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World Trade Organization makes mockery of self-determination 

In a day and age when many people don't know the name of their elected state senator or representative, it's no surprise that a group of faceless, unelected men and women can get together, make decisions that affect billions of people and do it largely unnoticed.

Of course, I'm referring to the World Trade Organization meeting now underway in Seattle.

The 135-nation WTO sets trading rules for its member states. In the WTO, it's trade rules ber alles. And the WTO doesn't play favorites.

Last summer, the WTO approved $307 million in trade sanctions sought by the United States and Canada. The only guaranteed outcome of that move was higher prices paid by U.S. citizens for European food delicacies. The Geneva-based WTO permitted these tariffs after the European Union imposed what the WTO called "unfair" bans on U.S. beef.

It is worthwhile to note these tariffs hit small EU producers the hardest.

The EU's crimes? It banned the import of U.S.-produced hormone-spiked beef, reacting to the desires of EU citizens. The EU's argument that it had the right to protect its citizens from uncertain risk was dismissed by a WTO dispute panel that said WTO rules require proof of harm before trade can be restricted between WTO member nations. The WTO said no one has demonstrated that the beef from cattle dosed with hormones harms anyone. In this case, this meant the EU couldn't just say no to U.S. imports without a penalty.

Another WTO dispute panel found the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Act's policies governing reformulated gasoline requirements were in violation of WTO rules. The EPA appealed this ruling to an appellate panel, but lost. As a result, the EPA regulations were changed to allow Venezuelan gasoline with higher concentrations of undesirable pollutants to be shipped to the United States. The United States can't just say no, either.

Using the WTO forum, any nation can challenge another nation's laws. The "trials" are held in secret, and the judgments can include trade sanctions that can hurt little guys and big guys, too.

WTO insistence that harm must be proven should not be equated with the ethical principle of law, "innocent until proven guilty," when consumers are the guinea pigs.

Maybe harm exists. Maybe not.

But when a group of people who have purchased on the battlefield the right to self-determination are forced to prove to an unelected group of people why their laws or even feelings are correct for them, something is amiss.

When the WTO -- unelected, virtually unknown and unknowable, and answerable only to itself -- is empowered with the ability to dictate to the elected and those who elected them, something is amiss.

This ability of the WTO to overrule a nation's citizens and the legally elected sets it in the position of dominance. Using its position, it fosters traditions established in the heyday of traditional colonialism, when the colonizing powers systematically removed the natives' ability to supply basic needs. The natives then had to take jobs for money to purchase life's necessities at the company store. Still, it goes on in out-of-the-way places.

Increasingly, Americans find it hard to afford goods produced in America. While that is a concern when purchasing a computer or a car, it is a disturbing trend when it comes to buying food, clothing and shelter produced by Americans being paid an American wage.

In a recent interview, comedian George Carlin said, "When fascism comes to this country, it won't be wearing jackboots; it'll be wearing sneakers with lights in them, and it'll have a smiley face and a Michael Jordan T-shirt on."

Under WTO rules, the sneakers will be made in China and the T-shirt in Bangladesh, and we'll once again be colonials.

Paul Wayne Foreman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News, based in Paonia, Colo. (www.hcn.org). He writes from Gunnison.

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