|The World Trade Organization ruled Wednesday that US restrictions on overseas-based Internet gambling operations violate ‘Free’ Trade laws.
The ruling has huge repurcussions, and the Bush administration vowed an immediate appeal. The reaction from the US was hysterical, in both meanings of the word. “It’s appalling,” said Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican. “It cannot be allowed to stand that another nation can impose its values on the U.S. and make it a trade issue.”
If course, imposing US and Western values on other nations is precisely what ‘free’ trade does. And the whole principle of the ‘free’ trade deals brokered by corporatist interests behind closed doors is to subvert and subordinate national laws to the ‘broader’ interests of international trade (read: the interests of multinational corporations and the governments they finance). Under such agreements domestic social and environmental laws can be overturned as a ‘restriction on trade’, to the extent they exceed the lowest standards in any of the signatory countries to the agreement. Social laws include not only labour laws, but any laws that impede the unregulated flow of goods and services across borders, including anti-gambling laws.
In principle, therefore, the US hasn’t got a leg to stand on. But in law, of course, money buys the best lawyers and allows rich murderers and criminals to go free, while the poor, even if innocent and in the right, usually lose. And if money doesn’t buy off the WTO, the US has already signaled that it will consider itself above the law, and ignore it. Several members of Congress said they would rather have an international trade war or withdraw from future rounds of the World Trade Organization than have American social policy dictated from abroad.
The Bush regime, which has promised its corporatist backers to pursue ‘free’ trade, cannot break its old unilateralist habits when things don’t go its way. Bush has yet to learn that ‘my way or the highway’ is not a negotiation strategy. “The U.S. says it wants open competition,” said Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua’s foreign affairs representative. “But it only wants free trade when it suits the U.S.”
The unresolved question is whether international Internet service businesses can be regulated at all. But that’s a ‘World of Ends‘ issue. Right now, to the American trade imperialists and anti-gambling lobbies, it’s an ‘End of the World’ issue. Expect much moaning and wringing of hands.
March 26, 2004
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