PAWS Magazine

Issue 43, Fall 1999

The WTO's threat to animals

This month more than 3,000 delegates will descend on the sleepy little burg of Seattle for the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Third Ministerial Conference. The WTO, an organization of more than 130 nations, works to eliminate barriers to trade between nations. Countering the delegates in Seattle will be thousands of protestors in the city's streets speaking a simple message: the WTO is harmful to the environment, and the WTO is harmful to animals.

The WTO was created in 1995 during the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations. While GATT primarily dealt with tariffs and quotas, the WTO went much further, being empowered to rule on "non-tariff barriers to trade," including a particular country's domestic laws which in any way impact trade. This included environmental laws, food and product safety laws, and laws concerning human and worker rights.

The way the WTO is structured, any country can challenge another country's laws and regulations if they believe that those laws are negatively impacting trade. Unelected bureaucrats with trade backgrounds then decide whether the law does in fact limit trade. If they decide against a country's particular laws, the country must either change their laws or face very stiff monetary penalties. The only criteria in deciding whether a law is a trade barrier is financial; environmental or social justice issues are not discussed.

The World Trade Organization would have people believe that they are weak and relatively benign group. "There are some very strange perceptions out there about the WTO," David Hartridge, director of the Geneva-based organization's Trade in Services Division was quoted as saying in the Seattle Times. "It may be that people have a grossly inflated idea of the power and influence of the WTO."

Thousands of dolphins, sea turtles, and cows would probably beg to differ with Hartridge.

The US Marine Mammal Protection Act placed an embargo on tuna caught using the method of setting nets on schools of dolphins; an exceptional number of dolphins were being killed.

Mexico lodged a complaint against the US at the WTO and won their case. The dolphin-protection portion of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act was declared illegal by the international courts of the WTO. The US has since removed the law from its books.

The US Environmental Protection Act mandated the use of turtle excluder devices for shrimp nets. Previously, shrimp nets had been responsible for an enormous number of deaths of sea turtles, who can for live several centuries. Four Asian nations which don't use turtle excluder devices complained to the WTO that they were being locked out of the US market because the US Environmental Protection Act was preventing them from selling their shrimp in the United States. The WTO agreed, and the US law was amended, allowing shrimpers to kill endangered sea turtles to their hearts' content.

Get involved with Animal Advocacy!

PAWS has six full-time animal advocates working to help the animals. Clockwise from bottom left: Wildlife Advocate Stephanie Hillman, Companion Animal Advocate Kay Joubert, Advocacy Department Director Will Anderson, and Advocacy Department Campaign Coordinators Stephanie Jones, Jennifer Hillman, and Diane Venberg. The PAWS Animal Advocates depend on your help to mount successful campaigns on behalf of the animals. If you would like to volunteer with PAWS Advocacy Campaigns, please call (425) 787-2500 ext. 838.

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