After Seattle

John Wade

President Clinton talked a good game in Seattle about bringing environmental protection into US trade policy. But every time we turn around, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has taken another whack at environmental protection in the name of "free trade" for corporate polluters.

You've heard about how the USTR undercut our own clean air standards and sea turtle protections. You may also know about its attempt to negotiate the "free logging agreement" that would increase clear-cut logging around the world. But now it's come to light that last year the USTR threatened the European Union with a WTO complaint for trying to prevent the build-up of toxic waste from junked computers.

The Europeans wanted computer makers to take back and recycle used computers, but the American Electronics Association (AEA) objected.

The AEA has been fighting the idea of "extended product responsibility" for years on grounds that recycling would stifle the computer industry. The last thing they wanted was the Europeans adopting a high standard that eventually might be copied in America.

That's too bad. You see, in the next few years, Americans will dump millions of computers into landfills, polluting our land and water with a staggering 1.2 billion pounds of lead and other heavy metals. Think of the health effects on children in particular. No wonder the AEA is afraid that Americans would want to copy Europe's higher standard. European countries, especially Germany, now require extended liability for many items such as cars and refrigerators.

That's where "trade policy" comes in. Since AEA lobbyists get access to the USTR through closed-door, industry-only advisory committees, they were able to get the Clinton administration to take action in our name and mount a sneak attack against the proposed European standards long before Congress, the public, or the press got wind of what was going on.

Rep. George Miller is circulating a letter to the President By now it may have been delivered, but our reps need to be thanked or questioned as to whether they did or did not sign on. The requests contained in the letter are:

The Administration should drop its appeal of a court ruling that it must place environmental representatives on two trade advisory committees which deal with forest products and reconsider, in consultation with environmentalists, its current choices for environmental representatives, given the reaction they have generated.

Trade increasingly involves broad matters of public policy. Representatives from industry should not be the sole members of trade advisory committees. Environment, labor and consumer should be there, too.

Advisory Committee meetings should be open to the public. At this time, virtually all of the meetings are held in closed session and records are not uniformly available to the public.

The Administration should first notify the public before it challenges another country's health, labor or environmental standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency. should have a co-equal role with the USTR and the Council on Environmental Quality in developing regulations concerning environmental assessments of trade agreements.

 

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