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Bunhill: Bush told where to Gatt off

CONSUMER rights campaigner Ralph Nader began his career cutting General Motors down to size. His Public Citizen group has now laid a glove on another unlikely victim, the Uruguay round of Gatt.

By Friday evening, a majority of 15 in the US House of Representatives had signed in support of a bill introduced by representatives Henry Waxman and Richard Gephardt, which declares that Congress will not approve any trade agreement that jeopardises US environmental, public health, consumer safety and labour standards.

If the legislation is passed when it comes to a floor vote at the end of this month, the Bush administration will be deeply embarrassed. It will be much harder to go on playing the bully boy with its trading partners with such opposition at home.

In Britain, there has been little discussion about the merits of Gatt. With a few honourable exceptions, no one here has questioned what effect a settlement would have on national sovereignty. If Gatt can declare national food, agricultural, environmental and union laws illegal and in restraint of trade, what price democracy?

Lori Wallach, the lawyer who has been co-ordinating the American campaign against Gatt, is in London this weekend. Speaking on BBC Radio 4s The Food Programme, she said that it was the American love of dolphins that began the swing in public and congressional opinion against Gatt.

In August last year, the Gatt group in Geneva declared that the US law prohibiting the sale of tuna fish caught using methods that kill large numbers of dolphins was an 'illegal barrier to trade' and must be revoked.

That was a public eye-opener and a gift to the hard core of environmental, public health, farming and consumer campaigners who had been trying to alert a bored public to the dangers of a Gatt agreement for months. Once the tuna decision had sunk in, Public Citizen was able to ram home the message.

Americans are serious about their health - they now know that the country's intricate web of legislation that protects them from carcinogens in their food, from shoddy and unsafe cars, and from asbestos in the air, could all be declared null and void - illegal in restraint of trade - if the Gatt was signed in its present form.

(Photograph omitted)