Politics

COMMENTS AND LETTERS ON
CHINA AND THE WTO


"The attempt to bring China into the WTO...is less likely to reform China, as its advocates claim, than it is to further deform the WTO. And it is more likely to detract from the WTO's already questionable legitimacy than to add to it....The real debate is not...whether to engage China, but what are the terms of that engagement, and whose values are to be represented....America's working families understand the cruelty of a world economy regulated in favor of the corporations....O hina into the WTO without further progress on human rights and religious freedom....Incorporating enforceable workers' rights, human rights and environmental protections in every U.S. trade and investment agreement is the right way; admitting a repressive China into the WTO is the wrong way."

--John Sweeney, President, AFL-CIO

"As a large and powerful country, China (like the United States) prefers bilateral approaches to problems where it can essentially bully smaller countries into submission. Bringing China into the WTO and its dispute resolution framework would be a very useful step forward....[However,] entry into the WTO will inevitably hasten the privatization of state-run enterprises and will increase unemployment by a sizable margin. True, these enterprises are often inefficient, but they currently function as very important social welfare programs. It would be disastrous to dismantle these enterprises rapidly. It is not likely that foreign companies or foreign capital will be able to absorb all the unemployed. I also fear that China's environmental situation, which is precarious, will not benefit from WTO accession. The government has not revealed very strong Green tendencies, and the potential for being accused of erecting 'non-tariff barriers to trade' will only make matters worse. In general, I think that WTO membership for China is inevitable and in some cases positive. But I think it is important to acknowledge the considerable problems associated with accession."

--John Feffer, American Friends Service Committee, Tokyo

"The U.S.-China deal will not be good for workers in either country. In China, it's predicted that tens of millions of people will lose their livelihoods, with virtually no safety net to fall back on. From a U.S. perspective, it's wrong to assume that expanded export markets and foreign investment opportunities in China for U.S. corporations will automatically benefit U.S. workers. Even conservative economists concede that rising inequality and the stagnation of U.S. wages during much of this decade can be attributed in large part to globalization, as corporations use their increased mobility to pit workers and communities against one another. The welfare of U.S. workers is linked to the welfare of workers around the world, and the welfare of developing country citizens depends on strong labor and environmental protections and development strategies that promote a rising standard of living for the average person, not just profits for corporations. Once China has WTO membership, the leverage to promote stronger human rights and environmental standards in that country is lost."

--Sarah Anderson, Global Economy project, Institute for Policy Studies

"The current framework for adding China to the WTO is the wrong framework. It is true that China's human rights record is not the worst among the WTO members. However, our conclusion is not that we must therefore add China to the WTO, but rather that we must continue to pursue a transformed WTO that (among other changes) would require adherence to internationally recognized human rights for all countries. In addition, we propose that any nation that wants to join the WTO should adhere to (or show they are taking steps to adhere to) internationally recognized labor and environmental rights. For current members, every two to three years there would be a review and countries that fail would be excluded from the WTO. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, for instance, has proposed a joint WTO/ILO Advisory Body be set up to oversee the implementation of a workers' rights clause. If a country was in breach of its obligations, the ILO report would make recommendations to the country and, if necessary, offer technical assistance and make additional resources available to help countries address the violations."

--John Cavanagh, Director, Institute for Policy Studies

"Human Rights Watch believes that China's membership in the WTO could increase respect for human rights, but only if it is combined with consistent external pressure. China's commitment to abide by global trading standards will not automatically yield a greater commitment to international human rights standards unless China's major trading partners insist on that connection....[G]etting China to make concessions on human rights will require the kind of determined, hard-nosed bargaining by the administration that sealed the WTO agreement. It's now up to Congress to jump-start the process with human rights conditions on permanent NTR [Normal Trade Relations]."

--Mike Jendrzejczyk, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch

"Friends of the Earth opposes China's admission into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Clinton-Gore Administration's deal to admit China into the WTO will block sorely-needed environmental and democratic reform of this global trade body, and show that the Administration's real trade priority is boosting corporate profits--not promoting democracy, environmental protection and human rights.... Since the WTO operates by consensus, one country can thwart reforms sought by others. We fear that China, with its anti-democratic government and history of human rights abuses, will take a leading role in blocking efforts to make the WTO more open and to address its effects on the environment and workers' rights."

--Brent Blackwelder, President, Friends of the Earth

"The only thing worse than the WTO as it is, is the WTO with China as a member, especially under the terms the Clinton administration signed. The few citizens groups who hoped WTO might be reformable are now saying that if China gets in, there is no hope WTO would become more sensitive to labor, environment, or human rights policies."

--Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

Anyone who is opposed to the Chinese joining the WTO needs to be reminded that the United States' own economic system is not a paragon of virtue, and has aspects of the system of a rogue nation. We have prison labor and sweat shops. And many WTO members--including democratic countries like India--have child labor. Maybe some WTO members are offended by the quasi-slavery conditions faced by many farm workers in parts of the United States. A member country could say that U.S. law that makes it possible to execute a teenager is an offense against humanity.

Of course it is appropriate to castigate China for accepting only those human rights that suit its political and economic interests. Different cultures might nurture different values, but the UDHR was drafted 50 years ago to reflect universal aspirations and standards for human dignity. But the U.S. conditions placed on China amount to a policy of moral imperialism, clearly framed to suit rich countries. They would result in a ban on child labor without any guarantee that parents could find jobs, but inhuman treatment of migrant farmworkers would not be affected. Many of the developing nations that belong to the WTO complain that the previous Uruguay Round of trade talks (1986-94) only yielded benefits for industrialized countries. Mostly they are right. Northern countries have continued to protect their home markets while dumping surplus production on the poorer southern countries, undercutting local production and driving unemployment higher.

Today we need to point the finger at trade agreements such as the WTO and NAFTA rather than at China. Let's not forget that NAFTA eliminated over 400,000 jobs in the U.S., and drove some 28,000 small enterprises in Mexico out of business. The WTO and NAFTA are a direct cause of unemployment and poor working conditions, not the tool to correct these problems.

The time has come to step back from this mania for free trade at any cost--and the selective bashing of some countries while turning a blind eye to others--and seek a new start. The bottom line is that ... the WTO is bad for people everywhere, whether they are Chinese, American, Mexican or Indian. It's not China joining the WTO that hurts American workers--it is the WTO itself.


Anuradha Mittal is Policy Director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy. She is author of the recently published book, "America Needs Human Rights."


The Progressive Response aims to provide timely analysis and opinion about U.S. foreign policy issues. The content does not necessarily reflect the institutional positions of either the Interhemispheric Resource Center or the Institute for Policy Studies.

IRC Tom Barry Co-director, Foreign Policy In Focus Email: tom@irc-online.org

IPS Martha Honey Co-director, Foreign Policy In Focus Email: ipsps@igc.apc.org


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