With the formation
of the WTO, the agenda has greatly expanded to include the removal of
so-called "Non-Tariff Barriers to Trade" which are almost any restrictions
placed on imports. Thus it is a violation of WTO rules for member countries
to restrict imports due to their production methods, such as child or
slave labour, exploitative and dangerous working conditions, use of pollutants
or animal abuse.
Also WTO rules make it illegal for member countries to prevent imports
on the grounds that a product would damage health or the environment in
the importing country. The only exception to this rule are goods made
THE CORPORATE LOBBY
Almost every sector of industry has seen control become concentrated in
the hands of a small group of transnational corporations (TNC's). 
The biggest 200 companies in the world now have almost twice the wealth
of the poorest 80% of humanity, yet their combined global employment is
only 18.8 million, which is less 0.003% of the world's poppulation .
Two-thirds of world trade in goods and services is now controlled by TNC's
. One-third of TNC trade is intra-firm, between
the parent company and its affiliates or in-between affiliates. Using
this sort of trade and accounting methods TNCs shift funds between affiliates
around the world to avoid taxation. These corporations are almost exclusively
based in the US, Canada, Western Europe and Japan.
The top corporations in every sector co-operate through industry coalitions
and lobby groups and increasingly dictate policy to these governments.
Real decision making power at the WTO is exercised by the governments
of what has become known as the QUAD, consisting of the USA, the European
Union, Japan and Canada.
The QUAD convenes several times a year in between WTO General Council
meetings behind closed doors and without the representatives of other
member governments. Policy decisions are taken and then sold to the less
The rich countries over-produce but have exhausted most of their raw materials.
Thus they need their corporations to be free to extract raw materials
from the 'Third World' and sell their goods and services in 'Third
The WTO is the vehicle through which TNC's aim to capture increased access
to the South's markets in agriculture, health care, education, water and
utilities. The South's governments are increasingly resisting this because
they recognize that competition from TNC's will undermine their autonomy
and destroy local industries and small farmers.
In 1997 the WTO dismantled
tariffs on telecommunications and trade in information technology products
and an agreement was signed on the liberalisation of the financial services
sector, including banking and insurance. All these agreements were the
result of systematic pressure on southern governments by the EU and the
US. The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Treaty
(TRIP's) is the most
far reaching and potentially damaging WTO legislation. Whilst all other
rules dictate what member countries cannot do, the TRIP's legislation
is the first proscriptive WTO law, dictating what members must do.
TRIPS forces all member states to enact national patent, trademark and
copyright laws giving corporations monopoly rights for twenty year periods
In the words of Noam Chomsky "Concentration of communications in any
hands (particularly foreign hands) raises some rather serious questions
about meaningful democracy. Similar questions arise about concentration
of finance, which undermines popular involvement in social and economic
planning. Control over food raises even more serious questions, in this
case about survival" 
TNC's such as Phillip Morris, United Fruit, PepsiCo, Cargill, Unilever
and Nestle oversee vast portions of international agricultural production
and trade. Transnationals either directly or indirectly control 80% of
the land around the world that is cultivated for export crops such as
bananas, tobacco and cotton. Such agro-export
"development" patterns regularly displace small farmers from fertile farming
land and enforce low wage labour and exposure to dangerous pesticides.
TNCs have a long history of actively enlisting the assistance of rich
nations to maintain and expand their interests in the 'Third World'.
This assistance has often involved military force, such as the 1954 US
invasion of Guatemala to prevent the Guatemalan government from taking
(with compensation plus interest) the unused land of United Fruit Company
for redistribution to peasants.
Any member state can complain to the WTO "Dispute Settlement Body"
(DSB) about any other member's policies or laws that it claims restrict
the free flow of trade. This is where the real power of the WTO is exercised.
How the members of the DSB's panels are selected is unknown, all meetings
are held behind closed doors, no documentation is provided, no witnesses
are heard, there are no conflict of interest rules. Over 170 disputes
have been settled so far. If the DSB finds a government guilty of non-compliance
with WTO agreements, the offending country must change its legislation
or face retaliatory trade sanctions by the complaining country, and possibly
heavy financial penalties.
The WTO has extended its powers to enforce Trade rules. Formerly under
GATT unanimous agreement had to be made before a member state could be
penalised. The WTO has much more teeth. If the WTO imposes sanctions on
a member state, all member states including the member who bought the
original complaint, must be unanimous if sanctions are not to apply.
OF WTO RULINGS
The WTO's very first ruling in early 1996 ordered the US to eliminate
its Clean Air Act regulation on gasoline cleanliness after a complaint
by Venezuela and Brazil. The US Environmental Protection Agency weakened
its regulations on contaminants in imported gasoline, in order to comply
with the ruling.
In May 1997, a three-person WTO dispute settlement panel ruled that a
nine-year ban imposed by the European Union on hormone-treated beef was
illegal under WTO rules. The U.S. and Canada bought the complaint. Over
90% of US beef cattle are given growth hormones, including Monsanto's
genetically engineered growth hormone rBGH .
The E.U. fearing that European consumers will not tolerate contaminated
beef have not dared lift the ban and the US, has won WTO approval earlier
to retaliate by imposing $117 million of duties on European imports, including
Roquefort cheese from France and truffles from Italy.
The US Endangered Species Act that imposed a ban on sale of shrimp caught
without devices to protect endangered sea turtles, was repealed after
the WTO ruled the legislation an unfair barrier to trade.
Canada is considering asking the WTO to rule against the US food stamps
for the poor. Canada argues this is a government subsidy to U.S. farmers
that creates a market for food, which would not be there in a "free" economy.
Case studies on WTO consequences
1. Top 10 corporations in 1999 and revenues in millions of dollars, according
to "Fortune 500" list. ( 1. General Motors 161315, 2. DaimlerChrysler
154615, 3. Ford Motor 144416, 4. Wal-Mart Stores 139208, 5. Mitsui 109372,
6. Itochu 108749, 7. Mitsubishi 107184, 8. Exxon 100697, 9. General Electric
100469, 10. Toyota Motor 99740 )
2. "The top 200 The Rise of Global Corporate Power" by Sarah Anderson
and John Cavanagh. Published by The Institute for Policy Studies, 1997
3. UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development World Investment
4. "The Passion for Free Markets, Exporting American values through the
new World Trade Organization" by Noam Chomsky, Z Magazine online, see
5. "The Corporate Planet: Ecology and Politics in the Age of Globalization"
by Joshua Karliner. Published by Sierra Club Books, 1997