The Varsity – Feature
April 23, 2002
The huge crowds of protesters outside World Trade Organization conferences are not difficult to explain. The WTO’s somewhat obscure mandate can make it seem slightly sinister, and the organization hasn’t done the best possible job of explaining itself to the world at large. All things considered, it’s not too surprising that some people have come to imagine the WTO as part of some evil globalization cabal, so dangerous that it’s worth travelling long distances to throw bricks at police officers over. Chapter 11 of NAFTA, under which the Ethyl Corporation recently successfully sued the Canadian government, is often perceived as belonging to the same international conspiracy.
What precisely do these bodies do? Can they ever work in our favour? One case worth considering is the ongoing softwood lumber dispute between
Thus was born the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, a group of American forestry companies headed by aptly named lobbyist Rusty Wood. They headed to
Enter the World Trade Organization. Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew has submitted the case to the WTO’s dispute settlement process, claiming that the American import duty is an unfair tariff. The WTO offers an independent, judicial resolution to trade disputes such as the lumber issue, including the right to appeal and an enforcement mechanism.
While not yet able to ensure total compliance with its decisions, the WTO’s voice is respected nonetheless as a neutral third party. If
The problem is that when it comes to protectionism,
This is called a trade war, and it’s the inevitable result of letting governments establish international trade policy unilaterally. We should be very clear on who pays the price for giving governments this power. Firstly, the Brazilian cattle ranchers who depend on exports for their livelihoods—they could probably share some hard luck stories with BC loggers. Secondly, you, me and the rest of the taxpayers of
That the ban lasted for less than a month is a credit to the courage of the individuals who revealed the plot, but also to the fact that we have finally started to recognize that national governments cannot always be trusted to do the right things for the right reasons in matters of international trade. The WTO has unfortunately not been given enough authority to settle disputes before they reach the level that this almost did, but its decisions have provided a crucial objective guideline.
This brings us to the Ethyl case, in which a suit was brought against the Canadian federal government under Chapter 11 of NAFTA, obliging it to revoke its ban on the importation of fuel-additive MMT. Unquestionably, the safety of citizens is a legitimate ground for restricting the trade and production of dangerous substances. Chapter 11 is intended not to sacrifice this well-being to the interests of corporations, but to ensure that national governments do not use bogus safety concerns to discriminate between companies based on their national origin. The reason why the MMT case was the first to be filed against
In 1994, when Health
Ethyl Corp., an American company, is the sole manufacturer of MMT. The automobile industry is hugely important in
The WTO, Chapter 11 of NAFTA, and the rest of the international rule-based trading system act as safeguards of the economic well-being of citizens from narrow protectionist interests in Washington and Ottawa, and from our own often capricious politicians. We live in an economically interdependent world, in which export industries are fundamental to our economic well-being. Just as our society needs laws governing how individuals can behave toward each other, we need international laws governing how states set trade policy. International trade is about more than just capital and corporations, it’s about real people with real jobs. Ask a Brazilian cattle rancher or a BC lumberjack if you don’t believe me.