Today’s international trade agreements deeply impact matters of state law. Pacts like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and NAFTA contain numerous policy obligations and constraints that bind U.S. federal, state and local governments to compliance.
These types of “trade” agreements are pushing an ever-increasing number of issues away from local or even national democratic decision-making and into inaccessible international venues where few citizens or even their elected representatives have legal standing.
Corporate trade deals jeopardize common policies deemed to be in the public interest, such as:
- Anti-offshoring policies designed to keep good jobs here;
- “Green” purchasing policies that protect the environment or reduce global warming;
- “Buy America” or “Buy Local” policies that help support local economies;
- Policies targeting poor human rights, labor or environmental practices of countries or companies, such as “Sweat Free” policies or those banning products made with child or slave labor;
- Pro-union, pro-public sector bidding policies, i.e, prevailing wages preferences and Project Labor Agreements that keep labor peace and bolster the local economy.
WTO service-sector trade rules threaten to undermine health care and higher education assistance. Under current WTO service-sector rules, state health care policies, such as universal health care and prescription drug reform, could be labeled as “barriers to trade” interfering with corporate profit. The higher education sector could be next!
Under NAFTA, corporations can sue the US government over democratically determined local, state or federal laws in closed tribunals. A three-person panel of professional arbitrators listens to the case outside of the US court system, and has the power to either force the state to change its laws, or provide an unlimited amount of taxpayer dollars in compensation to corporations whose NAFTA investor privileges and rights they judge to have been impacted.
Unfair trade rules undermine local control, zoning and land use policies. Wal-Mart and other big box stores have argued, often successfully, that these restrictions are violations of trade deals. This is a dangerous precedent for Iowa communities fighting for local control to combat Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and other threats to local land and culture.