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About Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

Global Trade Watch's mission is to ensure that in this era of globalization, a majority have the opportunity to enjoy economic security, a clean environment, safe food, medicines and products, access to quality affordable services such as health care and the exercise of democratic decision-making about the matters that affect their lives.

Who Are We?

Visit Global Trade Watch's Staff Bios. Interested in working with us? Apply now for spring, summer or fall internships!

What Is Global Trade Watch?

Global Trade Watch (GTW) is a division of Public Citizen, the national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971. Public Citizen has over 225,000 due-paying members mainly in the United States. Global Trade Watch was created in 1995 to promote government and corporate accountability in the globalization and trade arena. Public Citizen did not get into “trade.” Rather, we recognized early on that the interests we had long battled domestically in promoting our agenda of democratically accountable governance, economic justice, public health and environmental wellbeing were advocating for new international institutions where decisions could be made behind closed doors and without the participation of those who would live with the results. We learned how “trade” pacts such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) impose expansive constraints on federal, state and local governments with respect to many non-trade policies, from food and product safety to financial regulation to local development and access to essential services to climate change and the environment and more. The pacts also establish new rights for foreign investors to operate under deregulated terms in financial services, natural resource extraction, and other sensitive sectors. Effectively, these "trade" agreements shift an ever-increasing number of issues away from local decision-making bodies and into inaccessible foreign venues where few citizens or elected officials can follow. Thus, merely to remain effective in achieving our goals, Public Citizen had to design strategies to effectively engage in this new context.

Having built unique substantive capacity and diverse contacts with other public interest organizations, the press and policymakers, GTW's work makes Public Citizen one of the few U.S. progressive organizations focused full-time on globalization issues. Our work seeks to make the measurable outcomes of this model accessible to the public, press and policy-makers, while emphasizing that if the results are not acceptable, then the model can and must be changed or replaced. We have become a leader in promoting a public interest perspective on an array of globalization issues, including implications for our jobs and wages; food, health and safety; environmental protection, economic justice, and democratic, accountable governance. GTW has a proven ability to make complicated, seemingly arcane, intractable issues accessible and relevant to the press, policymakers, and the public – building bottom-up pressure for change. GTW has a record of designing strategies and campaigns that operate on the local, state, national and international levels to affect the outcomes of policymaking.

Representatives of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch division serve on the Executive Board of the Citizens Trade Campaign, a coalition of labor, environmental, religious, family farm and consumer organizations united in the pursuit of socially and environmentally just trade policy.

GTW also represents Public Citizen as a member of the Our World Is Not For Sale (OWINFS), a network of organizations, activists and social movements worldwide fighting against the current model of corporate globalization embodied in global trading systems. OWINFS is committed to a sustainable, socially just, democratic and accountable multilateral trading system.

How Does GTW Affect Public Policy?

GTW combines substantive and analytical capacity with extensive grassroots, press, and policymaker relationships to develop public policy debates on vital trade and globalization issues. We design multifaceted national and international campaigns that focus on the current mechanisms of globalization, such as the WTO, its General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and other WTO pacts; NAFTA and its expansions including the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and various bilateral U.S. Free Trade Agreements (FTA); and the procedures by which such policies are designed and implemented. We also carefully track ongoing negotiations, including with respect to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA and Doha Round WTO expansion. We conduct research and monitor trade pact outcomes; publish books, reports and a wide range of other materials; maintain our online Trade Data Center of publicly accessible, localized information; educate the public through an extensive grassroots program; maintain relations with press and policymakers; and coordinate closely with an array of domestic and international allies and partners.

What Is GTW's Philosophical Approach?

Animating many facets of our work is the concept of the “public citizen” — a person who, once empowered with information and tools to effect change, makes being an activist part of her or his daily life. Thus, a GTW goal is clarifying for people that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor “free trade.” We have worked in many venues to demonstrate for the public, press and policymakers that our current system is merely one version of rules, which includes a “corporate-managed trade” system, removal of government safeguards policies on investment and finance, commodification of environmental commons and public services, deregulation and international harmonization of domestic regulatory standards and new protections and rights for investors and foreign corporations. GTW has engaged many new constituencies by showing how “trade” affects their interests. All of our work seeks to make the measurable outcomes of this model accessible to people, while reiterating that if the results are not acceptable, then the model can and must be changed or replaced. We focus most of our resources on U.S. domestic work because, despite the real achievements of our counterparts in many nations, transformational change to the terms of globalization will be thwarted unless we can change the U.S. approach.

