At the end of November world governments will meet in Seattle for the World Trade Organization’s Third Ministerial Conference, meant to launch the so-called “Millennium Round” of negotiations. The outcome will determine what kind of life we and our children live in the years ahead. NOW is the moment to try to influence how our government plays its cards. We want to urge you to make your voice heard.
Two years ago some members of Science for Peace, concerned about the implications of the globalization agenda, promoted an organization called PAMAI (People Against the MAT). It played a useful role in the campaign which killed the MM agreement, and it continues to battle against the WTO initiatives.
There is of course widespread dismay about the direction in which the WTO (and NAFTA) have been taking us to date. The present WTO rules, arising from the “Uruguay Round”, were proclaimed as a means of enhancing the creation of global wealth and prosperity and promoting the well-being of the people in all the member states. Many believe instead that the WTO has been a major contributor to what we have seen in recent years: the concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich few, increasing poverty for the majority of the world’s population, and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. In this view the Uruguay Round agreements have functioned principally to pry open markets for the benefit of transnational corporations at the expense of everyone else: workers, farmers and other ordinary people, and of the environment. Furthermore accepting the WTO rules and procedures means giving up our ability to control our affairs — our national sovereignty —- in favour of rules and procedures entirely undemocratic, untransparent and unaccountable; it means marginalising the majority of the world’s people. (Think of it: you are everyday breathing fumes from the gasoline additive MMT, in spite of the opinion of our Department of Health that it poses a threat to your health, and in spite of a decision of Parliament to ban its sale in Canada.) It’s not about “trade”, but about who will have power in the world.
The context is meanwhile one of increasing global economic instability, the collapse of national economies, increasing inequity both between and within nations and increasing environmental and social degradation, which many regard as a result of the acceleration of the process of globalization.
One might have imagined that, faced with such misgivings, governments would pause to make some assessments of the “neo-liberal agenda”. Instead, they pressed forward to seek, at the OECD, a” Multilateral Agreement on Investment” (MAT) to remove the last vestiges of democratic control over the ways our resources are managed. In spite of an attempt to avoid public awareness, worldwide public outcry brought the MAT process to a halt in November, 1998 —- a rare victory of public opinion over vested interests. But only for the moment: the attempt now is to impose the same agenda through the WTO (and thus to make it apply worldwide rather than only to the OECD nations). That is what is at stake in the “Millennium Round”. Indeed,” investment, competition policy and government procurement policy” are central to the agenda proposed for Seattle. The fear is that this extension of neoliberalism will greatly exacerbate the crisis seen to be associated with globalization. And once again the preparations seem to be proceeding with a minimum of public information or involvement.
PAMAI supports the position contained in “A Statement from Members of International Civil Society Opposing a Millennium Round”, a statement endorsed by 67 Canadian organisations (including PAMAI) among 1114 organisations from 87 nations. This Statement includes, in part: “We call for a moratorium on any new issues or further negotiations that expand the scope and power of the WTO.
During this moratorium there should be a comprehensive and in-depth review and assessment of the existing agreements. Effective steps should then be taken to change the agreements. Such a review should address the WTO’ s impact on marginalised communities, development, democracy, environment, health, human rights, labour rights and the rights of women and children. The review must be conducted with civil society’s full participation.
A review of the system will provide an opportunity for society to change course and develop an alternative, humane and sustainable international system of trade and investment relations”.
Several members of PAMAI and Science for Peace presented written and oral submissions to hearings this Spring before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (SCFAIT). A common theme among these submissions was exactly this call for a pause while the public can assess the direction we are taking; we were saying “what’s the hurry? —- let’s take a look at this”. It is VERY important to make this point to the Government! I urge you, if you agree, to write a letter along these lines NOW, sending it to the PM, to Axworthy (Minister of Foreign Affairs), to Pettigrew (the new Minister for Trade), to Bill Graham (Chairman of SCFAIT), etc., as well as the leaders of the Opposition Parties.
One of the things PAMAI discovered in fighting the MAT and the WTO is that the ordinary MP is likely to be completely ill-informed about what is being negotiated and ignorant of the possible consequences: the MPs are being kept out of the loop, like the rest of us.It is therefore VERY USEFUL to write, or better visit, local MPs. You don’t need to pose as an expert yourself —- just ask some questions which may get the MP to begin examining the issues: in our experience, as soon as this takes place we have gained a critical voice in caucus!
So please, if you share these misgivings, do two things:
11. Write the Prime Minister and other relevant members of the Government expressing your worries and urging that no further commitments be made before an extended public consultation about where we are going.
12. Visit if possible, or at least write, your local MP to recount your concern and ask about his understanding of why we are giving up our sovereignty to tribunals dominated by the demands of transnational corporations.
PAMAI has also been active in supporting the legal challenge against the MAT and like agreements. This case, before the Federal Court since April 1998, was launched by a Vancouver group called the Defence of Canadian Liberty Committee. It claims that such agreements contravene the Constitution and the Charter of Rights. Among other things, it contends that the federal government does not have the legal right to sign away the democratic sovereignty of its own and the provincial governments, nor even to negotiate agreements without parliamentary approval. If successful, the case would stop the present negotiations and put NAFTA in question; in fact it would force a democratic departure in the way Canada is governed. The Court has acknowledged that the case has substantive merit. One might have hoped that the government would seek a prompt resolution of such a constitutional question; instead there seems to have been an attempt to delay it or seek to kill it on technical grounds. However another hearing is expected soon. If you wish more information about this, contact John Valleau at 535-6605.
Carrying on such a case is very expensive, and support is needed. If you might be able to help, phone the same number, or the Science for Peace office, 978-3606.
(Editor’s Note: A 28-page booklet entitled “A Citizen’s Guide to the World Trade Organization”, published by the Working Group on the WTO/MAI, U.S.A., is available from the Science for Peace office for $2 per copy.)