The World Trade Organization (WTO) is meeting this week in Bali, Indonesia, where anti-WTO demonstrators have taken over the streets. On Tuesday, the first day of the talks, demonstrations were held around the world to mark the Global Day of Action Against Toxic Trade Agreements.
A particular focus for protestors here in the United States and in other Pacific Rim nations was the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a so-called “free-trade agreement” that would consolidate corporate power over member nations. The TPP would be a vast expansion of corporate power. It has been called “NAFTA on steroids.” It has also been called “a corporate coup” and a “corporate power tool of the 1%.”
Why are the WTO, NAFTA, and free-trade agreements such as the TPP “toxic?” Because they put trade (or rather, the free flow of capital) above all else, because they cover far more than trade, and because they give corporations the power to determine what laws a country can or cannot have. They are vehicles through which corporations make and enforce rules for governments to follow.
Of course, all of this sounds bad, but abstract. And the institutions we are talking about are so big and so powerful that it seems like there’s nothing we can do to slow things down or reverse course. But that’s not true.
It is important to understand what is at stake and how corporate domination of governments and global institutions affect us negatively in so many ways. That is one reason I wrote my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, which includes an overview of the global economic system and the institutions that dominate our world.
A chapter entitled “The Unholy Trinity: The IMF, World Bank, and WTO” gives detailed examples of specific “trade” disputes and how the dispute process works to overturn laws created by governments. This section, “The WTO: A Corporate Bill of Rights,” explains how corporations use trade agreements in their attempt to consolidate global corporate rule:
“Clearly, the United States and other nations see their interests as tied to corporate interests. As corporate power increases, however, the power of governments decreases, until governments, the lucky ones, end up riding on corporate coattails. But corporations, once they are truly globalized, have no loyalty at all, except to the bottom line. They are not even loyal to their “home” governments. They can even change nationalities at will.
“Though the rhetoric of the IMF and World Bank has been about development and raising the standard of living, the actual effects of these multilateral bureaucracies has been to integrate poor nations into a world economy dominated by global corporations and powerful nations. They have used structural adjustment policies (SAPS) to “pry open” the economies of developing nations, creating complete dependency.
“How can global corporations further pry open the U.S. economy and the economies of other industrialized nations? How can they finish what they started during the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s? How can they bypass the messiness of the democratic process altogether while gutting regulatory agencies and eliminating troublesome laws that interfere with corporate profits? How can they perpetuate the “smoke and mirrors” illusion that nation-states have power, while eliminating the very laws that governments use to protect the rights and well-being of their people? How can they privatize the potentially lucrative public-services sector, including publicly funded hospitals, schools, libraries, prisons, utilities, water services, and social services, and offer these and all other services up for sale? How can they ensure that wealthy, industrialized nations will ultimately be as dependent upon the global system that they dominate as are poor and indebted nations? How can they bring structural adjustment policies home? How can global corporations extend their power and consolidate their dominance over people, their governments, and the earth itself? The answer: they create trade agreements and global bureaucracies that convince governments to do this for them, institutions like NAFTA and the WTO, which essentially take the matter out of government hands.”
In spite of this direction that the institutional Powers are pushing, I’m quite hopeful that we the people will be successful in raising awareness, mobilizing opposition, and preventing the TPP from coming into being. As the saying goes, we need to “flush the TPP.”
Fourteen years ago this month, I joined thousands in the streets of Seattle for nonviolent action and hundreds in King County Jail during the WTO meetings there. The meetings ended in failure and have never really gotten back on track. Since Seattle, global civil society has prevented other attempts to consolidate global corporate rule, and we can do it again. That was another reason I wrote Shaking, to inspire hope and motivate action for healing and transformation.
After Seattle I wrote: “It seemed clear to me then, as never before: no matter how entrenched are the Powers that seem to rule the world, they govern only through the will of the people. If the people withdraw their consent these ruling institutions will collapse like a house of cards. And I felt deeply grateful to the One who is `far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’ (Ephesians 1:21), the Creator of the universe in all its splendor, who is on the side of justice and love.”
“Another world is possible.” This is the faith that motivates my life.