On What Key Issues Is Global Trade Watch Working?

  • Fast Track Trade Authority: An Undemocratic Route to Damaging "Trade" Agreements
  • Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): Job Loss, Lower Wages and Higher Drug Prices
  • Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA): Corporations' Backdoor Attack on Food Safety, Clean Air and Financial Stability
  • Investor-State Dispute Resolution: Empowering Foreign Firms to Bypass Our Courts, Attack Basic Protections

Fast Track Trade Authority: An Undemocratic Route to Damaging “Trade” Agreements

Fast Track was an extreme and rarely-used procedure that empowered executive branch negotiators, advised by large corporations, to bypass Congress and use “trade” agreements to rewrite policies, with sweeping impacts on our daily lives – from promoting job offshoring to undermining the safety of our food. As a candidate, President Obama said he would replace this anti-democratic process. But now he is asking Congress to grant him Fast Track’s extraordinary authority with the goal of railroading into effect two damaging agreements facing growing public opposition: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress is supposed to write the laws and set trade policy. If Americans do not like the results, they change the Congress and the policies. And so it was for 200 years. But since the mid-1970s, Democratic and GOP presidents alike have tried to seize those congressional powers through Fast Track. Hatched by Richard Nixon and only used 16 times since, Fast Track ripped up vital checks and balances. It allowed presidents to “diplomatically legislate” a vast array of policies having nothing to do with trade to which all of our domestic laws must conform. The rules cannot be altered unless every country signing a “trade” agreement agrees. Fast Track was used to establish the most damaging of such pacts, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). But Fast Track is not needed to implement real trade agreements: hundreds of these have been enacted without resort to Fast Track. Congress refused to grant President Clinton Fast Track authority for six of his eight years in office. Since 2007, Congress has refused to authorize this extreme process. It can only go into effect if Congress explicitly votes to delegate away its constitutional authorities. To prevent further attacks via “trade” agreements on the safeguards protecting our economic well-being, health and environment, Congress must replace Fast Track with a new negotiating and approval process – one that can deliver international commercial agreements that work for the majority. To learn more, click here.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): Job Loss, Lower Wages and Higher Drug Prices

The TPP is a massive “free trade” agreement currently being negotiated behind closed doors by officials from the United States and 11 other countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Although it is called a “free trade” agreement, the TPP is not mainly about trade. Of TPP’s 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. One chapter would provide incentives to offshore jobs to low-wage countries. Many would impose limits on government policies that we rely on in our daily lives for safe food, a clean environment, and more. Our domestic federal, state and local policies would be required to comply with TPP rules. The TPP would even elevate individual foreign firms to equal status with sovereign nations, empowering them to privately enforce new rights and privileges, provided by the pact, by dragging governments to foreign tribunals to demand taxpayer compensation over policies that they claim undermine their expected future profits. In one fell swoop, the TPP could offshore millions of U.S. jobs, free Wall Street bankers from oversight, ban Buy American policies needed to create green jobs, decrease access to affordable medicine, flood the United States with unsafe food and products, curtail Internet freedom, and empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards. We only know about the TPP’s threats thanks to leaks – the public is not allowed to see the draft TPP text. Even members of Congress, after being denied the text for years, are now only provided limited access. Meanwhile, more than 600 official corporate “trade advisors” have special access. The TPP has been under negotiation for five years, and the Obama administration wants to sign the deal by early 2014. Opposition to the TPP is growing in many of the countries involved. To learn more, click here.

Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA): Corporations’ Backdoor Attack on Food Safety, Clean Air and Financial Stability

The safety standards on which we rely daily for our food, medicines and cars. The energy and climate policies needed to save our planet. The new financial regulations designed to prevent banks from gambling with our money and creating another crisis. These are policies we want to be determined in open, democratic venues where we have a say. But a group of the largest U.S. and European banks, agribusinesses, pharmaceutical corporations and other powerful industry groups want to rewrite these safeguards behind closed doors. For over a decade, they have pushed for a new U.S. “trade” deal with Europe called TAFTA. U.S. and EU officials launched TAFTA negotiations in July 2013 and want to conclude the deal by the end of 2014. The Obama administration has made clear that TAFTA will not primarily target trade, but “behind-the-border” policies such as health, environmental and financial protections. U.S. and EU corporations call these safeguards on which we all rely “trade irritants,” and have asked that they be rolled back via TAFTA. Incredibly, Obama administration officials, and their European counterparts, have also proposed that TAFTA include extreme investor privileges that would empower the thousands of EU corporations with U.S. subsidiaries (and vice versa) to attack domestic health, environmental and financial safeguards that they see as inhibiting “expected future profits.” To learn more, click here.

