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Letter to USTR from The Ad-Hoc Coalition for the Defense of the Massachusetts Burma Selective Purchasing Law

  • Campaign for America's Future
  • Center of Concern
  • East Timor Action Network
  • Essential Action
  • Franklin Development and Research Corporation
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Institute for Asian Democracy
  • Institute for Policy Studies
  • International Labor Rights Fund
  • National Defense Council Foundation
  • Public Citizen
  • Teamsters Union
August 6, 1997

The Hon. Charlene Barshefsky
United States Trade Representative
600 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20505


Dear Ambassador Barshefsky:

As representatives of organizations deeply committed to furthering human rights and democracy around the world, we are deeply disturbed by the European Union and Japan's decision to formally challenge the Massachusetts Burma selective purchasing law at the World Trade Organization (WTO). But we are encouraged by recent your statements indicating that you will take proper action to address this situation.

The Massachusetts Burma selective purchasing law is both effective and strongly supported by the legitimate leader of the Burmese democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi. As leader of the party that won the 1990 Burmese elections, Aung San Suu Kyi remarked in a recent interview that selective purchasing laws are an effective means of restoring democracy in Burma. She also specifically praised the Massachusetts Burma law and called for the enactment of more laws like it.

We therefore praise you for your recent comments indicating your intent to strongly defend the Massachusetts selective purchasing law in WTO dispute resolution proceedings. This is a welcome acknowledgment of the vital importance of the state powers challenged by the EU and Japan. Had the WTO existed for such complaints ten years ago, the state sanctions against South Africa which helped peacefully bring democracy to that country would never have been possible: Nelson Mandela might still be in jail, and apartheid might still be law.

We also agree with your spokesperson's recent statement that the EU and Japan are engaged in actions that are "fundamentally inconsistent" with their own positions regarding Burma sanctions. Japan has called for dialogue between the military junta and the democracy movement. European support for Burma sanctions is particularly strong. Just one month ago, the European Parliament passed a unanimous resolution calling on the European Union to enact economic sanctions on Burma. In addition, the European Parliament's resolution specifically urged the European Commission not to take action against the Massachusetts Burma law under the WTO dispute settlement procedures.

We are encouraged by your current strong and principled defense of the Massachusetts selective purchasing law. This dispute raises critical issues regarding the jurisdiction of the World Trade Organization, state sovereignty, and popular support for democracy movements overseas. Consequently, we urge that you maintain your firm stand while keeping the public fully informed of all negotiations and decisions made during the consultations and dispute resolution process.


Simon Billenness
Senior Analyst
Franklin Research
and Development Corporation

Brent Blackwelder
Friends of the Earth USA

Michelle Bohanna
Institute for Asian Democracy

Pharis Harvey
Executive Director
International Labor Rights Fund

Roger Hickey
Campaign for America's Future

James E. Hug, S.J.
Executive Director
Center of Concern

F. Andy Messing, Jr.
Major U.S.A.R. (Ret. Special Forces)
Executive Director
National Defense Council Foundation

Bob Nicklas
Acting Director Government Affairs Department
Teamsters Union

Charles Scheiner
(for identification only)
National Coordinator
East Timor Action Network/US

Michael Shuman
Institute for Policy Studies

Lori Wallach
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

Robert Weissman
Essential Action

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