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Ilka Schröder


28.11. bis 5.12.99: Der "Seattle Daily" -
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Seattle Daily vom 29.11.99    deutsch

Seattle Daily vom 28.11.99    deutsch

Seattle Daily (nov 29, 1999)

E-commerce and new media
Of course the rulers of the world will insist to discuss "the" subject of the last months, during the conference of ministers in Seattle. E-commerce is on the agenda of the new WTO-negotiation-round. The industrial countries are taking the leadership in this issue. It is they who are making the rules and getting the benefit, but who will have to pay? - A short synopsis of the WTO and e-commerce.

The position of the USA:
The USA are taking the leading role in the discussion. More than 40% of the US-population have access to the internet. So the companies find themselves confronted with a wide market to serve. US-consumers are willing to use the internet as a huge department store. Consumer protection as well as user’s security are playing an insignificant role in the political discussion. The US-proposals concerning e-commerce present themselves according to this situation.
Self-regulation and no legal framework or guidelines for trade and commerce in the internet are the main claims. Therefore it is not surprising that US-practise forms the basis of negotiations. So in case of a lawsuite the court of jurisdiction and the laws to be applicated are those of the country, where the supplier is situated. That means: it is inconceivable for US-companies, to stand trial, for example because of damage or fault of the delivered product, in the home-country of the consumer who ordered the product. US company-lobbyists and representatives even ask for protection of the companies in this case - pretending it would disadvantage small enterprises.

The EU on the other hand, is starting the negotiations with the demand of consumer protection and general guidelines for this kind of commerce. So the Europeans are accused of blocking the setting of the course for a world-wide e-commerce. The backwardness of the internet-spreading in Europe remains also statistically: in the EU only 8% of the households have internet access, in the USA it’s four times more. The reason for this difference is the lack of security for the users, according to representatives of consumer protection-organisations.
The concerns and industry in Europe are considering the EU-position as a blockade of their activity, what leads them to promote the US-position as they do in many other subjects.
That means that the EU at least partly promotes a protection of consumers, while the USA are adopting the e-industries‘ demands entirely.

What will be the end? A pro-economic compromise, exposing the EU-position as a simple trick of camouflage, is already in sight. Because: if there finally wont be any unification in form of an international agreement, it’ll leave everything as it was and that means, the USA will keep holding on the principle of the "country of origin". So in case of a lawsuite, any US-company will have to stand trial in the USA and be judged by a US-court according to US-law.
But nevertheless this can’t cover up the exaggerated expectations in the field of e-commerce. The international Gartner Group warned just recently in a scientific study of unjustified expectations in electronic trade. They foresee a drop of the hysteria about e-commerce in spring 2000 when it may happen that "3 out of 4 planned internet-trading-concepts won’t work as they are supposed to". The Garnter Group also predicts a fast downward of the hype and the management consultants do not expect an expansive internet use for buisiness purposes before 2004.
So probably there will be time to think of other possibilities in internet-trade. For example the japanese distribution system. There is a net of well equiped local shops, being the connection and distribution unit between the trader and the consumer.


Seattle Daily (nov 28, 1999)

Montesquieu adieu, long life the Sun King!
Louis XIV probably would have clapped his hands while reading the WTO conventions; it was the Sun King himself who said: "L’Etat c’est moi!". Though he lived in the 17th century and meanwhile the humans won democracy and many paid dearly for it, some by sacrificing their lives. Within this battle the separation of powers in legislative, executive and jurisdiction must be considered a milestone in history. Montesqieu, being the philosopher and political theorist who developed this system, would turn in his grave.

In the beginning was GATT!
The World Trade Organization (WTO) came from the General Agreement on Tarifs and Trade (GATT). Originally the GATT was an agreement on the international reduction of import duties, an international arrangement concerning national trade policies and the liberalisation of the world market. The last negotiation-round out of eight, concerning the enlargement of free trade, started in Uruguay in 1986 (so called "Uruguay-Round") and ended in 1993 with the declaration of Marakesch. One result of the Uruguay-Round was the creation of the WTO, which became one of the most powerful institutions during the last years. So finally the WTO was given to the industry - by reducing human activity to simple objects of trade - as an instrument to stipulate their rules to every part of human activity.

The Millennium-Round is set up to establish the reign of concerns
Apparently the WTO deals only with trade. But it is serious and worse because the WTO influences everyones living conditions more and more. Whether it is food, trade, services, investment, patents, cultural assets or environmental standards, the WTO and - behind it in the background - the industry and their lobbyists, holding the reins, are determining our lifes. National laws are to change if they don’t fit with free trade. The WTO watches and decides. WTO-rules are breaking national law - no matter if this means lowering or dropping health-standards, consumer protection or environmental guidelines. Especially the "most favorite nation-principle" is an instrument to protect the (big) companies and transnational concern’s (TNC’s) interests: this principle implies, that every trade related advantage, given to any state (also to non-WTO-member-states) by a WTO-member-state, must also be granted to any other WTO-member-state - immediately and unquestioning. What this means is, that single countries have no more room to move or to decide on their own whether they would like to boycott another country, for example because of socially unacceptable behaviour or polluting production methods in this country, or not.

As the WTO is not organised in the sense of the separation of powers there is no democratic control within this organisation. But exactly this kind of control is needed to prevent a general all-economic-dominance in life. With this previsible effect - the companies‘ control on politics - the governments gave away (or even sold) their responsibility. What‘s left is the boundless power of the concerns.This is a highly prized result for nothing less (and nothing more) than the settlement of trade-quarrels between the member-states.

Money reigns the world!
To be able to arrange and guarantee this the WTO was given a wide range of authorities. Judgements coming from the Geneva’s settlement-court, concerning a dispute between two member-states, must be translated nationally and internationally, even if this means to weaken national law. This dispute settlement court consists of economic experts, judging after the rules of free trade without considering legal, ecologic or social points of view. Of course every nation-state has the right to institute proceedings against somebody, but the case costs so much money and is very intensive in time, that developing countries simply can’t afford such a trial. This is also the reason why the "Financial Times" called the WTO, the Worldbank and the IMF the "de facto government of the world", constituted to serve the interests of the TNC’s, banks and investment companies in a "new imperialistic age".

The conference of ministers in Seatlle is to start a new negotiation-round which is supposed to last three years and should finally lead to new treaties helping the concerns by simplifying world trade, opening access to the markets, banishing subventions and custom duties, fixing unified production-standards and liberalising the possibilities of direct-investment and the conditions of public spending. But until now, the conference doesn’t look as if it will lead to concrete results. The 134 member-states are even unable to set an agenda because there are important differences in any possible topic to be negotiated. A failure of the Seattle-conference could be considered as positive: it would give the time to the national governments to hear NGO’s, citizens, basis-groups and other civil society organisations instead of just getting influenced (or being bought) by the industries‘ lobbyists. The time has come to question the WTO principles in general, to analyze the alarming results of the last five years since the Uruguay-Round as well as to negotiate alternatives to the reign of the concerns.


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