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Bush Invokes Sovereignty Wrongly, Sacrifices It Recklessly
Published on Sunday, July 7, 2002 in the Madison Capital Times
Bush Invokes Sovereignty Wrongly, Sacrifices It Recklessly
by Margaret Krome
 

President Bush took a strong stand for U.S. sovereignty this week when he made the United States the sole country on the United Nations Security Council opposed to establishing an International Criminal Court. It was a regrettable application of the principle of sovereignty, but I can suggest a different and important place for him to apply it.

The United States conditioned its support for the International Criminal Court on American peacekeepers being exempt from prosecution, saying that U.S. citizens' legal protections weren't assured and our nation's sovereignty was undermined. Once again, Bush's policy isolates the United States, using our world dominance to force terms that defy even-handed and just applications of international law. Understandably, the 14 other Security Council members oppose such a U.S. exemption, saying that it would undermine the court's authority and international law.

However, I agree with Bush that sovereignty is an urgent and relevant question in a globalizing world. It's ironic that he has invoked it in this case, when he so actively promotes trade policies that would recklessly sacrifice fundamental powers of our federal, state and local governments.

Since the late 1990s, corporate-dominated trade negotiators of countries throughout the Western Hemisphere have been quietly negotiating a new free trade agreement. Called the Free Trade Area of the Americas, it aims to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement throughout the hemisphere and dangerously broaden its powers. The FTAA seeks ratification by member countries by 2005, but few people I've asked in the U.S. labor and environmental communities have even heard of this incredible and dangerous proposal.

NAFTA is bad enough. Its provisions already let corporations sue governments whose health, safety, environmental or other regulations are deemed a barrier to trade and deny them the "right" to make a profit. Thus, an American PCB waste disposal company has forced Canada to reverse its ban on PCB exports and won $50 million in damages for profits lost while the ban was in place. A Canadian company sued Boston because zoning ordinances restricted its right to site a building where it wanted. The list of companies suing for loss of markets, especially from health and environmental regulations and especially from American companies, is in the hundreds.

The FTAA would expand these provisions, opening all public services (including health, education, child care, libraries, sewer and water services - in fact everything except military and national security-related services) to competition from for-profit service corporations of countries within the FTAA. Incredibly, a multinational corporation could sue a local, state or national government if it could provide a service more cheaply than that government. Under new FTAA doctrines, the most basic government services become illegal trade barriers.

Thus the FTAA expands and elevates provisions of free trade to undermine the sovereignty of every participating nation. A nation that cannot implement its priorities and provide for the needs of its citizens has ceded its heart and soul. And for what higher purpose? To protect multinational corporations' right to make profits in the tremendous markets represented by government services. Given the huge implications of these issues, do you wonder who is their final arbiter? Special quasi-judicial trade tribunals out of reach of U.S. courts and citizen democracy.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas is an outrageous attack on our nation's sovereignty. Corporate free traders should hide their heads at proposing these shameful provisions. If President Bush is truly concerned about protecting our sovereign rights, he should recognize that this issue, far more than the International Criminal Court, threatens the heart of American democracy and self-governance. Instead of promoting the FTAA, a truly patriotic president would fight it tooth and nail.

Margaret Krome is a Madison resident and columnist for the Madison Capital Times.

Copyright 2002 The Capital Times

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