Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
December 1999 / January 2000


Don’t Trade Away Our Environment: The World Trade Organization Does Matter To You 

Adapted from The Planet, September, 1999

To succeed in the global economy, America must trade with other nations. But instead of using these transactions to promote a higher standard of living and a healthy environment for all, the Clinton administration has been “trading away” America’s health and heritage.

The Administration has negotiated trade agreements that have weakened basic health and environmental safeguards in order to benefit a handful of giant corporations. Key agreements include the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It’s a Global Drama with Local Impacts. The consequences of these concessions have been felt at kitchen tables, in backyards, and on the job across America.

Children’s Health
NAFTA weakened food safety inspections at the border. In 1997 more than 300 Michigan schoolchildren were stricken with hepatitis A after eating strawberries imported from Mexico. Foods from Mexican fields that are routinely doused with illegal pesticides and irrigated with water tainted by human wastes are making their way into the United States. There’s a proposal to have WTO remove the right of countries to regulate bio-engineered crops, livestock or food. And one to require all nations to enact western style patenting laws for all plants and animals. They could then not protect their indigenous plants and animals from exploitation by transnational corporations.

Imported Pests
As trade grows, more and more exotic pests hitchhike into the country on imported goods. For example, the Asian long-horned beetle has already caused the destruction of thousands of maple trees in New York and Chicago. Its appetite is not confined to maple trees and once a tree is affected, the only recourse is to cut it down.

Wildlife/Biodiversity Protection
In April 1998 a dispute panel of the WTO ruled against a U.S. law that required all shrimp sold in America to be caught in nets equipped with turtle escape devices. Those devices could save almost all of the 150,000 sea turtles that drown in shrimp nets each year. But to comply with the trade ruling, the U.S. State Department weakened our regulations.

Pollution Standards
In recent years dozens of children have been born in McAllen, Texas, with crippling birth defects. In 1995 the children’s parents sued the U.S.-owned factories operating just across the border in Mexico and found a pattern of uncontrolled secret toxic dumping that threatens the health of millions living along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Consumer Rights
A recent study found that British Columbia’s forestry standards were weaker than those of neighboring Washington state in eight out of ten categories, including endangered species and stream-side protections. But the timber industry doesn’t want U.S. consumer preference to affect its foreign logging operations. Charging that eco-labeling of forest products and “green” procurement laws are illegal trade barriers, logging companies have lobbied furiously against legislation in New York City and Los Angeles that would limit wood purchases to sustainable products certified by independent, third-party certifiers. They propose a completely wide open policy globally on trade in forest products...threatening especially old growth worldwide.

Responsible Trade Not Free Trade
Under new international trade agreements U.S. environmental progress is in jeopardy as environmental and health laws are attacked as “trade barriers.”

Trade agreements should promote a higher quality of life for all, not an international race toward the bottom. To promote environmentally responsible trade, the Sierra Club advocates:

Scores of Coloradans will be joining tens of thousands to protest proposed actions of the WTO when it meets in Seattle on November 30. To find out more, to find out whom you can helpfully lobby, contact Dan Seligman, Sierra Club, at, or John Wade, RMC International Affairs Chair, at 303-399-2887.

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