News Release

WTO Rules: The Record

SEATTLE – Since its founding five years ago, the World Trade Organization has consistently settled trade disputes in favor of corporate interests, frequently deeming labor and environmental regulations “non-tariff trade barriers.” Conflicts between countries are decided by three unelected WTO officials in Geneva in secretive proceedings. With each nation challenging or threatening to challenge each other’s regulations on labor, environment, human rights and consumer protection, many see a “race to the bottom” – with WTO rules compelling each country to shed their best attributes and promote their worst. Among the cases WTO rules have affected:

Sea Turtles and the U.S. Endangered Species Act: The WTO ruled against regulations of the Endangered Species Act that prohibit importing shrimp from countries unless they require shrimpers to equip their nets with inexpensive turtle-excluder devices. The U.S. State Department has proposed a weakening of the regulation to comply with the WTO ruling.

Genetically Modified Foods: Europe, Japan and Australia, worried about the safety of genetically modified food for humans and the environment, have begun to require labeling of such foods until more is known about their effects. The U.S. government has threatened to bring action against this using WTO rules, but has not yet done so.

Artificial Hormone Residues in Beef: The WTO ruled against a ban on beef containing artificial hormone residues on the grounds that human health impacts of residues in meat have not yet been established; however, the actual hormones pose well-known human health risks. The WTO levied over $100 million in sanctions after the European Union refused to accept the beef.

Gerber Labeling of Baby Formula in Guatemala: Guatemala implemented a UN Children’s Fund code which bans the packaging of infant formula with labels depicting healthy, fat babies, lest mothers associate formula with healthy infants and stop breast-feeding. Gerber, whose trademarked logo includes a pudgy baby, refused. Guatemala, faced with the prospect of a costly fight, backed down.

The following analysts are available for interviews:

Michelle Sforza
Of Public Citizen, co-author of “Whose Trade Organization? Corporate Globalization and the Erosion of Democracy”
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Martin Wagner, Patti Goldman
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
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Kristin Dawkins
Program director at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
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Peter Fugazzotto
Associate director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy: Sam Husseini, (206) 770-9544 or (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167