And the winner of the corporate media 'Flake Of The Year' Award

Graeme Bacque (
Wed, 08 Dec 1999 04:25:33 -0500

Tuesday, December 07, 1999

Other nations' business
Protestors are urging the WTO to interfere
where it doesn't belong

David Frum
National Post 

Who says violence accomplishes nothing? In four days of
destructive protest in Seattle, opponents of the World Trade
Organization succeeded in bending U.S. President Bill Clinton to
their will. 

For all the squawks and yells in Seattle about democracy, what
really bugs the WTO's opponents is that it is not nearly
anti-democratic enough. They want the unelected WTO to function
as a true world government, setting not only the rules of international
trade, but also setting international labour and environmental
standards. And in an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
last week, Mr. Clinton knuckled right under: 

"What we ought to do first of all is to adopt the United States'
position on having a working group on labour within the WTO, and
then that working group should develop these core labour
standards, and then they ought to be a part of every trade
agreement, and ultimately I would favour a system in which
sanctions would come for violating any provision of a trade

At present, the WTO enforces only one simple rule:
non-discrimination. In 1997, to use a real example, the WTO ruled
against the U.S. for barring Venezuelan refined gasoline on
environmental grounds. But don't blame the WTO for dirtying
American air -- the U.S. could have kept the ban, if only it had been
willing to apply the ban equally to domestic and foreign refiners. 

For some opponents of the WTO -- the trade unionists, for
example -- this one rule is one too many. They dislike the WTO
because they want to protect their home markets from foreign
competition. But for most of the WTO's opponents, this one rule is
way too few. 

Right now, for example, the governments of the world are free to
decide for themselves how long young people should attend school.
Rich countries like the United States, Canada and Western Europe
typically set the school-leaving age at 16 or even 18. People
younger than that are forbidden to work full-time. In other countries,
the age is 14. Sometimes there is no minimum at all. Sometimes the
minimum exists on paper, but is ignored in practice. The protesters
in Seattle are not smashing shop windows because the WTO is
interfering in the sovereign right of nations to make decisions like
for themselves. They are smashing windows because the WTO is
refraining from interfering in the sovereign right of nations to make
decisions like this for themselves. They demand, and Mr. Clinton
has now endorsed this demand, some form of world-government
regulation of the educational systems of the world's 150-plus
countries. They also demand -- and Mr. Clinton has endorsed this,
too -- that this new world government be granted some power to
punish those countries that don't accept the world government's

It needs to be said: Everybody would prefer to see the world's
young people in school -- just as everybody would like to see old
people collecting pensions and the sick receiving medicine. But
schooling everybody is something only fairly rich countries can
afford to do. Great Britain did not deliver universal elementary
education until the 1890s. The United States did not do it until the
1920s. Canada did not do it until the 1950s. Are we really so
surprised India and China are failing to do it now? The trouble is not
just that they cannot afford to build enough schools and hire enough
teachers; the trouble is they cannot induce parents, who are trying to
survive on $100 or $200 a year, to forgo the extra $50 a year that
their 11-year-old can earn. 

Child labour is caused by poverty. When South Korea was as poor
as India, it too was disgraced by child labour. When India becomes
as rich as South Korea, its problem of child labour will vanish as
entirely as South Korea's has done. But the only way India can
grow as rich as South Korea is by trade. Trying to banish child
labour by refusing to trade with countries where it exists is like
to halt tuberculosis by refusing to sell vaccine to countries whose
people are perverse enough to get the disease. This is compassion?