Albion Monitor
Speech of Ralph Nader (St. Francis Church, Sacramento, CA) October 17, 1996
Part 5 of 6

The Aftermath of GATT and NAFTA

There are times when the government is used as a tool against its own people. It closes out its own people. It wastes its own people's money. It further concentrates wealth and power from the people, from what they own, to a handful of fewer and fewer global corporations who have no allegiance to this country except to control it and through such mechanisms beyond our borders, as GATT and NAFTA, which are simply autocratic systems of governance that basically say that if our health and safety standards in food and in the environment and in the workplace and in motor vehicles are higher than other countries', that other countries can say, "Oh, you're safety standards are designed to keep out our exports of food to you, our exports of cars to you, our exports of chemicals to you, our exports of fish to you."

They can take us to Geneva under the World Trade Organization, and with secret tribunals, totally antagonistic to the way our open courts operate; tribunals that are closed to the press, closed to citizens, no public transcript, no independent appeal, with three judges who can moonlight with commercial firms on the side without any fear of conflict of interest standards; and if we lose, and we will almost always lose, because the mandate of GATT is to subordinate all non-trade standards of living -- health, safety, fuel efficiency, to the imperatives of trade.

So we have to get on our knees -- our consumer laws, our environmental laws, the workplace laws, our laws curtailing asbestos, for example -- and say, "Oh, they don't interfere with imports, with free trade." It isn't trade that has to get on its knees and say. "We are not going to profit from brutalized child labor abroad which displaces jobs in this country and cripples these young lives in Asia and elsewhere." It isn't trade that has to get on its knees before the tribunals in Geneva and say, "Oh, the California food and product labeling law for carcinogens is trade restrictive."

It isn't trade that has to justify itself, it's your laws. Your health and safety laws that have to justify. Your California pesticide control laws and food labeling laws, and product labeling laws are slated for challenge by foreign countries who put it in their reports, western Europe, and Japan and elsewhere, as trade barriers.

Now since when did we give up our sovereignty to secret tribunals in Geneva?

Since when are we agreeing by adhering to GATT that our front line safety standards have to be harmonized with countries having lower safety standards?

Since when we can propose stronger health and safety standards and we can never be first because GATT's mandate says we have got to have similar standards through harmonization committees that are closed to the public and not subject to our courts to review, somewhere in Acapulco, or Geneva, or Singapore.

Last year in Acapulco, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Ministry of Transport in Mexico met to harmonize truck weights standards, under NAFTA. You know, in your rear view mirror, big truck coming. Well, in California, the top weight is 80,000 pounds that a truck can carry. you know what it is in Mexico? 175,000 pounds.

Now the trucking industry wants bigger weight trucks in this country. They send their lobbyists down to Acapulco, they side with the Mexican government, not exactly a democratic regime, they side with the Mexican trucking industry, which has severe problems of ill-equipped and poorly maintained trucks now coming over the Texas border, and guess which way they're pushing?

They're pushing up toward a 100, up toward a 120. And you know when that committee makes its decision, you or your labor union or anyone else cannot sue in U.S. courts to overturn it. So when we say that our legitimate sovereignty defending our interests is surrendered by our adhering to GATT with 124 other nations, each one has an equal vote with us. St. Kitz in the Caribbean, 69,000 people, has an equal vote with the USA and we have no veto, like we have in the Security Council in the UN.

And when we say that that structure undermines our democracy, chills any progress that you might want to propose to that legislature to improve health and safety, because it's going to be attacked in Geneva and overturned. And if we lose, we have to repeal our law or pay perpetual economic fine to the winning country.

We've already lost to Venezuela on reformulated gasoline pollution control, and the EPA's going to repeal it.

We've already lost to Mexico on tuna dolphin and the congress was about to -- we just barely stopped them with citizen groups a few days ago -- was about to get rid of that part of the Mammal Protection Act in order to cater and comply with the GATT ruling in that secret tribunal.

It does seem, does it not, that we have a lot of citizen work to do. We should do it with zest, with the best of our creativity, because deep in our hearts we know that democracy, ever refined and ever all-embracing brings the best out of people. It brings the best out of people.

Dictatorships, oligarchies, plutocratic systems bring the worst out of a few people to oppress the many. And so many of the injustices of our country come because the super-rich and their power are determined to become hyper-rich. Greed, indeed, is infinite. Infinite. One of the reasons it was one of the seven deadly sins. They knew about it a long time ago.

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Albion Monitor October 27, 1996 (

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