when mothers mix infant formula with contaminated water, and South Korea’s lowering of food safety standards on produce inspection and the shelf life of meat.

The study, Whose Trade Organization? Corporate Globalization and the Erosion of Democracy is part of Public Citizen’s campaign to demonstrate that international commercial agreements do not only concern tariffs and quotas, but also define health, safety and environmental standards as potential trade barriers.

The WTO is empowered to review US policies in closed dispute panels, with members of the press, general public and citizen groups prohibited from observing or participating.The study reveals that trade bureaucrats without expertise in the issues being reviewed and who are not screened for conflicts of interest are empowered to decide WTO cases – the results of which are imposed on nations under threat of trade sanctions.

Consumer advocate and Public Citizen founder Ralph Nader, who wrote the preface to the book, calls the WTO “the greatest surrender of national, state and local sovereignty in American history.”

The investigation found that all of the public health, safety or environmental regulations that have been challenged before the WTO have been classified as ‘trade barriers.’

The WTO reviews Member countries’ laws in order to challenge policies that prevent trade. These can include environmental or health laws. “WTO rules go way beyond basic trade principles, such as treating domestic and foreign goods the same, and actually impose value judgments on how much environmental or food safety protection a country will be allowed to provide its people,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, who co-authored the book with Global Trade Watch research director Michelle Sforza. “The WTO’s five-year record looks like a quiet, slow-motion coup d’etat against democratic and accountable policymaking and governance worldwide.”

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