Investor-State Dispute Resolution: Empowering Foreign Firms to Bypass Our Courts, Attack Basic Protections

Among the most dangerous but least known parts of today’s “trade” agreements are extraordinary new rights and privileges granted to foreign corporations and investors that formally prioritize corporate rights over the right of governments to regulate and the sovereign right of nations to govern their own affairs. These terms empower individual foreign corporations to skirt domestic courts and directly challenge any policy or action of a sovereign government before World Bank and UN tribunals. Comprised of three private attorneys, the extrajudicial tribunals are authorized to order unlimited sums of taxpayer compensation for health, environmental, financial and other public interest policies seen as undermining the corporations’ “expected future profits.” There is no outside appeal. Many of these attorneys rotate between acting as tribunal “judges” and as the lawyers launching cases against the government on behalf of the corporations. Under this system, foreign corporations are provided greater rights than domestic firms. This extreme “investor-state” system already has been included in a series of U.S. “trade” deals, forcing taxpayers to hand more than $400 million to corporations for toxics bans, land-use rules, regulatory permits, water and timber policies and more. Under a similar pact, a tribunal recently ordered payment of more than $2 billion to a multinational oil firm. Just under U.S. “trade” deals, more than $14 billion remains pending in corporate claims against medicine patent policies, pollution clean ups, climate and energy laws, and other public interest polices. Check out our chart of these corporate cases. In the past few years, the number of such investor-state attacks has surged. From the 1950s – when this system was first established – until 2000, only 50 cases were initiated. Today, more than 500 cases have been launched. A whole industry of third-party financing and specialized law firms has sprung up to extract our taxpayer dollars and roll back key public interest policies using the investor-state system. Deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) would vastly expand the investor-state threat, newly empowering thousands of foreign corporations to demand compensation for the policies on which we rely. But some countries are now beginning to challenge this outrageous system. To learn more, click here.

Other Global Trade Watch Issues:

The Corporate Globalization Agenda of the World Trade Organization (WTO)

In 1999, activists shut down the WTO ministerial in Seattle to protest the devastating impact of the WTO's corporate globalization agenda and to stop the expansion of the WTO’s power and scope. The WTO was established in 1995, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade with a new global commerce agency implementing expansive new globalization rules that prioritized short-run corporate profits over social, environmental, labor and other priorities. The initial outcomes of the WTO – the destruction of millions of impoverished farmers’ livelihoods in developing countries, higher medicine prices, growing financial speculation – led to push back against WTO expansion in both the streets and the negotiation suites. The WTO enforces 17 agreements, most of which have little to do with trade per se, imposing broad constraints on signatory governments’ non-trade domestic policies, from product safety and food security safeguards to energy and financial policies to medicine and seed patents. The WTO requires that countries “ensure the conformity of their laws, regulations and administrative procedures” to the 900-plus pages of the WTO’s non-tariff rules. For example, the United States extended the duration of medicine patents to meet WTO rules, raising U.S. drug prices by billions. Countries whose laws extend beyond the WTO’s constraints on food safety, financial regulation, affordable generic medicine, Buy Local policies and more can be challenged before WTO tribunals. The tribunals can order countries to conform their laws to WTO rules and trade sanctions can be imposed until they do so. The U.S. Clean Air Act, auto fuel efficiency, dolphin protections and endangered species protections have been weakened under WTO orders. Just in 2012, the WTO delivered another round of such orders against three popular U.S. consumer safeguards: a ban on flavored cigarettes designed to curb youth smoking, a dolphin-saving label on tuna cans, and country-of-origin labels on meat to inform consumers where their food comes from. Despite the derailment of WTO expansion in 1999 in Seattle, in 2001 the so-called "Doha Round" of WTO expansion negotiations was launched. But global opposition to this attempt to expand retrograde WTO rules has succeeded in derailing the talks. Global Trade Watch works with a global network of civil society groups to replace the WTO’s unfair policies with a fair global trade regime. But the corporate push for the expansion of the WTO’s powers and scope continues, as does the implementation of its existing, damaging rules. To learn more, click here.

