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The FTAA and the WTO: the meta-program for global corporate rule

By John McMurtry - posted Tuesday, 15 May 2001

The "Free Trade Area of the Americas" (FTAA) is the latest major campaign for the occupation of the planet by the global corporate system. Like its predecessors, it will not respond to resistance, or move beyond dictation of more of the same. This is because its program is structured to be life-blind. Only the rights of non-living corporations are recognised. Only further extension of these corporate rights is in fact implemented - whatever the latest propaganda about "consulting civil society", or the crocodile tears about "losing efforts" in Paris and Seattle. All the new public relations packaging means is that the propaganda about "inevitable change" and "global prosperity" has failed, and so it is time to calm the people by agreeing with their concerns, and carry on instituting and enforcing the program just as before.

The world, however, has woken up to the global corporate coup d'etat, and people are taking to the streets, now in Quebec City in April 2001. Yet the corporate media will continue to block out the life-and-death issues at stake, focus on the saleable spectacle of a large public confrontation, blame and trivialize the thousands of opponents who are assaulted for putting themselves on the line, and return to selling other images and distractions once the violence entertainment is over.

Meanwhile the deepest and most systemic threat to civil and planetary life the world has ever faced will persist and increase. Behind the unfolding disasters of regional economies and planetary ecosystems melting down, the threat is driven by an underlying meta-program, in terms of which every decision, every policy, every regulation and implementation is demanded and instituted by servant governments. The meta-principles constituting this mind-set are robotic, much like the mind-set of a fanatic cult. But because they are presupposed by the corporate party and its media and political servants as the given order of the new world, they are never exposed as a deranged program of mind. Only fragments and partial themes are discerned, not the underlying structure as a dictatorial whole. The invisible prison of this agenda for world rule always conforms to the following meta-principles.


(1) The ultimate subject and sovereign ruler of the world is the transnational corporation, operating by collective prescription and enforcement through the World Trade Organization in concert with its prototype the NAFTA, its European collaborator, the EU, and such derivative regional instruments as the APEC, the MAI, the FTAA, and so on. Together these constitute the hierarchical formation of the planet's new rule by extra-parliamentary and transnational fiat.

(2) Individual transnational corporations are the moving parts of this global corporate system. They are non-living aggregates of dominant private stock-holders who, as individual persons, are made legally immune by "acts of incorporation" from any liability for corporate harms done to societies, to other individuals, and to the environment, as well from accumulated corporate debts or offences against national and international law. This is the legal armour around the agents of the global corporate system which affords them unaccountable impunity for whatever damage or crime they impose on individuals, societies or environments around the world.

(3) Transnational corporations acting in concert through the WTO and its related supranational constructs prescribe to and are represented by financed national government parties which act in these matters solely on behalf of transnational corporate access to foreign markets and resources with no barriers. This private corporate rule over governments everywhere is evident from the general facts that no binding regulation yet protects any right but that of transnational corporate investors, and not one article of any already signed international covenant or treaty protecting human rights, labour or the environment is binding on any part of any one of these unprecedentedly enforced "agreements". Indeed, the Kyoto Treaty on climate-altering gases, the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting chemicals and emissions, the Basel Convention on transboundary pollutants as well as the entire body of established international solemn agreements and covenants on human and labour rights have been consistently overridden by transnational corporate practices or the explicit judgements of WTO trade panels.

(4) All such treaties and agreements obliging compliance with transnational corporate rights are proposed, negotiated and finalised behind closed doors and wide perimeters of armed force, with police pepper spray, shackles, harassment or surveillance for those who publicly protest. All these agreements, moreover, rule out any other public participation in or appeal against their decrees by anyone except corporate or state representatives, and adjudicate all disputes in secret before unelected authorities and tribunals, with no public or elected observers of these proceedings permitted, and with no record of their proceedings published for public view. Yet publics across the world are obliged to pay all the costs of negotiating, instituting and enforcing these absolutist prescriptions to the world's nations, and are forced also to pay all the fines and trade penalties imposed on their own elected governments for legislating democratic or environmentally protective policies which are deemed to conflict with this unaccountable transnational regulatory regime. This Orwellian arrangement is known as "investor-state dispute resolution".

(5) All executive authorities within individual corporate bodies are all the while bound by the "fiduciary duty" to maximize monetized returns to their corporate stockholders (including in particular themselves) as the overriding obligation of decisions and actions , thereby compelling them by corporate charter prescription to minimise all expenditures on protecting human and non-human life by worker pay, social benefits or environmental regulation. In this way, it becomes a violation of legally binding corporate morality for its operations to take account of the life interests of employees, surrounding communities and environments, or even the future life of the world ahead of shareholders' continuous maximisation of money profit.

(6) The system's universal principle of "rationality" is, in consequence, to externalise all costs onto other individuals, societies and environments so that no form of human existence or responsibility such as "citizen" or "person" or "respecter of other life" is recognised by the corporate calculus or its state servants. Only self-maximising "profitable enterprises" and their "consumers" exist to the mindset. This form of life is then everywhere prescribed as "inevitable" for all peoples, and is proclaimed by its agents to offer societies across the world "no alternative".


(7) "Consumers", in turn, are not co-extensive with human beings or even the majority of human beings. This is because only humans with sufficient money-demand to purchase corporate products are recognized by this global system as possessing any right to access any good - from food and water to housing, health-care and whatever else can be privatised for profit. What can be "privatised", or in reality, corporatised for profit, is accordingly assumed to include ever more of the conditions of planetary existence without any limit. Genetic structures, the body's most basic means of life, the elements of nature, and publicly funded knowledge are all now being rapidly disassembled, restructured and appropriated by transnational corporations for their maximum private control and profit.

(8) Any alternative mode for production or distribution of any priceable good - socially owned or controlled, publicly subsidized or assisted domestically, self-sufficient or co-operative, or declared without genetic modification or corporate additive is made illegal under transnational trade regulations. If any society or government is resistant, its economy is denounced through state finance and trade offices and global mass media as "non-competitive", "protectionist", "monopolist" or "communist", and attacked on the ground by every means available to the global corporate system, including transnational trade embargo and armed invasion in abrogation of international criminal law. This is the true and grave meaning of "global market freedom" in the corporate system.

(9) Consumers and investors with sufficient money-demand to exchange within the global market are, in fact, the only bearers of freedoms recognised by this system, and are axiomatically assumed to have no upper limit to their commodity consumption or their demand acquisition, even if an increasing majority of their fellow citizens or humanity have few or no means of existence. This is the "non-satiety" principle of neo-classical economics. It is also the unstated meaning of "equality of opportunity" in global market doctrine and practice - the equality of money demand for those who have it, and no-one else.

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About the Author

Professor John McMurtry is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

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