THE WTO AN D PUBLI C HEALT H
Staff at St Bartholomew's hospital, London, hear news of its closure. WTO-sanctioned health service 'reforms' will lead to many more such shut-downs, in the interests of efficiency
Competition Policy is about, is that parliaments, whatever legislation is under consideration, will have to issue regulations that are "adequate" and "impartial" towards business interests. The TABD further recommends that, with the Millennium Round, the Dispute Settlement Body of the WTO be strengthened. "Compensation is not enough," he declares. "The Dispute Settlement Body must insist on Members conforming to WTO rules." Clearly, this means that when a WTO panel ruling condemns the European prohibition of American beef treated with hormones, the raising of barriers by the US on European exports by US$ 114 million is not enough. Next time the EU refuses to import an American product of this sort, it must quite simply be made to open its market without any further delay and impose it on the people living within the Community, whether they like it or not.
Resistanc e i s Vita l However, in Europe, people are no more willing to hand over the protection of their health to the uncaring forces of the market than they are to be force-fed with hormone-treated meat. This suggests that at Seattle the corporations and their allies will not have it all their own way, nor are they likely to meet with less opposition from Third World NGOs, and perhaps even from some official delegates. The economic globalisation that has already occurred under the auspices of the WTO is impoverishing and rendering destitute hundreds of millions of people, especially in the Third World. With this assault on public health, corporations are simply going too far, and no efforts must be spared to prevent them from going any further. Their attempts to commodify, privatise and globalise the world's health-care must be exposed, and stopped.
Agnes Bertrand is founder of The Observatoire de la Mondialisation, the main NGO in France fighting the global economy. Laurence Kalafatides is a researcher and member of the Institute for Economie Relocalisation, Gard, France.
References: 1. The negotiators signed the Final Act: concluding the Uruguay Round of GATT and
establishing the WTO in Geneva in December 1993. 2. Even before the Multilateral Agreement on Investment negotiated at the OECD was
officially declared dead (December 3, 1998), French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin had declared that the WTO was a better forum for an agreement on investment.
U S Fight s Rearguar d Actio n t o Protec t 'Biopiracy' .
by Paul Kingsnorth A recent report in the Washington Trade Daily revealed that the US government and its corporate allies are keen to keep TRIPS - Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights - off the agenda at the Seattle WTO meeting next month. The US is worried that objections from 'developing' countries might stall attempts by Western corporations to extract and patent life forms from the South.
The report quoted "a senior US trade official" expressing concern that, if TRIPS were to be negotiated again in Seattle, objections from the South could lead to "backsliding" from the original agreement, which was intended, in a groundbreaking move, to massively extend the patenting of biological resources by corporations.
TRIPS was negotiated during the Uruguay Round - the talks which led to the setting-up of the WTO in 1995. Its regulations - tying all WTO nations to a US-style patent regime which allows a company to patent "discoveries" (including plants and even human cell-lines) - came into force for industrialised nations in 1995. But some 'developing' countries, who negotiated a "phasing-in" of the TRIPS agreement, will not have to comply with it until next year, or, in some cases, 2002.
Growing concern - particularly in the South - about the implications of TRIPS, which accords local populations no rights over the biological resources they may have been utilising for generations, has led, according to the quoted official, to several Southern governments calling for a renegotiation of the treaty, and a longer phase-in period. Some nations are also suggesting that TRIPS should be rewritten to take other international agreements - such as the 1992 Biodiversity Convention - into account, and to safeguard indigenous knowledge and resources.
The US is desperate for TRIPS to remain untouched. Its corporations are already making rich pickings from 'biopiracy' in the South, and are deeply unhappy at the suggestion that local communities be given a say in who controls the 'Green Gold' of their biological resources. So the US stance at Seattle will be to block, if possible, any renegotiation of TRIPS. They will complain that the WTO TRIPS Council already "has much work to do without new duties", and insist that any delay in implementing TRIPS would be a setback for the development of "international patent and copyright protection".
3. Stated by Robert Vastine, President of the Coalition of Service Industries, Oral
Testimony before the Interagency Trade Policy Staff Commitee, May 19th 1999. 4. On April 15 in Marrakech, Prime Ministers or Trade Ministers of GATT member
countries officially signed "The Final Act establishing the World Trade Organisation". By the end of that year ratification had been rushed through the national parliaments of member countries which constitution required it. which is not the case of the United Kingdom. 5. It is interesting to note that the health department of Axa is headed by Francois
Hercereau, former director of the Securite Sociale. 6. Le Monde, August 1999. 7. For readers who wish to enquire further on these lobbies, their web-sites are: CSI:
www.uscsi.org/, TABD : www.tabd.org, ESN: www.globalservicesnetwork.com 8. "Services 2000 : innovative approaches to services trade liberalisation", J R.
