NEXT FOR WTO/CHINA PROTESTERS: FIGHTING CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — Organizers behind this month’s massive protest in Seattle against the World Trade Organization said Tuesday they will direct their next campaign to block permanent Congressional approval of China joining the global trade body.
Leaders from organized labor and environmental and human rights groups, speaking at a news conference here, called their fight against grant-ing China permanent normal trade relations status “The Battle After Seattle.”
As they did after the WTO talks in Seattle fell apart, protest leaders argued that they have succeeded in steering the trade debate away from corporate global investment interests and toward worker rights and protecting the environment.
This shift, protesters said, will next be tested in the China Congressional debate, to begin when lawmakers reconvene in January. A vote is not expected until early next summer, but Congress needs to vote to continue China’s normal trade relations status if it is to join the WTO.
The business lobby, including retailers, wants that status to be granted on a permanent basis instead of an annual renewal, which activists are favoring as a means of monitoring China’s record on human rights and related issues.
“It doesn’t stop with the WTO,” said Eric Brakken, an organizer with the United Students Against Sweatshops, who spoke at the gathering in the National Press Club. “What we’re fighting against is the whole idea that profits come before people.”
The news conference was also attended by leaders from the Teamsters, AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers, Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth and the apparel union UNITE.
Ann Hoffman, legislative director of UNITE, said the broad anti-WTO coalition has created a collective momentum on trade issues.
“We think we are on a roll, and we will continue on a roll,” Hoffman said, adding UNITE members have started telephoning Congressional offices urging against a permanent grant of NTR status to China.
The anti-China camp cited China’s record of human rights and workplace abuses as a concern. They are targeting 100 Congressional districts in the campaign.
Supporters of China’s permanent trade status, which would lead to WTO membership, say it will mean the creation of thousands of U.S. jobs. They say global trade rules will also encourage reform in China.