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TABD: Cincinnati Protestors Shine Spotlight on Influential CEO Group

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  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://www.egroups.com/group/smygo November 29, 2000 San Francisco Bay Guardian Invisible government Cincinnati protesters
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 3, 2000
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      News for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://www.egroups.com/group/smygo

      November 29, 2000

      San Francisco Bay Guardian

      Invisible government

      Cincinnati protesters shine spotlight on influential CEO
      group.

      By Daniel Zoll

      IT'S GETTING SO you can't even organize a meeting of global
      power brokers anymore without calling in the National Guard.
      A year after historic protests derailed the World Trade
      Organization talks in Seattle, followed by actions in
      Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Prague,
      demonstrators descended on Cincinnati Nov. 16 to expose an
      obscure but influential CEO group called the TransAtlantic
      Business Dialogue.

      Fifty-three activists were arrested at the Cincinnati
      protests, during three days of mostly peaceful rallies,
      teach-ins, and marches that attracted more than 1,000
      people. Why target the TABD? In the words of one of its
      boosters, deputy treasury secretary Stuart Eizenstat, "The
      TABD has become deeply enmeshed and embedded into the U.S.
      government decision-making process on a whole range of
      regulatory, trade, and commercial issues. The TABD has had a
      truly remarkable impact in our country."

      The trouble, critics say, is that the group's "remarkable
      impact" comes at the expense of health, environmental, and
      consumer protection, not to mention the democratic process.

      About 130 corporate chieftains from Europe and the United
      States, representing multinationals such as America Online,
      Bayer, and United Technologies, gathered in Cincinnati's
      Omni Netherland Hotel for the three-day meeting. Topping the
      list of the TABD's Cincinnati recommendations is a policy it
      calls "approved once, accepted everywhere." In other words,
      the TABD wants uniform procedures for product approvals.
      This process, which it refers to as "harmonization," sounds
      harmless enough, but the details are troubling. When
      countries have conflicting regulations and standards,
      critics say, the TABD typically lobbies to push the more
      stringent standards downward.

      "Their so-called harmonization goal is to gut the best laws
      in Europe and the U.S. and replace them with the worst laws
      in Europe and the U.S.," said Ed Mierzwinski of the U.S.
      Public Interest Research Group. "Whether it's
      privacy-in-banking laws or tire-safety standards or
      food-safety standards, their goal is to harmonize at the
      floor rather than at the ceiling of existing laws. And
      that's a serious problem."

      According to the TABD's 2000 Mid-Year Report, the group is
      seeking uniformity in dozens of areas, including drugs,
      medical devices, auto safety, aviation safety, biotechnology
      and genetically modified foods, cosmetics, cellular phones,
      dietary supplements, and chemicals.

      Mary Bottari of Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen's
      Global Trade Watch says the TABD's goals are nicely summed
      up in one sentence in TABD's midyear report: "The new
      obstacles to trade are now domestic regulations."

      These domestic regulations, Bottari says, are "exactly the
      consumer protections, the environmental protections, and the
      animal-welfare protections that we've all been fighting for
      for years. Those are the 'barriers to trade' that TABD wants
      to take out."

      One way the TABD is targeting domestic regulations is by
      aggressively pushing a new round of WTO trade talks and an
      expansion of the trade organization's already sweeping
      authority.

      The TABD has even figured out how to fend off regulations
      before they see the light of day. The group has convinced
      the United States and the European Union to adopt what it
      calls an "early warning" system, which alerts corporations
      to regulations that may be "barriers to trade." Domestic
      regulations on the TABD early-warning hit list include a
      European computer waste recycling law, another E.U. measure
      regulating animal testing of cosmetics, an Italian ban on
      genetically modified organisms, and U.S. cell-phone
      radiation standards.

      TABD deputy director Jeffrey Werner denies that his group
      favors the lowest common denominator when it comes to
      consumer and environmental protections. "We just encourage
      wherever possible to work internationally and
      supranationally to try to avoid the complications you have
      in a globalized world," he said. "People who are involved in
      business know that the minute you start alienating consumers
      is the minute you go out of business."

      Werner downplayed the influence of the TABD, saying that it
      is just one of four forums created by the United States and
      the European Union to coordinate transatlantic issues. The
      other three "dialogues" – dealing with consumer,
      environment, and small-business issues – all have the same
      level of access to policy makers, he said.

      But USPIRG's Mierzwinski, also a member of the TransAtlantic
      Consumer Dialogue, says it is absurd for the TABD to equate
      its influence with that of the other TransAtlantic groups.
      For one thing, while luminaries such as U.S. vice president
      Al Gore and E.U. trade commissioner Pascal Lamy regularly
      attend TABD conferences, the governments send midlevel
      bureaucrats to address the consumer group. The most glaring
      evidence of disparity, however, is that the Clinton
      administration has essentially adopted the TABD's agenda of
      liberalization, privatization, and deregulation as its own
      trade policy. None of the other groups can say that.