Vastine. USCI, 13 May 1999, Tokyo. 9. In scheduled sectors this suggests that subsidies and any similar economic benefits
conferred on one group would be subject to the national treatment obligation under Article XVII : In Council of Trade in World Trade Organisation RESTRICTED, S/C/W/50, 18 September (98-3558) Council for Trade in Services.In towards a Successful WTO Ministerial Meeting TABD, mid year report. May 1999.
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 6, October 1999 "No-one Ever Died
From Dioxin" The Dioxin Problem in Britain The recent Belgian food scare brought dioxins into sharp focus. Thanks to the chemical industries and incineration, few places are free of these dangerous chemicals, which have been accumulating in nature, in foodstuffs and even in the human body, for decades. In this special focus, three specialist writers explain different aspects of the dioxin problem.
By Ralph Ryder
Once again, the most notorious by-product of chlorine chemistry, dioxin, is making headlines around the world. The discovery of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) and dioxin-contaminated food products in Belgium earlier this year (see box on page 371) resulted in a number of EU countries imposing restrictions on that country's farm produce. Countries outside the EU, including Russia, Hong Kong and Israel, imposed bans on Belgian farm produce, while the USA banned all farm produce from the EU.
Despite the best efforts of politicians and the chlorine and incinerator industries to play down the dangers from dioxin and dioxin-like substances,* research has shown that minuscule amounts of this unwanted by-product pose a very real threat to human health.
Wha t ar e Dioxins ? During the 1930s and 40s, chemists discovered that attaching chlorine atoms onto petroleum hydrocarbons produced a vast array of 'chlorinated hydrocarbons'. These gave rise to many of today's pesticides, solvents, plastics, oils etc., most of which contain dioxins. 'Dioxin' is the name given to a group of unwanted chemical by-products of this process, (the most potent being 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin [TCDD]), that are produced whenever chlorinated hydrocarbons are processed or burned in an incinerator. Dioxins are extremely persistent and bio-accumulative in the environment and lodge in the fatty tissues in our bodies. Dioxin-containing substances surround us every day, in food containers, plastic products, and oil-and-solvent-based fluids.
taminated produce of Belgium?
The reason is that, despite the best efforts of politicians and the chlorine and incinerator industries to play down the dangers from dioxin and dioxin-like substances,* research has shown that minuscule amounts of this unwanted by-product pose a very real threat to human health, particularly that of the developing foetus and the breast-fed child. While it is true that chloracne is the most obvious external symptom of high dioxin exposure, dioxin is now acknowledged as being a highly potent carcinogen and disrupter of the reproductive and endocrine (immune) systems in wildlife and humans.
A Histor y o f Poisonin g There have been two previous dioxin food contamination incidents very similar to that in Belgium today. One in Yusho, Japan, in 1968 saw a serious mass intoxication of 1,700 people after they had consumed rice contaminated with PCBs from a leaking oil coil. Heating (by cooking) of the contaminated oil produced high levels of dioxin, and about 20 people died as a result. Other symptoms included chloracne, melanosis, oedema
Dioxins are extremely persistent and bioaccumulative in the environment and lodge in the fatty tissues in our bodies. Dioxincontaining substances surround us every day, in food containers, plastic products, and oil - and solvent-based fluids.
Dioxin s an d Huma n Healt h Industry and advocates of industrial waste incineration (the main way that dioxins - from the burning of waste, plastics and oils - are released into the environment) have argued for decades that dioxin does not pose a major health threat, claiming consistently that "no one has ever died from dioxin." Its chief impact is simply chloracne, say these apologists - an "unsightly skin complaint". But i f this is really true, why did so many countries take such drastic action against the dioxin-con-
*The term 'dioxin' is used to connote the group of 210 similar substances, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans. Certain types of polychlorbiphenyls (PCBs) have similar biological effects and are included among dioxin-like substances.
of the eyes, swelling and stiffening of the limbs, headaches and hearing difficulties.1
Children subsequently born to exposed parents had malformations of various kinds. They were undersized with small heads and brown, hyperpigmented skin (they were dubbed 'cola babies'). They had abnormally shaped tooth roots and altered eruption of permanent teeth. They grew and developed slowly, had learning difficulties and emotional and pulmonary (lung) problems. Long-term studies identified a high incidence of malignant neoplasms (primarily liver as well as lung, trachea and bronchus). There were significantly increased liver cancer and lung cancer and a slight increase in diabetes, heart disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.23
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 6, October 1999