Celebrating 10 Years of Global Trade Watch!

On February 7, 2006, we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW). While our dedication to fighting for democracy by challenging corporate globalization is constant, we would like to pause and reflect on where we have been, and where we are going.

GTW Director Lori Wallach speaking, with Congressman Sherrod Brown and United Steelworkers of America President Leo Gerard in the background

Global Trade Watch was founded in the aftermath of the legislative battles over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). At the time, the strength of the citizen campaign against NAFTA startled its corporate backers. Although Congress passed NAFTA in 1993 by 23 votes, the trade debate was changed forever: people in the U.S. joined those around the world organizing and speaking out against "trade" agreements that hurt their wages, destroyed their jobs and gutting their communities, undermined democracy, and threatened their health, environment, and food safety.

Public Citizen had launched full force efforts against the 1991 Fast Track extension, the NAFTA and the WTO. Public Citizen's founder Ralph Nader left the organization in 1981 to start up the many new groups he has since created, but when he warned us all in 1990 that these "trade" pacts were a "cancer on democracy," we got into gear. The editorial pages attacked us, many in Congress called us ugly names, some funders cut us off and many fellow activist groups thought we'd gone crazy.

Congressman Sherrod Brown, foreground; GTW Director Lori Wallach, background

We were undaunted. Public Citizen had come to realize that the good name of "trade" had been hijacked by a corporate Trojan-horse strategy, with "trade" pacts being used to wheel a backwards race-to-the-bottom agenda through Congress and over state and local governments: the same agenda that Public Citizen had fought for decades and the U.S. public and their elected representatives had rejected.

In 1995, fully recognizing the insidious rearguard attack these so-called "trade" agreements were posing to our values and to decades of hard-won gains of the labor, consumer, environmental and other public interest movements, Public Citizen made a new institutional commitment to the fight for global justice. We founded Global Trade Watch, under the leadership of Lori Wallach, to ensure we would remain effective in our goals of promoting democracy, accountable governance, economic justice, environmental protection, and public health and safety in the era of corporate globalization. Since then, on a small budget multiplied by enormous energy and passion, Global Trade Watch has developed a unique multi-issue, multi-faceted research, public education, press, international networking and U.S. grassroots capacity.

GTW Director Lori Wallach and USWA President Leo Gerard

Animating many facets of our work is the concept of the "public citizen" — a person who, once empowered with information and tools to affect change, makes being an activist part of her or his daily life. Thus, Global Trade Watch's best work is with coalitions and networks that maximize the diversity of people empowered to engage in this future-determining fight — and thus we are blessed with an incredibly diverse array of relationships built through common struggle. Global Trade Watch serves proudly on the board of the Citizens Trade Campaign, the nation trade coalition of labor, environmental, consumer, family farm, religious and other progressive groups representing 14 millions Americans, of which GTW was a founding member. Global Trade Watch is also a founding board member of the International Forum on Globalization and is an active participant in the global Our World Is Not for Sale network.

Global Trade Watch played leadership roles in the successful global campaign to bury the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), a "NAFTA on steroids for the world" and in the U.S. fight that stopped Fast Track extensions in Congress in 1997 and 1998. Proponents of economic justice and democracy were on the move, and the next stop was the World Trade Organization.

Mike Mathis, Director of Government Affairs for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters

In 1999, Public Citizen helped launch a global year-long "WTO: No New Round, Turnaround!" campaign and also released a groundbreaking book entitled, Whose Trade Organization? Corporate Globalization and the Erosion of Democracy (and we now have an updated version for sale). We also sent our field director to Seattle the day after the city was announced as the venue for a WTO summit. Intense local, national and international efforts by Global Trade Watch and thousands of activists here and abroad paid off big. Tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on Seattle to protest the WTO, attracting worldwide media attention to the fact that even here, in the "belly of the beast," the corporate globalization agenda being pushed by U.S.-based multinational corporations and by the U.S. government was passionately opposed by the majority of U.S. people. The Ministerial, pressured from without and from within as representatives from developing countries refused to agree to harmful concessions, collapsed.

