Sovereignty no match for WTO

By Henry Lamb
web posted June 26, 2000

The debate surrounding the proposal by Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) to withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO), revealed a wide chasm between the fundamental beliefs of the people who represent us in Congress. Paul says that our participation in the WTO results in an erosion national sovereignty. Congressman Doug Bereuter (D-NE) says that it does not. Moreover, Bereuter says that "no significant scholars" suggest that American participation in the WTO results in a loss of national sovereignty.

Both can't be right.

Bereuter obviously has not met Lewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., world renowned economic scholar, and president of the Von Mises Institute, who says "We should toss the WTO into the dustbin of history..." because "What appears to be a step in the right direction – towards greater liberty in trade across borders – turns out to be a leap into world statism." .

The WTO agreement requires participating nations to conform their laws to comply with WTO rulings. This language clearly defines the ruling of the WTO to be superior to laws passed by Congress. How can this situation not be a loss of national sovereignty?

Congressman Phil Crane (R-IL) has the answer. He says that the United States is not compelled to change its laws, even though we have agreed to do so by acce pting the WTO Agreement. Should the U.S. fail to conform its laws to WTO rulings, the agreement authorizes the WTO to impose fines of its choosing as long as the U.S. remains in non-compliance.

When any foreign government has the authority to order the United States to change its laws, and enforce that order by imposing fines, it doesn't take too much of a scholar to recognize that U.N. sovereignty is more sovereign than U.S. sovereignty. Crane says this is not a loss of sovereignty, it's just the price we have to pay for not playing by the rules. Fines imposed by the WTO are not the slap-on-the-wrist variety.

The U.S. said no to British Petroleum's wish to ship gasoline with the additive MTBE into the United States. The WTO said that is a violation of their rules and slapped the U.S. with a $360 million fine, according to Congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI). "When the WTO kicks in, sovereignty is kicked out," Stupak says.

Congressman Jack Metcalf (R-WA) pointed out that the U.S. Constitution clearly places the responsibility for regulating foreign trade upon the Congress. The WTO usurps that responsibility.

Phil Crane sees it differently. He says Congress has no problem delegating responsibility for regulating trade to the Commerce Committee, and various sub-committees. To Crane, delegating the responsibility for regulating trade to the WTO follows the same reasoning. The major difference, of course, is that no American has the chance to vote for or against, any member of the WTO which has the final say on trade regulations.

Nearly every speaker who stood to oppose the Paul proposal began their presentation with a litany of WTO problems that need to be corrected.

Most of the opposition speakers took the position that the WTO should be reformed, but that the U.S. should remain a member while working for reform. The WTO is accountable to no other political power, and can be reformed only by an extraordinary majority of the 135 WTO member nations. The U.S. has one vote, and no veto power. Congressmen have no power at all to influence the WTO. Representative Helen Chenoweth-Hage said that Congressmen were not even allowed access to the recent WTO meeting in Seattle.

The issues of national sovereignty and Constitutional authority were systematically ignored by the speakers who opposed the Paul resolution.

Tom Reynolds (R-NY) touted the WTO and pointed to an increase in exports of $235 billion since the WTO came into existence. Peter Visclosky (D-IN) quickly countered that during the same period, our overall trade deficit had grown by $300 billion, a fact conveniently ignored by WTO supporters.

WTO supporters tried to cast opponents as "isolationists," and conjured up images of the depression and world wars that would follow withdrawal from the WTO. During the period between 1947 and 1995, foreign trade was conducted under the GATT (General Agreement on Tarriffs and Trade), a period that saw the greatest global economic expansion in the history of the world. GATT had no authority to impose fines or require conformity to its rules.

Supporters of the WTO (opponents of the Paul proposal), displayed an alarming willingness to look the other way when confronted with the fundamental principles of national sovereignty and Constitutional authority. Even Larry Combest (R-TX), Chairman of the Agriculture Committee expressed more concern about maintaining world markets through the WTO than about Constitutional principles. He used the 1980 grain embargo, which would not be allowed by the WTO, as an example of what could be avoided through the WTO.

Whether or not Combest agreed with the decision in 1980, it was made through the Constitutional process. Congress could have reversed the President's decision. If the people of America disagreed with the policy, the people could remove the policy makers. In fact, they did just that. But Americans have no such recourse when the WTO makes policy decisions with which they disagree. The WTO consists of appointed bureaucrats elected by no one, accountable to no one, who operate in secret, doing whatever they wish, subject to whatever influence offers the greatest prize.

Ron Paul is right. The WTO offers nothing to the people of America that cannot be achieved without the loss of sovereignty and the erosion of Constitutional authority. The global economic engine that is America can play a major leadership role in the world without yielding one ounce of sovereignty to an international body. Congress should reclaim its Constitutional responsibility to regulate foreign trade, and answer Congressman Jack Metcalf's question: "If Congress doesn't protect national sovereignty, who will?"

Congress did not protect our national sovereignty. Ron Paul's resolution to withdraw from the WTO was rejected by a vote of 363 to 56.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization, and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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