Monthly Archives: November 1994

Lame Duck Season

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The months of November and December 1994 are a critical period for the future freedom of American citizens. After the November elections, Congress is scheduled to hold a “lame duck” session to consider the Uruguay Round of GATT: the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It would be hard to overstate the importance of the debate on GATT; it could open a Pandora’s Box the likes of which we haven’t seen since the founding of the United Nations. But all of this debate will take place in a Congress containing a large contingent of lame-duck Representatives and Senators, unaccountable to the voters who booted them out of office.

Our nation has been a party to GATT agreements since 1948. The Uruguay Round is merely the latest round of negotiations to expand the influence of the agreement. When I refer to GATT in the rest of this column, I really mean “The Uruguay Round of GATT.” The centerpiece of GATT is the creation of a World Trade Organization (WTO) to interpret and enforce the 26,000 pages of the agreement. Under WTO, GATT creates a Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), a sort of world Supreme Court for issues arising under GATT. It also creates a vast network of other bureaucratic offices that specialize in enforcing specific portions of the agreement. After all, it should take a virtual army of commissars to implement a 26,000-page plan!

President Clinton and GATT’s other boosters promote it as a free trade agreement. A look at the first sentence in the “Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization” (I won’t quote it, since that one sentence is about half the length of this column!) belies this claim. The sentence sets forth as purposes of GATT the improvement of economic conditions, preservation of the environment, and other social goals. If free trade were the object, would it take 26,000 pages to describe it, and thousands of bureaucrats to enforce it? This looks like a way of putting more shackles on trade, not making it more free.

WTO’s real reason for being is to provide a mechanism for forcing national and state governments to change their laws. Under the previous version of GATT, a judicial panel ruled that US laws banning importation of tuna that are caught using methods which endanger dolphins violated the agreement. Another panel ruled that a Minnesota beer tax law favoring smaller brewers was in violation. In both of these cases, the US merely ignored the rulings as interference with our national sovereignty. Under the new GATT, ignoring the rulings could result in trade sanctions or imposition of penalties (fines) against the US. The European Union has already published a 111 page report on US Federal and state laws that they might try to get the WTO to nullify. If Congress approves GATT, it will be surrendering a large portion of our national sovereignty to the WTO.

Since President Clinton and many Senators and Representatives want to give the WTO so much power over us, you must be wondering who will make up this world bureaucracy. The WTO will consist of representatives from every country ratifying GATT. Each country will have exactly one vote, with no provision for a veto. The US will have the same one vote as each of the over 100 nations expected to participate, most of which have proven hostile to us in past UN votes. These nations won’t even have to fear that their rulings against the US will apply equally to them, since GATT calls for special treatment for underdeveloped nations.

To have such a far-reaching decision made by a lame-duck session of Congress is truly scary. The Attorneys General of 42 states were concerned enough to sign a letter to the President expressing their fears. We should follow their example by calling, writing, and faxing our Senators and Representative about this issue. As a committed Internationalist, Senator Lugar is strongly in favor of GATT. But Senator Coates and Representative Hamilton are wisely taking a closer look at the sovereignty implications. Let’s be sure all of these people, lame-ducks or not, know our wishes before they vote.