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Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
December 6, 1999


The World Trade Organization was in Seattle to discuss the global greed factory and its rules of engagement, and some how a McDonald's gets trashed, coincidence? I think not. In town were thousands of angry environmentalists determined to be heard by the media, and by those in the convention center wheeling and dealing as if the environment was a collection of Pokemon cards. And as we all know, McDonalds is an easy target.

Dressed as endangered sea turtles, demonstrators made the cover of national newspapers, successfully communicating the implications of globalization without representation. An early accomplishment of the WTO was the removal of sea turtle protection as a trade barrier. In other words, this "free trade" group has turned its back on the fact that trade is far from free. The WTO refuses to acknowledge the true cost of environmental degradation resulting from their brand of cowboy capitalism.

Sea turtles are a species that pre-date humans, having survived other mass extinctions, it should outrage all of us that these beautiful animals now face a market induced oblivion so that humans can gorge themselves on shrimp. It seems the use of protective technology, which would save the 150,000 turtles that drown in shrimp nets globally every year, is an obstacle of global trade.

The Turtle Shrimp Law, a 1989 provision of the US Endangered Species Act required all countries that exported wild shrimp into the US to use Turtle Excluder Devices, or methods that achieve comparable levels of protection. A Turtle Excluder Device (TEDs) attached to a shrimp net prevents this needless drowning by more than 97%. The device costs between $50 and $300. All US shrimpers are required to use TEDs.

In 1995, a legal victory by a coalition of environmental organizations compelled the US to require that nations establish policies related to the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (a nation-by-nation standard). As a result of this ruling, 16 nations improved their fishing policies and practices. In 1996, four nations successfully challenged the Turtle Shrimp Law claiming that it violated the rules of the World Trade Organization.

The case of the sea turtles provides a strong example of the flaws inherent in the WTO. Meetings are held in secret, expert environmental-nongovernmental organizations are not allowed to participate, and US laws are weakened in favor of the empty promises of global trade. And that's just the microlist of complaints. Those into a more anthropocentric conversation are pointing out that WTO has no problem turning their back on extreme human rights abuses.

The World Trade Organization controls the products Americans buy. Some of these consumer goods come from countries such as China and India, both or which are guilty of grave humanitarian and environmental injustices. This past year, India's disregard for environmental protections resulted in the killing of 13,000 endangered sea turtles at the world's most important Olive Ridley sea turtle nesting beach. On November 24th more than 300 indigenous people from the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, protested against a WTO agreement aimed at boosting timber extraction and trade, which would promote deforestation and further erode the indigenous cultures all over the world.

All the tear gas in the world won't hide the fact that the earth is under assault by those who seek profit at all costs. Nor will tear gas stop the growing unrest, as environmentalists demand a place at the table. Seattle is just the beginning.

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