“Trade” Agreements vs. Wall Street Reforms

Foreclosed homes. Lost jobs. Collapsing banks. While these headlines dominated the news of 2008-2009, a root cause of the financial crisis has largely been ignored: over the last several decades, the U.S. government and corporations pushed extreme financial deregulation worldwide using “trade” agreements. The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the financial service chapters of U.S. “free trade” agreements ban financial transaction taxes (e.g. the proposed “Robin Hood tax”) and capital controls – widely endorsed tools to curb financial speculation’s destructive impact. The agreements’ rules, crafted during the deregulatory 1990s, also conflict with proposals to ban risky financial products, to prevent banks from becoming “too big to fail,” and to “firewall” different financial services to limit the spread of risk (e.g. reinstating Glass-Steagall). Now, a new Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), a pact under negotiation between the United States and more than 20 countries, threatens to expand such deregulatory restrictions even further. While Congress has worked to reregulate banks and other financial firms since the crisis, it must also confront “trade” agreement rules that conflict with those reforms and require domestic law to conform to the now-rejected model of extreme deregulation that caused the global economic crisis. To learn more, click here.

The Damage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and NAFTA Expansions

In 1993, NAFTA was sold to the U.S. public with grand promises. The deal would create tens of thousands of good jobs here. U.S. farmers would export their way to wealth. NAFTA would bring Mexico’s standard of living up, providing new economic opportunities there that would reduce immigration to the United States. After two decades of NAFTA, we can measure its actual outcomes. The grand promises made by proponents remain unfulfilled. Many outcomes are exactly the opposite of what was promised: hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs were offshored, farmers faced a destabilizing wave of food imports, and as poverty rose in Mexico and 2.5 million small farmers and workers were bankrupted, the flow of immigrants from Mexico to the United States more than doubled. Despite the abundant evidence of NAFTA’s failure, NAFTA expansion agreements have been passed – often by razor thin margins and with last-minute arm-twisting tactics – with Korea, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Central American countries (i.e. the Central America Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA), and other nations. These pacts have started to show similar signs of failure: falling U.S. exports to Korea, unabated anti-union violence in Colombia, corporate attacks on anti-toxins safeguards in Peru, and more. Global Trade Watch continues to track the damage wrought by these past pacts while trying to stop the damage from spreading by halting further NAFTA expansions. To access information about job loss in your community due to these agreements, visit our Trade Data Center. To learn more about NAFTA and various NAFTA expansions, click here.

“Trade” Pact Invasion of State and Local Policy Space

Starting with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the mid-1990s, international "trade" agreement provisions began invading traditional state policy space. The pacts delve deeply into matters of state law, from bans on Buy Local procurement policies to rules limiting land use policy to constraints on energy, health and other service sector regulations. The agreements contain numerous other non-trade policy obligations and regulatory constraints to which state and local governments are required to conform their policies – policies otherwise under state authority. Global Trade Watch has worked to help build awareness among state and local officials about this growing form of international preemption and to help officials engage in today’s trade policy debates to try to safeguard state and local policy space. To learn more, click here.

What Are Some of Our Publications?

GTW serves as researcher and translator of an array of globalization issues for other NGOs, the press, policy-makers and the public. We continually create, update and distribute materials ranging from lengthy, footnoted books and reports to fact sheets and talking points on a multiplicity of topics. In each section of our website, you will find a diverse set of materials that provide information for different audiences. This includes fact sheets and talking points on current campaigns, charts of how each member of Congress voted on each major trade vote since 1991, tables summarizing the outcomes of NAFTA, CAFTA, FTA and WTO cases, lengthy footnoted memos so you can dig deeper, copies of actual trade pact texts with annotation to make them user friendly and guides, such as our Pocket Trade Lawyer (available in numerous languages), key to reading a GATS schedule and more. The goal of our website if to make accessible and understandable sometimes complicated or publicly unavailable information about trade and globalization and how it affects each of our daily lives. Do you need more information? Contact us on gtwinfo@citizen.org.

Contact Us

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch,
215 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, Washington DC, 20003.
gtwinfo@citizen.org / www.tradewatch.org

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