When the Uruguay Round was completed in 1993, with the proposed World Trade Organisation (WTO) as a key outcome, most governments did not even bother to consult their citizens before approving it. In the US approval rested with politicians who had generally not even read the agreement. Ralph Nader offered $10,000 to any senator or member of congress who had read the agreement and could answer 12 questions on it. The only politician to accept the challenge decided to vote against it after reading it.
Congressional approval of GATT was put in doubt, however, when the US Treasury estimated that the cuts to US tariffs involved in GATT would cost the government $14 billion in revenue that would have to be recouped through government spending cuts or tax increases. Under pressure, the Treasury subsequently estimated the benefits of GATT be worth about $100 billion in increased trade each year for US corporations.
Environmental, consumer, religious, family farm, and labour groups all campaigned against GATT approval, arguing that it would have an adverse affect on jobs and undermine US environmental and safety legislation. Legislation that was threatened in this way included US car fuel-efficiency regulations; Californian requirements for warning labels on products that might cause cancer or birth defects; and legislation restricting the re-export of nuclear materials and technology. Complaints about breaches of free trade rules were to be considered by the WTO in hearings closed to the public and the media. The WTO was therefore were labelled as undemocratic.
Some conservatives also joined the campaign, seeing GATT as international interference in US national sovereignty. For example the US Business & Industrial Council began a campaign in May 1994 referred to as “Save Our Sovereignty” (SOS). US Trade Representative, Mickey Kantor (pictured), rejected their arguments saying that the US didn’t have to accept WTO rulings. Ralph Nader interpreted Kantor as arguing that the “GATT is terrific against others, but we can flout it because we’re the big kid on the block”.
In the face of this opposition from both right and left, Charles P. Heeter, a partner in one of the big five accountancy firms, Arthur Andersen (since discredited and bankrupt over its role in the Enron frauds), called for the business community to “get more active to send the message to Congress that it’s urgent to pass the GATT… It’s a very high priority.”
Following the completion of the Uruguay Round, the Business Roundtable was “spearheading the business community’s push” to get GATT approved in Congress. Its PR consultants, the Wexler Group “recruited and organized” the Alliance for GATT Now, the successor to the MTN Coalition.
The Wexler Group is not the only PR firm involved in the campaign for free trade. For example, the Business Roundtable hired the Dutko Group “to win over wary senators”. The Alliance for GATT Now also employed Susan Davis International. Named by Inside PR Magazine as one of the ‘Top 5 Public Affairs Agencies’ in the US, Susan Davis International also specializes in grassroots coalition building; Washington representation to “impact the policy and decision-making process”; issues management including the “strategic creation of large scale public education campaigns related to public policy issues”; and government PR including representation of clients at all levels of government.
In tandem with the private industry campaign the US Administration, and particularly officials from the departments of Commerce and Treasury, ran their own lobbying drive to get votes for GATT in Congress, hiring two high profile Washington lobbyists for the job, Nicholas Calio and Joseph O’Neill, to coordinate lobbyists and corporate executives to “work Capitol Hill on behalf of the agreement”. Lobbyists were given excellent access to the Clinton White House and business groups worked with the Administration to achieve approval of GATT as they had with NAFTA.
The Administration also organised for big name bureaucrats to give talks to “key groups of opinion leaders”. The Department of Commerce compiled reports on how GATT would be good for jobs and economic growth in the US and distributed them widely to government, industry and the media. This led to accusations that the Administration was directly involved in lobbying.
The US government approved GATT and in early 1995 the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was set up to administer GATT.