Multinational Monitor

OCT/NOV 1999
VOL 20 No.10


Welcome to Seattle: Ministerial Meeting Debates the World Trade Organization's Agenda for the 21st Century
by Robert Weissman

Trading Away the Environment: WTO Rules Thwart Environmental Agreements, Punish Innovation
by Michelle Sforza

Trading Away Forests: Emerging and Current WTO Threats to Forest Protection
by Rory Cox, Paige Fischer and Victor Menotti

Trading Away Public Health: WTO Obstacles to Effective Toxics Controls
by Patti Goldman and
J. Martin Wagner


The WTO's Slow-Motion Coup Against Democracy
an interview with
Lori Wallach

WTO and the Third World: On a Catastrophic Course
an interview with
Martin Khor


Behind the Lines

Dismantle the WTO

The Front
Deregulating Finance - Calling for Cell Phone Safety

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

Playing God

Maryland-based Celera Genomics filed in November for thousands of patents on parts of the human genome--the "blueprint" of human life--frustrating attempts to prevent the privatization of information first developed through the taxpayer-funded Human Genome Project.

The company's computer experts are using nearly 300 super-fast new gene analyzers and 1,200 Alpha chips--the fastest computer processors on the market--to compete against the government and other private labs in the race to map out the entire human genome. The company predicts it may be done before 2001.

Craig Venter, Celera's president, once worked for the U.S. government on the Human Genome Project while at the National Institutes of Health. James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist credited with co-discovering DNA, quit as head of the government project after taking the position that genes should not be patented.

"It's sheer lunacy to think that a private corporation can patent the human genome," Andrew Kimbrell, Director for the International Center for Technology Assessment told the Monitor. "The genes of mankind are our common heritage, not the private property of any corporation. Celera is not inventing our genes; they're just the first to map them out. It's as if Columbus had tried to patent America because he was the first to officially discover it."

Industry analysts anticipate that the human genome will serve as a significant resource for developing drugs to treat genetically related diseases.

"It may be a person's belief that genes should not be patented, but that's not for Celera to decide," Paul Gilden, the company's director of government and public communications told the Monitor. "This is the way we've gone about developing drugs like human insulin for a number of years. It's the nature of the system."

Yet critics, such as Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Biotech Century, predict that if companies like Celera are granted patents on genes, the cost of modern medicine could rise exponentially.

Canada Drier?

Canadians worry that they may soon surrender their lakes, rivers and aquifers to corporate water traders.

In early October, Sun Belt Water, Inc., a California company, filed notice with the Canadian government in Ottawa that it is seeking up to $15.75 billion in damages from the federal and British Columbian governments, alleging that its rights to export water from western Canada by supertanker have been violated under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The company was granted a bulk water export license in 1990, but the British Columbia provincial government imposed a moratorium before any shipments were made. While many Canadians are pushing for a national ban on bulk water exports, others believe that lawsuits like Sun Belt's will douse any federal desire to enact such a law.

Sun Belt argues that it is entitled under NAFTA's Chapter 11 (the national treatment provisions) to the same access to Canadian water as Canadian companies enjoy. The size of Sun Belt's claim is based largely on estimated lost future profits from selling British Columbia water in California. In 1996, British Columbia settled with Snowcap Waters, Sun Belt's Canadian partner, in a similar case.

Three Canadian environmental and citizens' rights organizations have asked the Canadian Council of Environmental Ministers to consider the Sun Belt case within the scope of a public inquiry it has begun into the relevant environmental goals and objectives of NAFTA and the North American Agreement for Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC).

"Many investors see water as the oil of the next century," says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. Canada has over 20 percent of the world's fresh water. The United States--with one-tenth of Canada's fresh water--has a population nearly nine times that of Canada.

Colt Stands Down

In response to an increase in gun-related lawsuits, Colt announced in October that it will discontinue manufacturing cheap handguns, including double-action revolvers and 9 mm pistols. Colt will continue to make "smart guns"--weapons which fire only for their owners--as well as collectible guns and military weapons.

No other company has made a similar announcement. At least 27 cities and counties--including Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, Atlanta, Detroit, Cleveland, San Francisco and St. Louis--have filed lawsuits against the gun industry. The suits allege that gun manufacturers have not done enough to ensure the safety of their products or that they will be distributed legally in the marketplace.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled against Colt and other manufacturers in a civil lawsuit filed by families of shooting victims in Brooklyn, New York.

There are currently 65 million privately owned handguns in the United States, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center to Prevent Handgun Violence. In 1996, handguns were used to murder two people in New Zealand, 15 in Japan, 30 in Great Britain, 106 in Canada, 213 in Germany and 9,390 in the United States. Colt manufactured 90,000 handguns in 1997, making it a relatively small player in the market. The company, which invented the revolver, took in $96 million in revenues last year.



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