Welcome to the new Corpocracy. It has come about because corporations, tired of such clumsy burdens as bribing their legislatures and foreign governments to prevent, modify or remove regulations such as clean air laws, decided to set up a world wide controlling body all their own. (Course bribing officials never hurts. That's how some $300,000 in contributions to both parties by Chiquita Banana CEO Corpocrat Carl Lindner got the U.S. to file a WTO [World Trade Organization] complaint against the E.U. for banana tariff barriers - even though the U.S. doesn't grow or export a single banana)
Democracies can be illusory. People living in them sometimes feel that the health, environmental, or labor laws were laws merely because they voted for them. Modern Transnational Corporations are showing just how naïve this view is.
Created just four years ago, the Dispute Resolution Panel of the WTO has made the following rulings:
Clean Air: In 1997 the WTO ruled against the US Clean Air Act provision requiring cleaner gas from gas refineries on behalf of Venezuela.
In 1998 Canada was forced to rescind its ban on the gasoline additive MMT which it had deemed a carcinogen as a result of a $251 million dollar lawsuit by Ethyl Corp, the manufacturer of MMT.
...and Water - In a turn-about, on June 15, 1999 , The Canadian firm, Methanex, filed a billion dollar lawsuit challenging California's ban of the gasoline additive MTBE. The claim is that California's ban unfairly restricts the companies ability to profit from the sale of methanol. According to Pierre Choquette, president and CEO of Methanex: "Our mandate is to act in the best interest of our shareholders and we are confident we have a valid claim…"
Safe Food: - In 1998 the WTO ruled against a European law banning the sale of cattle that have been raised with certain artificial growth hormones. The suit was brought by the U.S.
Endangered Species Act: - In 1998 the WTO ruled that the U.S. could not restrict the sale of shrimp that were caught by means that threatened endangered sea turtles in a suit brought by four Asian nations. Previous to this, Mexico successfully challenged Dolphin Safe Tuna regulations, resulting in the modification of U.S. law.
Food Labeling: - The WTO has determined that its rulings on food labeling will be based on a set of standards - these standards restrict a country's right to label products with information that consumers feel deeply about, such as the production method (e.g. "organic", or genetically modified)
"There would be no value to labeling where there can be no perceived benefit to the public other than that some sector of the public thinks it is their right to know." - Arnold Foudin, USDA
Within the WTO, there is no accountability of the decisionmakers back to the general public. The dispute panels are appointed, their meetings are secret and their decisions are not subject to public appeal.
The Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes [DSU] contains the following language from a recent ruling:
"Accepting non-requested information from non-governmental sources would be, in our opinion, incompatible with the DSU as currently applied"*....
"While the WTO Preamble confirms that environmental considerations are important for the interpretation of the WTO agreement, the central focus of that agreement remains the promotion of economic development through trade; and the provisions of GATT are essentially turned toward liberalization of access to markets on a nondiscriminatory basis."
So far, every single environmental or public health law challenged at the WTO has been ruled illegal.
Welcome to late stage capitalism.
*from a leaked "confidential" WTO document regarding the Shrimp Products Case. http://www.seaturtles.org/wtotranscript.html)