      Gore confirmed as much when addressing the TABD in November
      1998. "I know that you are proud of the fact that of the 129
      recommendations TABD has made in the past three years, over
      50 percent have been implemented into law," he said.

      The vice president wasn't exaggerating. The TABD is so
      confident in its position that it even sets deadlines for
      government compliance. For example, on the subject of
      outstanding WTO disputes between the United States and the
      European Union, the TABD urges the governments to come to a
      solution "no later than the TABD conference in Cincinnati."
      This could be dismissed as mere grandstanding if the
      governments didn't often meet such deadlines.

      Below the radar

      The TABD is more effective, and insidious, than other
      corporate trade groups, critics say, because it was actually
      initiated by corporate allies within government. It was
      launched in 1995 at the suggestion of then-U.S. commerce
      secretary Ron Brown and E.U. trade commissioner Leon Brittan
      as a way to speed up transatlantic trade liberalization.

      Part of the TABD's strategy seems to be to operate below the
      radar. The elusive group has no permanent office; operations
      are headquartered at a different corporation each year. In
      fact, officials say, it is not really an organization at all
      but an "informal process."

      Here's how the process works: The dialogue consists of more
      than 40 issue groups covering different sectors, such as
      medical devices and telecommunication services, and topics,
      such as customs regulations, climate change, and
      intellectual property. Each issue group, led by two business
      executives, one from the United States and one from the
      European Union, makes joint trade recommendations and tracks
      their implementation. The TABD officially presents its
      demands or "deliverables" to government officials at
      E.U.-U.S. summits, held twice a year.

      The TABD quietly pursues its agenda in several ways. One of
      these is shaping free-trade treaties and aggressively
      pushing the expansion of the WTO. Another, lower-profile
      tactic is to promote "mutual recognition agreements." Under
      these reciprocal deals, one nation agrees to recognize
      another nation's safety inspection and approval system in
      sectors such as medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and
      telecommunications. Critics say this is a backdoor way to
      relax standards: for example, the fine print of the
      agreement on medical devices, which has not yet been fully
      implemented, calls for farming out quality inspections to
      private third parties hired by the manufacturers, rather
      than federal regulators.

      The TABD also is out to bar governments from applying a
      principle that serves as the basis for many public-health
      and environmental regulations, particularly in Europe. Known
      as the "precautionary principle," it holds that when an
      activity or substance raises potential threats to human
      health or the environment, government should step in and
      regulate. When there is scientific uncertainty, the industry
      – not the public – should bear the burden of proof. In other
      words, better safe than sorry.

      That's the approach many European countries are taking on
      the genetically modified food issue, which is why TABD
      members and biotech giants such as Monsanto and Unilever are
      so keen on killing the precautionary principle. Monsanto and
      its allies favor foisting unproved technologies on the
      public, arguing that regulations should wait until they can
      be based on "sound science." In a related case, the TABD is
      trying to stifle an E.U. proposal, based on the
      precautionary principle, to regulate pharmaceuticals
      containing beef-derived ingredients that could carry traces
      of mad cow disease.

      On behalf of its members in the electronics industry, the
      TABD is trying to eliminate a new E.U. initiative aimed at
      reducing computer trash. The increase in the use of PCs and
      other high-tech equipment in recent years has created a huge
      increase in hazardous waste. Electronic trash contains many
      dangerous substances, such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. To
      address this, the European Union drafted the Directive on
      Computer Waste, a law that would require electronic
      equipment manufacturers to replace those toxic heavy metals
      with less harmful substances by 2008. The directive also
      would require manufacturers to begin retrieving and
      recycling old electronic equipment by 2006. The TABD and its
      high-tech industry members have mobilized to kill the
      proposal and have already succeeded in watering it down
      significantly.

      Also on the TABD's early-warning list is the European
      Union's decision to speed up the phaseout of ozone-depleting
      hydrochlorofluorocarbons, which contribute to global
      warming. The United States is supporting the TABD's attempts
      to stifle the European Union's efforts, which it calls a
      "trade barrier."

      Though many of the environmental and consumer laws under
      attack are European, hundreds of U.S. laws are also in
      danger of being softened. For example, the TABD considers
      the entire U.S. product-liability system to be a "serious
      impediment" to global trade.

      Sister Alice Gerdeman of the Cincinnati-based Coalition for
      a Humane Economy says it is this blurring of the lines
      between corporations and government that motivated her group
      to organize teach-ins, rallies, and demonstrations at the
      TABD CEO conference last week.

      "We are very concerned about limiting the power to make
      decisions about the economy to a very small group of people,
      people who have a lot of economic clout," Gerdeman said. "We
      don't have a problem with them having a voice; we just don't
      think their voice should be more powerful than any other
      group."

      E-mail Daniel Zoll at dzoll@...

      --
      ---------------------------------------------------
      Dan Clore

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