Workers World Party on WTO
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Thu Dec 2 13:22:21 MST 1999
Via Workers World News Service Reprinted from the Dec. 9, 1999 issue of
Workers World newspaper
BIG POWERS, BIG BANKS: BEHIND THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION
By Fred Goldstein
The Seattle Conference of the World Trade Organization is calculated to
further extend the global commercial domination of U.S., European and
Japanese imperialism over the oppressed countries of the world.
It is also meant to serve as an arena for the mediation of
inter-imperialist trade disputes. The ceremonies have happily been
disrupted by militant anti-corporate demonstrators in a bold challenge to
the rulers of the WTO.
The Clinton administration in particular threw its weight behind the
conference. However, instead of a smooth victory, all the contradictions
of the world capitalist system of commerce have surfaced and the
conference is "in danger of failure," according to Director General
To shore up the effort, Bill Clinton quietly tried to persuade the heads
of state of Japan, various European countries, Canada, Brazil and others
to attend. "But for weeks," wrote the New York Times of Nov. 24, "the
White House got tangled up in the question of whom to invite, compiling
lists and then abandoning them. `Every time we put together a list of
names,' a White House aide said, `it became clear that we would make 20
Given the U.S. program for Seattle, it is not hard to understand.
For example, the WTO bosses are looking forward to revising the General
Agreement on Services, which covers 160 sectors of economic activity worth
hundreds of billions of dollars. The aim will be to reduce protections for
a whole host of areas, including telecommunications, transport,
distribution, hospitals, clinics, outpatient facilities, assisted living
arrangements, nursing homes, education, prisons, real estate, banking,
insurance, construction, environment, tourism and the entertainment
industries, among others.
They are using the "horizontal" approach, according to Third World
Network, a network of non-governmental organizations from oppressed
countries. An agreement for any one sector is automatically applied to all
others. Any protections removed from telecommunications, for example, can
automatically be applied across the board--like health care.
If the U.S. has its way in the WTO, the giant insurance companies will get
the chance to swallow up the world's healthcare services.
U.S. FIRMS GOBBLE UP WORLD'S COMPANIES
For example, six months after the WTO's "Fourth Protocol" removed
protections from the telecommunications industry in 1998, more than one
tenth of the world's companies changed hands. When the smoke cleared, U.S.
firms owned 38 percent of world trade in basic telecom services.
The monopolies want to use the WTO to override environmental protections.
The American Electronics Association, for example, of which Microsoft is a
prominent member, has asked the U.S. Trade Representative's office to
lobby against European draft legislation that would phase out toxic
substances from computers and electronic equipment. It claims the
legislation violates WTO rules.
Similarly, the chemicals, plastics, electronic, and food processing
industries have pressured the WTO through the U.S. delegation to ban
"eco-labeling"--the right of consumers to know what they are buying and
how environmentally destructive it might be.
The most infamous use of the WTO to foster death at a profit was its
suppression of the use of the generic AIDS drug Zidovir 100. Produced by
an Indian company and exported to Belgium, Tanzania and Uganda, it cost
less than half the patented AZT of Glaxco-Wellcome. Under the WTO's
so-called Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, the
generic drug could not be used. A similar ruling was made against South
Africa, which had passed a law enabling the production of generic
The Kenyan delegation to the WTO, speaking on behalf of the African group,
demonstrated the complete hypocrisy of the multinational corporations when
it requested an amendment on the issue of genetic engineering of seeds and
intellectual property rights. The patenting of "essentially biological
processes" is outlawed by the Convention on Biological Diversity, Article
27.3(b). "Why," asked the African group, "does the option of exclusion of
patentability of `essentially biological processes' not extend to
processes,' as the latter are also biological processes?"
The reason is that the multinational biotech firms want to be free to
create "terminator seeds," which die after one generation, so that the
oppressed countries will have to buy their seeds over and over again.
MARX ON FREE TRADE
All this market manipulation by the big firms is done in the WTO under the
guise of promoting "free trade."
Even if so-called free trade really existed, it would be highly injurious
to the less developed countries. When Karl Marx in 1848 wrote the founding
document of the world communist movement, the Communist Manifesto, he
showed how the rising capitalist class destroyed the old feudal society
and took over the world with the utmost brutality. In a famous passage, he
"[Capitalism] has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in
place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms has set up that
single, unconscionable freedom -- Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation
veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked,
shameless, brutal exploitation."
This was the era of pre-monopoly capitalism when the rising capitalist
powers, headed by the British, were forcing pre-capitalist civilizations,
such as India, North Africa, China and even parts of Europe, to accept
their cheap manufactured goods. Whole cultures of peasants and artisans
were wiped out.
Thus free trade was always connected with "brutal exploitation," as Marx
put it. But in today's world of monopoly capitalism--that is,
imperialism--there is no such thing as free trade.
The so-called WTO is an organization of capitalist states (with the
exception of Cuba and China if it joins in the near future) that is
dominated by the great imperialist powers. Each one of them fights to open
up every market possible for its own multinationals and to close out any
harmful competition. The U.S., Europe and Japan will demand "free trade"
only in areas where they have advantages. Otherwise, they will fight to
The WTO ruled against Europe in its "banana war" with the U.S. The
European capitalists have refused to abide by the agreement. The U.S. has
used "national security" as an excuse to keep Japan from selling ships to
its merchant marine. Washington has brought suit against Brazil, Japan
and Russia for exporting steel to the U.S., but has also brought suit
against India demanding that it drop vital import quotas necessary to
protect its balance of payments and its ability to pay debts.
NO EQUALITY IN AN IMPERIALIST WORLD
The very idea that imperialism would apply an equal standard to the
oppressed countries only facilitates world inequality. The Group of Seven
(G-7)--the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada--had a
gross national product of close to $20 trillion in 1997. That is 64
percent of the world's production coming from countries with only 11.8
percent of the world's population.
Of the top 500 corporations in the world, only six are from countries
outside the U.S., Europe, Canada or Japan. Of the 100 largest banks in the
world, all are from the imperialist countries. As of 1997 the imperialist
countries exported close to $5 trillion and imported a similar amount --
controlling the vast majority of world trade. In the same year, the
oppressed countries were in debt to the tune of $2.2 trillion to the
imperialist banks and governments of the world.
The underdeveloped countries are truly prisoners in the WTO. The WTO
processes are carried out behind closed doors among the rulers of the
organization, whose proposals are brought to the General Council. The
governments of the Third World basically sit outside waiting to hear what
the G-7 proposes.
Decisions are made not by vote but by consensus--that is, by backroom
arm-twisting. And when the U.S. or European trade ministers cannot
prevail, they call their government offices. They promptly get on the
phone to the governments of the recalcitrant trade officials from
underdeveloped countries and force them to change their position.
The dispute process is run by a panel of three, who are lobbied by the big
capitalist governments. The appeals process is long and drawn out. The
extraordinary expense of participating in WTO processes is a burden on the
poorer countries and puts them at an extreme disadvantage.
The G-7 can field massive delegations of lawyers, researchers and industry
experts backed by the multinationals with privileged technological and
industrial knowledge. The entire WTO process is utterly the opposite of
free. It is one in the many processes by which the monopolies dominate the
Using the WTO as a pressure point for workers' rights and a symbol of
protest against corporate greed and environmental destruction is a great
step forward for the movement. But it must be understood that, in the
final analysis, the evils being perpetrated against the masses and the
planet are being carried out by the multinational corporations and the
imperialist governments that represent them.
The fight must be carried by each working class to its own government and
its own exploiters. They are the ones who must be stopped. The WTO is just
a shell. The ruling classes of the imperialist countries have the cops,
the courts, the prisons and the laws to enforce the right of corporations
to set up sweat shops, to employ child labor, to circumvent unions and to
destroy the environment.
TRADE INEQUITIES FLOW FROM CAPITALIST OWNERSHIP
Most importantly, all the inequities of the world trade system flow from
the system of capitalism itself. Inequalities of distribution or trade
flow from inequalities in the ownership of the instruments of production,
transportation and communication. The one cannot be eradicated without the
destruction of the other.
A tiny handful of billionaires owns and controls the factories, offices,
mines and services. They operate them for profit. All the contradictions
of trade surfacing in Seattle flow from this fundamental fact.
Child labor, low wages and harsh and inhuman working conditions must be
fought against. But they are the inevitable product of the system of wage
slavery--the system of exploitation itself. As long as workers have to
sell their labor power to the bosses and the bosses control the surplus
they create, such evils will be perpetuated.
As the Seattle conference approached, much ink was spilled over whether
"globalization" is good or bad, inevitable or a reversible policy, etc.
But globalization cannot be discussed outside the framework of a class
To the bourgeoisie, globalization is a process of expanding their ability
to accumulate profits on a wider and wider scale, through setting up
factories, selling commodities and financial plunder.
But from a working-class point of view, the bourgeoisie's role in history
has been to carry out the socialization of production on an extended scale
by bringing more and more workers into a process of cooperative labor.
This opens the way for greater collaboration and international solidarity
in the struggle against capital.
The international working-class movement must fight every attempt by the
bosses to use globalization to their advantage. But in the long run, the
only real solution to the plague of hardships brought on by capitalist
imperialism is to change the form of appropriation of the trillions of
dollars worth of goods created by the workers.
The struggle will be resolved only with the establishment of socialism--a
system in which instead of private appropriation by a handful of
billionaires, the wealth created will become the social property of all
the workers and oppressed.
- END -
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