Video: Lori Wallach: Free Trade—How Free Is It?

On this page:

  1. The Video
  2. Summary
  3. Video Details
  4. Transcript
  5. Related Information

The Video

Lori Wallach, Free Trade—How Free Is It?, April 13, 2005by Marcus Morrell, © Big Picture TV 2005


Lori Wallach talks about the unethical nature of multi-lateral trade agreements such as NAFTA and the seventeen agreements enforced by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Many WTO rules have little to do with trade. Instead, the majority of the agreements’ regulations relate to non-trade issues such as patent laws, foreign investment, land purchase rights and many others. These rules have little to do with free trade between countries.

Video Details

Free Trade—How Free Is It?
Running time
4m 49s
Washington DC, USA, April 13, 2005
Marcus Morrell
About Lori Wallach
Director, Global Trade Watch

Lori Wallach is one of the best known and most vocal critics of many of the trade agreements associated with corporate globalization. She is the Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a non-profit organization founded in 1995 to promote government and corporate accountability in the globalization and trade arena. By profession a trade lawyer, she has written a number of books and articles on trade and her comments have been widely broadcast on CNN, ABC, CNBC and CSPAN.


Well, there’s a theory called free trade and it was written about by a variety of British and other philosophers, but the so called free trade agreements that are now the instruments delivering the current version of corporate led globalization really only pass a vague resemblance to the concept of free trade. First of all, today’s trade agreements like the World Trade Organization and the 17 agreements it enforces or the North American Free Trade Agreement, those agreements have only a small thing to do with trade, and the majority of their rules actually are about totally non trade issues, like who can own and how you can regulate services inside your own geographic territory, or how your country, your elected officials on the local, state and federal level are allowed to regulate investors if they happen to be foreign who want to buy land for farms or factories, who want to run service companies. They have rules about how you can even spend your tax dollars. Set one size fits all these agreements. Obviously it has nothing to do with trade between countries, but rather setting a system of rules and policy vis a vis what you can do within your country.

So I would suspect that on the basis of that alone, Adam Smith and David Ricardo, those theoreticians are slowly rolling in their graves thinking about the fact that you call it the North American Free Trade Agreement, yet on top of all this other trade, non trade stuff, it also has a bunch of corporate protectionism. For instance, these trade agreements create all these new privileges and protections not in a sense of protectionism that you hear where an industry is protected by a tariff, oh no, it’s much stronger than that. It creates whole new rights that then are given to corporations to basically control and trade things that we don’t think was tradable. Let me give you an example. These trade agreements create a whole new set of tradable entities by commodifying into tradable units, things that we think about as human rights or certainly not as some commodity, such as the human gene code. So these trade agreements have patent protections requiring every single signatory country to adopt a monopoly system, talk about protection, or for 20 years, whatever company files a patent, a piece of paper saying, I came up with this, I own this, they have a monopoly right for marketing and distribution of that. That system is why drug prices in the US are so high, because if one company comes up with a medicine, it may be very close to an old medicine that’s patent has run out, they say, this is the new one, ignore the old one, the old one will kill you. We didn’t say that until one day ago when the patent ran out, try the new one. And for 20 years, they have a monopoly and convince you, you have to buy the new one. Well, what does this mean? Very practically, it means like for instance, the patented version of the anti retrovirals, the drug cocktails that people who have HIV and AIDS take to keep their symptoms down, a year’s course of them in the US where there’s a patent, costs $8,000 for one person. The generic nonpatent version would actually cost to produce them, what companies do some research but aren’t able to hijack this monopoly protectionism price, it costs $400 a year to provide them. So what we’re seeing is protection, but also turning things that exist in nature into new tradable goods.

For instance, under the WTO and NAFTA rules, again, what the heck does this have to do with trade? Somebody could get a patent on, like, the genetic makeup of a hair inside my ear. If it just so happens that the hair inside my ear happens to be the miraculous cure for, I don’t know, fat thighs, they can make the new wonder drug from Lori’s hair gene, and if they basically patent the gene that happens to be a fluky gene that comes off of the hair in my ear, I no longer, even though its my ear and my hair, control this wonder drug, some other company can patent it and actually make it a monopoly drug, which is like the new wonder drug, make a gazillion dollars, and I, if I wanted to have the medicine and treatment of the hair of my gene, I could not myself just, I’d have to actually pay for the medicine. So commodifying literally body parts, or for that matter, genetically the diversity that is that of nature, so going into an indigenous community and saying, wow, look how they use that plant for medicinal purposes or as a natural pesticide, let’s like just manipulate one gene in there, patent it and now we own it. So a total protectionism jam, plus turning what we think of as basic human rights, the right to water, the right to education, to healthcare, into new tradable goods through privatization and deregulation of essential services, and then protecting foreign companies’ rights to control those, free of government restrictions. We call those our basic consumer health and environmental regulations. So this is very little to do about free trade.

Lori Wallach

Related Information

Author and Page Information

  • Posted: