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1999-11-16

Clinton Administration and China Reach Accord over WTO

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U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said today that she is confident Congress will back an agreement struck yesterday between the Clinton administration and China that paves the way for China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. [includes rush transcript]

Under the agreement, reached after six days of negotiations, Beijing will reduce tariffs on various industrial and agricultural products, and lift trade barriers to allow foreign companies to operate in China. In exchange, the U.S. agreed to support China’s bid for membership in the WTO, the 135-member organization that sets the rules for international commerce.

Opponents of China’s entry into the WTO criticize the Clinton administration for ignoring China’s record of human rights and labor rights violations and say they fear that they will lose one of the only bargaining chips that could be used to force Beijing to comply with international human rights standards.

The agreement comes just two weeks before foreign ministers from the WTO member nations are to meet in Seattle to establish rules on free trade. They will be met by tens of thousands of protesters from labor, human rights, environmental and other organizations that are converging on Seattle to protest the WTO’s exclusion of fundamental human rights from its trade agenda.

Guest:

  • Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch. To contact, call (202) 456 4996.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said today she’s confident Congress will back an agreement struck yesterday between the Clinton administration and China that paves the way for China’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

Under the agreement, reached after six days of negotiations, Beijing will reduce tariffs on various industrial and agricultural products and lift trade barriers to allow foreign companies to operate in China. In exchange, the U.S. agreed to support China’s bid for membership in the WTO, the 135-member organization that sets the rules for international commerce.

Opponents of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization criticized the Clinton administration for ignoring China’s record of human rights and labor rights violations and say they fear that they’ll lose one of the only bargaining chips that could be used to force Beijing to comply with international human rights standards.

The agreement comes just two weeks before foreign ministers from the WTO member nations are to meet in Seattle to establish rules on free trade. They’ll be met by tens of thousands of protesters from labor, human rights, environmental and other organizations that are converging on Seattle to protest the WTO’s exclusion of fundamental human rights from its trade agenda. Democracy Now! will be broadcasting from Seattle live for the week.

Right now, though, we’re joined by Lori Wallach. She’s director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and speaks to us from Washington about this historic accord.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Lori Wallach.

LORI WALLACH: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of the deal that has been hammered out by the U.S. and China? Apparently, U.S. trade representative set to go home a number of times over the last week or few days that she’s been in China, but ultimately they did work out this deal.

LORI WALLACH: Well, I guess I would like to quote the president of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney, who said it’s "disgustingly hypocritical" for—and that’s a quote—for the Clinton administration to taunt about putting a human face on the global economy and then to make a deal such as this. This deal has even been criticized today in a Washington Post editorial. Because it’s a commercial matter, the probability that China follows the agreement is slight, based on China’s record in the past. But then, in addition, as you said, the U.S., in making this deal, sees what leverage it has over China regarding human rights, weapons proliferation, etc. As the Washington Post editorial this morning points out, in one room, the U.S. trade representative was making the U.S. corporations happy by signing this deal, while several blocks away, practicers of Falun Gong were being jailed for 20 years for silent meditation.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about John Sweeney talking about this as "disgustingly hypocritical," and yet John Sweeney, the president of the AFL-CIO, has just endorsed the WTO global trade talks that are set for Seattle.

LORI WALLACH: There’s been a huge controversy over what exactly he endorsed. The AFL-CIO’s releases and statements say he endorsed formation of a working group on labor rights and, in order to get businesses to support that, signed onto a broader statement. Whatever the outcome is for that particular incident, what is clear and what is very stark is the tone of the AFL-CIO’s statement about this deal. And to the extent the AFL-CIO was perhaps trying to work with the administration to fix the WTO, all over Capitol Hill now people are saying, well, if that organization, the WTO, was ever vaguely fixable, if you put China into the organization, the WTO is not going to make China follow a rule of law. China is going to make the WTO totally unreformable.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Lori Wallach, who’s head of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, one of the leaders of the movement against the WTO talks set for Seattle and one of the leading spokespeople around the issue of globalization, against corporate globalization. At the top of the show, Lori, I talked about the trade deal, the winners and the losers. Can you say what this deal actually does? Who does benefit? Who doesn’t?

LORI WALLACH: Well, it’s hard to say, because, literally, practically, the history of China actually following any of its international commitments is extremely bleak. And that goes from commercial agreements to human rights and nonproliferation agreements. There was an interesting story today in the New York Times that had a businessperson saying, "When the deal is signed, that’s when the real negotiations start." So it’s really unclear what we got.

What was done—the reason this was done is because President Clinton is enormously eager to claim some sort of legacy about trade, and on paper this is a great coup. If China were to follow all of the terms that are supposed to be in the agreement, which of course no one has seen, so we have to go on the summary that the Clinton administration has put forward, in a way, as their spin, the goal of the agreement would be to get China over the next five years to open up its market to imported farm products from the U.S. and to open up its insurance and telecommunications and finance, investment and banking sectors. And the upside, from corporate America’s perspective, would be the ability to control those sectors in a country with a billion-and-a-half people.

The downside, both for people in China and in the U.S., most people, is, in China, in five years’ time, you’re going to try and transform an entire economy basically by kicking it in the pants head-first into the global economy. The New York Times and mainstream newspapers report that literally hundreds of millions of people in China will be unemployed by this sudden change, with potential political and other instability resulting.

In the U.S., the hitch is that what the U.S. has signed onto is an agreement that’s only about commerce. So, for instance, the senior Democrat in the House, Mr. Gephardt, said that to have a successful deal with China about WTO, you need to get the commercial part right. You need to figure out some way to enforce it, because China always breaks its deals, so something other than just the normal WTO enforcement. And you need to figure out a way to deal with labor rights and human rights. And this agreement, which is being touted as a great success, just got the commercial commitments, what the businesses wanted, down on paper. It doesn’t have an enforcement mechanism, and it totally ignores the human rights and labor rights issues. So the prospects for U.S. workers are—for the companies in this country who want an educated, incredibly cheap, and literally militarily suppressed labor force, you can go to China, make stuff and have guaranteed access back into the U.S. with no potential conditions.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Congress doesn’t vote on the agreement itself, is that right? But on whether the U.S. should permanently grant China normal trading privileges.

LORI WALLACH: And that’s going to be the mother of all trade battles.

AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean? What does it mean to grant them normal trading privileges?

LORI WALLACH: Right now, the way it works, China’s status on trade with the U.S. needs to be reviewed every year. And there are historical reasons for that, not the least of which was China has never convinced Congress that it would follow up to its trade obligations, so Congress has never given China a permanent most favored nation status. That is what, for instance, typically countries in the GATT get. And what it means is the U.S. gives its most preferential trade and investment and regulatory benefits to another country, and is supposed to get them back reciprocally, and that that’s not subject to review or removal. To get permanent MFN for China would mean an end to the annual reviews on human rights, labor rights. It literally would take away whatever limited leverage the U.S. has on those issues.

But the reason it’s going to be an enormous battle is that, as, for instance, the recent Zogby poll showed, three-fourths of Americans—Democrats, Republicans, across the country, different income levels, different ages—think that the U.S. already is too cozy with China on trade, to the risk of other incredibly important values, like democracy, human rights, religious freedom. So Congress—and this fight’s going to be in the House of Representatives—is going to have to agree against the interest and will of three-fourths of the American public, against what is going to be an enormous campaign of labor, consumer, environmental, religious, human rights groups, as well as Chinese dissident groups. The activists, who are people who, for instance, got out of China after Tiananmen Square and operate the Democracy in China campaign, are vehemently against China getting this incredible political plum, this legitimacy for this dictatorship of entering into the WTO. So all of those groups will be fighting tooth and nail against what is going to be a very well-heeled corporate coalition that intends, as they put it, to make their NAFTA campaign look like nothing in comparison to what they’ll do to try and push Congress to give China this plum.

AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, I wanted to ask you about two stories in the news today and how they relate to the World Trade Organization. One is, a fresh lawsuit has been filed against Union Carbide, the chemical company involved in the world’s worst industrial disaster. Seven thousand people died in '84 after the deadly gas leak from the company's pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. And the other story is about how New York, for the first time, has sued the General Electric Company over PCB contamination in the Hudson River. And the attorney general of New York said he hopes more lawsuits would follow. Now, some, well, can see the relation between these two polluting companies and lawsuits against them. Could you say what would happen under global trade pacts? Would these kind of lawsuits be affected?

