On July 3rd, we posted that two state bills in Maryland had seen interference from the People's Republic of China (PRC) before they had the opportunity to come to a vote, cited as "barriers to trade" in conflict with the U.S. commitments under the World Trade Organization (WTO). Since then, we have been updated on the developments of a similar case in Vermont and wanted to share.
State Senator Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden County) recently issued a statement on August 12th responding to the correspondence she received from the PRC regarding her bill on electronic waste. This letter from the Chinese Government also referenced U.S. commitments under the WTO as reason for asking Lyons to "cancel" or "revise" her bill. To which Sen. Lyons responds:
"The People's Republic of China questions the authority of the Vermont legislature to enact legislation to protect human life and the environment. This attempted interference by the People's Republic of China in the democratic process in Vermont is alarming and threatens basic principles of our system of government. Common sense solutions to health issues at the state and local level should not be subject to international pressure."
She stresses that, "This is part of a disturbing trend toward undermining states's rights. It's simply not OK for other governments to feel that they have a right to intervene in our state legislative process in this way. It wouldn't matter whether the bill addressed by the Chinese government was about health care, workers' benefits, land use permitting, or in this case, electronic waste recycling, the underlying principle is the same: respect for democratic decision-making. And so, we have to let folks in Washington DC and in Beijing know that this is an unacceptable intrusion."
This statement follows the unanimous passage of Sen. Lyons' resolution on this issue by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Labor and Economic Development Committee at their annual meeting in July. The resolution asks that, at minimum, USTR issue a statement to NCSL "affirming that states’ abilities to pass laws and regulations protecting human health and the environment should not be abridged, and that USTR will aggressively defend states’ regulatory powers as a matter of U.S. federalism."
The Forum on Democracy and Trade released a preliminary analysis of the allegations by the People's Republic of China claiming that Sen. Lyons' bill is inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). The analysis finds the following:
"The TBT Agreement, which states that "Members should ensure that technical regulations are not prepared, adopted or applied with a view to or with the effect of creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade." Under this strict "necessity test," trade values arguably trump other public policy values unless there is no conceivable alternative policy that is less burdensome on trade."
And states in conclusion:
"As illustrated by this event, other countries could and are beginning to use the trade system to apply pressure to state legislatures and to impact the state legislative process. Since trade promotion authority has expired, states see an opportunity to evaluate the process for providing input on trade issues and to improve federal-state communication. A new system for improving communication between states, USTR, and Congress should be a strong priority for the next Congress and President to ensure that our democratic system of government is protected."
We wholeheartedly agree with the Forum's conclusion and hope that state legislators will act on this opportunity to improve their role in the process. (If you are a state legislator and would like to get involved in a working group devoted to these issues, please email: email@example.com.)