Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Oh yeah, Globalization -- remember that?

This doesn't get a Giamatti award because it's not strictly speaking a domestic issue, or not only a domestic issue, so CNN has an excuse for leaving it out. But as Ellen Shaffer, Howard Waitzkin (author of The Second Sickness, which I heartily recommend), Joseph Brenner and Rebecca Jasso-Aguilar remind us in the January American Journal of Public Health, the WTO and NAFTA have major implications for public health.

The corporate media and the chattering classes have consistently misrepresented what the protesters at international trade meetings have been all about. They aren't against international commerce, for crying out loud, and they aren't against "globalization" in the sense that they want to stop the inevitable consequences of telecommunications and jet travel. They are against the creation of international agreements and institutions that erode national sovereignty over natural resources, environmental and worker protections in favor of the rights of what the agreements call "investors," i.e. multinational corporations.

The WTO and regional trade agreements generally require countries to prove that their laws and regulations are the "least restrictive" with regard to trade and are not trade barriers in disguise. Corporations have the right to sue governments based on this burden of proof. Shaffer and colleagues give several examples, a couple of which I'll summarize:

  1. Under NAFTA, Metalclad Corp. of the U.S. successfully sued Mexico after the state of San Luis Potosi prohibited Metalclad from reopening a toxic waste dump.
  2. The Canadian corporation Methanex sued the U.S. because California banned the gasoline additive MBTE -- which is a very nasty environmental problem.
  3. The U.S. invoked the WTO to stop South Africa, Thailand, Brazil and India from producing low-cost HIV medications. (Yup, that condemned people to death, to protect the profits of pharmaceutical companies.)
  4. The U.S. successfully overturned the European ban on beef treated with artificial hormones.

And it goes on and on. Currently under negotiation are regulations that will remove restrictions on corporate involvement in public hospitals, water and sanitation systems -- yup, the WTO may actually force countries to privatize their national health programs and basic infrastructure. Unfortunately, the movement against the corporate takeover of the world appears to have lost a bit of steam lately. I'm not saying that masked college dropouts breaking windows of McDonald's restaurants have discovered the best way to fight back, but fight back we must, for a democratic, not corporatist, international order.

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