LORI WALLACH: Well, the agenda the Clinton administration had to expand the World Trade Organization, as if it weren’t bad enough, at the Seattle summit coming up in two weeks includes a proposal by Japan and Europe to put in some of the provisions of NAFTA that aren’t in the WTO, and those have to do with investment rules—i.e. how you can regulate or how you can hold accountable companies investing or operating in your territory, which would get to the PCB issue. In fact, right now, there’s a series of NAFTA lawsuits where corporations are suing governments for cash damages for regulation—zoning rules, keeping toxic waste sites out of watersheds, etc.—that undermine their profitability. So the shift in relative rights and powers between corporations and government is a key issue in these trade agreements, and one of the agendas of expanding the WTO is to give more powers to corporations to actually sue governments for damages, when governments set rules that in fact limit the ability of governments to hold corporations accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, we have to break for stations to identify themselves. When we come back, I want to ask you a question about Cuba and the trade embargo and if there isn’t a double standard, this as the Ibero-American Summit is taking place, historic event in Havana, Cuba. And then, when we finish with you, we are joined by Studs Terkel in the studio, the great oral historian of this century. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in 60 seconds.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! The Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman, as we finish up our conversation with Lori Wallach. Lori Wallach is one of the leaders of the global trade watch movement. She is the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. And as tens of thousands of protesters plan to go to Seattle the week after Thanksgiving to protest the WTO global trade talks, she is one of those who has spent the last year and more building this movement. Today we’re talking about the major headline-grabbing story, the China-U.S. trade deal that was struck yesterday—not clear exactly what it is. Lori Wallach responding to that. We have that deal worked out, Lori, and at the same time there’s Cuba, which has just sued the United States for its trade embargo against the island for the last, well, close to 40 years.

LORI WALLACH: What’s an interesting juxtaposition, I guess, is the U.S. making a sweetheart deal with China, a country that has the highest execution rate, by percentage of population, in the world; a country that crushes the beginnings of any democratic movement, any attempt to organize a labor union; for that matter, crushes a religious movement, the main gist of which is quiet meditation and yoga—and that in contrast—making a sweetheart deal with that government, basically giving them what they have sought for the last 10 years, global legitimacy for that sort of conduct towards their people—in contrast to how the United States behaves toward Cuba, which it makes out to be the most dangerous, threatening crusher of human rights, which the legitimacy of that argument is very much undermined by the U.S. cozying up to China while continuing to cut off Cuba.

AMY GOODMAN: Any last comments on this day after the U.S.-China trade pact, when we see the big debate that is shaping up in Congress, in the House of Representatives, Republicans now dividing amongst each other, as well, not to mention with Democrats, over the trade deal, where you’re putting your efforts right now, how you’re focusing?

LORI WALLACH: Well, the proponents of the deal are trying to play a game of psych-out, where they’re saying, "Oh, piece of cake! We’ll get this right away. No problem." And this is a strategy to try and create a mood of inevitability. And it’s total baloney. And they know it, because they know the same numbers that we know, which is that if people around the country contact their member of the House of Representatives—that’s where this fight’s going to be—and make it clear to them, "You want to make this deal, you are going to be the next person who loses a job, because an election is coming up in a year, and we’re going to hold you accountable for selling out human rights, freedom of speech, labor rights." If in fact we all get going, the psych-out campaign is going to go up in a puff of smoke, because, in fact, we actually have a slight gain on the guys who want to ram this deal through Congress, and as long as we all make clear to our members of Congress that the corporations, who might offer them a lot of money, cannot buy them back our vote, if they roll us and we tell them, "Forget it. You’re out of here." So that kind of communication is now necessary, because there is going to be a huge corporate pile-on. It’s starting now, today. The limo line outside Congress will be endless, and we need to make sure that we lock down our votes, and we’ll stop this deal.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you headed to Capitol Hill today?

LORI WALLACH: You know it, right as soon as I get off the phone.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Lori Wallach, we won’t hold you back, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, speaking to us from Washington, D.C.

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