Eyes on Trade
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch blog on globalization and trade
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Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch prepared this Voting Index to provide Americans with easy access to the voting record of their Members of the House of Representatives on key international trade and economic globalization issues. This Voting Index is the first of its kind to focus exclusively on international trade and corporate economic globalization issues.
There have been six important international trade and corporate economic globalization votes in the past five years. The most important of these were the November 1993 vote on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
Each of the votes on this chart engendered national political debates on which citizens' organizations, such as consumer, labor, environmental, Perot, religious and family farm groups, were on one side and multinational corporations, business associations such as the Chamber of Commerce, and major financial institutions were on the other.
The high-level public relations and lobbying campaigns that multinational corporations undertook in support of these votes obtained a significant amount of press coverage. Published reports and news articles commented on the extraordinary extent to which the business supporters of these votes used campaign contributions, paid advertising, grants to think tanks, environmental groups and academics, lobbying contracts with prominent individuals, hundreds of high-priced Washington lobbyists and public relations specialists, countless glossy fact sheets, reports, pamphlets, videos and briefing books and many other devices to push the legislation through Congress. The combined cost of the corporate campaigns in support of the votes contained in this Index totals nearly $200 million.
On the other side of these votes was a diverse alliance of U.S. citizens' organizations. For instance, every environmental and labor group as well as major consumer, family farm, religious and civil rights organizations were unified in opposition to GATT. Almost all of the same groups also fought together against NAFTA. A few organizations, such as the National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund, joined the corporate side in support of NAFTA.
The news reporting and national debate around NAFTA first raised U.S. public awareness to the fact that today's trade agreements were no longer only about tariffs and quotas. The rules set forth in these agreements would greatly affect corporate decisions about how and where they would conduct their operations. Thus, these trade agreements have direct effects on American jobs, wages, health and safety, the environment and the democratic process itself.
The corporate proponents of NAFTA and GATT argued that the pacts would provide broad benefits. Citizen group opponents argued that removing governmental rules shaping corporate behavior would promote a "race to the bottom" in wages and environmental conditions. At the time of the NAFTA and GATT votes, public opinion polling showed that a majority of American shared these concerns and opposed the pacts. Despite this, the U.S. Congress approved both NAFTA and GATT under a highly restrictive voting procedure called fast track which forbids amendments and allows only limited debate.
The vote on NAFTA was close in the House of Representatives, passing with a margin of 18 votes in the 435-member House. A year later, growing public opposition to the powerful new World Trade Organization (WTO) that would be established by approval of GATT forced a delay of the GATT vote. Though originally scheduled to occur before the 1994 mid-term elections, the first lame duck session of Congress in 14 years was ultimately called to pass GATT. This momentous decision was made by many Representatives and Senators who had retired or had been voted out of office.
Such extraordinary actions were repeated in other nations. For instance, in Spain, public opposition had kept the GATT vote off the parliamentary agenda. However, on Christmas Eve, without public notice, a rump parliament session approved the deal in the dead of night. In India, powerful public opposition forced the Parliament to eliminate certain GATT provisions. The Indian Prime Minister tried to reinstate the deleted terms by executive decree!
Opponents of NAFTA and GATT argue that these actions were betrayals of democracy that were necessary to push the corporate economic globalization agenda because its terms, as polling data shows, are patently unacceptable to a majority of people in every country once they are understood. Proponents of the deals argue that the public does not understand the broad benefits of these pacts.
This vote chart is another step in an international citizens' campaign to shine sunlight on these deals so people can come to their own informed conclusions. Proponents of NAFTA and GATT want to expand the agreements further. There are growing movements today in many countries to replace NAFTA and GATT with alternatives that promote more local democratic control, environmental and social responsibility and diverse, healthy economies.
The best way to judge the merits of these agreements is to study their real life effects. The time for both sides' promises and predictions about the pacts has ended, as the real life outcomes are becoming apparent.
Given NAFTA's greater time in operation, there is a wealth of evidence that its real life results have included job losses, downward wage pressure and further damage to the border environment and public health. In Mexico, the public has also found NAFTA to be a negative experience. A poll conducted in June of this year by a Mexican newspaper found that 67% of the Mexican public believes that there has been little or no success with NAFTA. Another poll found that 66% of Mexicans believe they have been hurt by NAFTA.
Meanwhile, the evidence is building on the effects of the new World Trade Organization created by the GATT Uruguay Round. The WTO's very first ruling was against a U.S. Clean Air Act rule. In its tone and conclusion, the WTO made real the concerns of its opponents regarding the ability of that body to weaken environmental and health protections and to undermine democratically achieved laws. After losing its internal WTO appeal, the U.S. was faced with the no-win situation of either paying $150 million in annual sanctions to maintain our stronger clean air rule or changing the law. The U.S. announced in June that it would change the rule.
As well, in the name of avoiding a threatened WTO challenge by Mexico against the most successful U.S. law protecting dolphins, the Clinton Administration along with the Republican leadership is now pushing for a preemptive evisceration of the long-standing Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Meanwhile, nations that export to the United States have identified a number of key consumer and environmental laws as violations of WTO. Laws these nations have targeted as "trade barriers" include the Pelly Amendment (which forbids drift net fishing), the Nutritional Labeling Education Act and California's Safe Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Meanwhile, chemical manufacturers have claimed that a planned U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ban on all products containing residues of a carcinogenic fungicide called Folpet violates GATT and NAFTA trade rules.
Opponents of corporate economic globalization oppose a "race to the bottom" in environmental and labor standards. For example, efforts to pass tougher environmental laws in California, raise wages in a factory in Ohio or reduce emissions at a plant in New York can be stymied by a threat to move to a more "hospitable climate." As the debate on whether China should be granted special trade privileges highlighted, a more "hospitable climate" can mean $2 per day wages, the suppression of labor organizations by the People's Liberation Army and massive human rights violations and prison labor. Such threats are extremely powerful. Communities already devastated by plant closures and a declining manufacturing base know all too well that threats of this sort are often carried out.
Yet NAFTA, GATT and corporate economic globalization are only one version of how to organize our economic, political and legal international relationships. This version is but one choice. The business interests benefitting from the set of rules put in place by NAFTA and GATT have made a great effort to convince people that their way is inevitable or, alternatively, that the outcomes are acceptable. Neither is true. In addition, any criticism of corporate economic globalization is characterized as either xenophobic or an attack on all international contacts from travel to cultural exchanges. Such a charge is particularly ironic given that the citizens' opposition to corporate economic globalization is an international network of academics, activists, and economists.
In the United States, a growing grassroots movement has formed in opposition to the effects of corporate economic globalization. No other cause has united such seemingly disparate groups. In the United States, the Citizens Trade Campaign--of which Public Citizen is a member--unites environmental, labor, consumer, family farm, religious, animal protection and food safety organizations fighting for alternatives to NAFTA, GATT and their detrimental effects. To find the local chapter of the Citizens Trade Campaign near you, contact their Washington office at (202) 879-4298.
Important Caveats About This Vote Chart
This index is not a perfect gauge of a Representative's record on international trade issues. It does not distinguish between Members who simply voted for or against a bad trade bill and those who took a leadership role in promoting or opposing a trade bill. In calculating Representatives' scores, the NAFTA and GATT votes were weighted three times more than the other trade votes.
This vote index indicates with a star the Representatives who have cosponsored an innovative piece of legislation called the "NAFTA Accountability Act," which would apply a "do no further harm" test to NAFTA's real life outcomes and require renegotiation or withdrawal if conditions are not at least as good as before NAFTA.