But the fight for fair trade was far from over. Over the next five years the Bush administration and their corporate backers tried relentlessly to expand NAFTA to all of Latin America. Working with its hemispheric partners, Global Trade Watch helped to ensure that the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is sidelined in a deep coma.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett with Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

What's more, we have been honored to work with state and local legislators and other officials as they have become a powerful voice in speaking out in earnest against the unacceptable attack of these so-called traded agreements on the most basic tenet of U.S. democracy — federalism and the separation of powers. These state and local officials have become empowered to fight against "trade" policy's encroachment on their authority and responsibility to create public interest policies upon which we all rely.

Despite hard efforts by many, the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) passed in 2005. Yet this setback also showed how far the movement has come. After losing the debate on CAFTA's merits months before the vote, passing this economically modest deal (all the involved countries' GNP annually is smaller than that of San Diego) by just one vote — almost two years after it was signed — required the first personal visit by President Bush to the Capitol in two years, last-minute procedural stunts, threats to "break arms into a thousand pieces," billions in pork-barrel GOP treats and goodies — and putting a sizeable list of Congresspeople in risk of losing their re-elections in 2006.

GTW Deputy Director Chris Slevin

Think about it — NAFTA, an agreement with seismic economic implications, passed Congress with a comfortable margin in 1993. But a decade of monitoring and publicizing NAFTA's devastating outcomes to most people in all three countries — work Global Trade Watch has been proud to provide to campaigners worldwide — de-legitimized the NAFTA model, and it is now being rejected by many countries, such as a bloc in Africa.

Yet, despite being served up a steaming dish of political pain, thanks to millions of folks like you, the Bush administration just won't stop in its endless search for "coalition of the willing" governments to poison their populations with a dose of NAFTA. The latest battle is called AFTA, the Andean Free Trade Agreement. Happily, at least one of the target countries, Bolivia, has said "Basta!" and left the talks. That leaves U.S. client governments in Peru and Colombia ready to thrown their public under the NAFTA train. Which is to say that we all still have plenty to do to make sure the NAFTA model gets boxed and buried for good.

Meanwhile, the NAFTA-boosters opened a second front — a push to expand the WTO to get the extreme provisions of NAFTA imposed worldwide using WTO talks. The first foray was at Seattle, and then the same agenda was recycled and renamed and rejected again at the 2003 Cancún WTO ministerial. This year will be the deciding one in this WTO expansion battle — which like some B-grade horror movie monster that just keeps coming back after being killed over and over. While some of the most disgusting aspects of the NAFTA model have been removed from the WTO agenda, the fact is that the remaining WTO expansion agenda poses an enormous threat — one on which we all need to focus our energies this year.

Changing a status quo created, marketed and protected by extremely powerful interests is not an easy task. We here at Global Trade Watch have always believed that with dedication and hard work, another world is possible, a world where the values, aspirations and needs of the majority determines policy — local, national and global.

GTW Harmonization Project Director Mary Bottari and Congressman Sherrod Brown

Part of getting to that better world is making sure that "trade" agreements are pruned back to their rightful place — trade policy — and not allowed to impose some quiet, sneaky, slow motion coup de etat against democracy and our other basic human rights. The defenders of this failed NAFTA-WTO status quo say TINA — there is no alternative. We say TATA — there are thousands of alternatives. We know what we are for, now we need to build the power to put our values into effect. It took years for the interests who put NAFTA and WTO into place to cook up their plans and implement them. We are well on our way to taking back our rights and creating that better world.

It has been an honor working with you this past decade-plus. We're being respectful, but not gushy in saying so. So, let's dig in one and all! It is only by redoubling our efforts and multiplying our forces that we can deliver on the special solidarity that we, as U.S. activists, owe our brothers and sisters around the world in the common struggle for global justice.

We look ahead to the next ten years, we see endless opportunities. We hope you do too, and that you will continue to work with us to build a better world.

The Global Trade Watch Team

Please take a moment to write to us and let us know if there are any trade issues you think we should focus our attention on — in the immediate future or over the next decade of our work!

January 16, 2019

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