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May 09, 2008

WTO gets all up in our safety

When will it stop? First, the WTO was used as an excuse to not pass a tough toy and product safety bill - now, it's been used to block Democratic legislation to have firms that export food and drugs to the U.S. market pay registration fees. According to Inside U.S. Trade, the Europeans are raising a fuss over new legislation by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.):

Dingell’s bill opens the door to the FDA accrediting a foreign government to certify the safety of its domestic food facilities, which is similar to the EU system. But it goes much further than EU law in terms of requirements and products covered. While the EU requires safety certification for only designated high risk foods, Dingell’s bill would require every food facility to be certified by either an accredited government or private certifier in order to avoid a 100 percent testing requirement and stringent port restrictions (Inside U.S. Trade, April 25).

On the new fees proposed in the draft bill, the [European Commission] questioned whether they complied with the U.S. WTO obligation that any fee charged should not be higher than the cost of services provided. Dingell’s draft would charge importers a $10,000 annual registration fee, as it would certified labs, and all food facilities would have to pay a $2,000 registration fee.

The commission acknowledged that the EU charges importers fees under EU Regulation 882/2004, but does not do it in the blanket way of the Dingell bill. Instead, fees are charged in proportion to the size of an import shipment, and different weight thresholds are charged at different rates. This mitigates the charges on small businesses, sources said. [emphasis added]

The WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) in Annex C, paragraph 1f states that any fees imposed on imported products should be equitable to fees charged on domestic like products and “should be no higher than the actual cost of the service.” GATT VIII, paragraph 1a, states that all fees “shall be limited in amount to the approximate cost of services rendered.”

I'll be doing a review of Jamie Galbraith's new book "The Predator State" sometime shortly, but he raises a good point in the book about the necessity of standard-setting in the fight against neoliberalism. The corporate ideologue's strategy in legislative battles like the one Dingell is involved in is to first fight the bill, then if that fails, ensure that no standard is set at all by carving out as many companies ("small" businesses, foreign companies) as possible, and then make the method of calculation practically impossible to administer. What are we left with once the carving is done? It's certainly not a standard in the historic consumer movement sense of the term.


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I have a better suggestion. Why don't we just withdraw from the WTO, and let our elected representatives in the US Congress determine our trade policies, instead of an unelected international organization composed of the world's richest Corporate elite?

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