From Antigua and Barbuda to Venezuela, Another "Free" Trade Agreement

By Adam M. Roberts

Thanks to the multinational commercial take over of the global economy, Americans not versed in the lingo of international trade and foreign investment have been forced to learn a new vocabulary with terms such as "Government Procurement," "Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards" and "Technical Barriers to Trade." We've also witnessed a new civil society uprising in the streets of Seattle, Washington, DC and Quebec, against faceless trade bureaucrats who, engaging in their machinations behind closed doors, develop policies that can change the way we farm, what we eat and how we protect endangered species.

The newest force in this global takeover of democratic free will is the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). FTAA is modeled on the chilling North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which ultimately yielded the World Trade Organization (WTO). Having failed to implement the pro-corporation Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), FTAA negotiators just extracted insidious provisions from NAFTA and WTO to create the largest free trade zone in the world-affecting 800 million people in thirty-four nations.

Negotiations on FTAA began in 1994 and are scheduled for completion by 2005. President Bush remarked, "A recent summit in Quebec symbolized the new reality in our hemisphere." Unfortunately, the "new reality" is dismal-in fact, the Quebec meeting of dignitaries was held behind concrete and chain link fence barriers, preventing protestors from making their views known. Part of the inherent problem in assessing the impacts of FTAA text is that it has not been made widely available for public review, but lessons learned from NAFTA allow for general assessments about FTAA's potential impact.

FTAA should make it more difficult to protect family farmers and fight transnational corporate agribusinesses. FTAA's negotiating group on Agriculture's mission is to improve market access for agricultural products and "prevent protectionist trade practices and facilitate trade in the hemisphere." FTAA will allow corporations to sue governments for lost profit based on national regulations or laws. So if Smithfield Foods tries to force pork products onto consumers of an FTAA member nation as it has attempted in Poland, and the government resists, Smithfield can sue that government, whether it's in Bolivia or Suriname, for lost profit. So could Weyerhauser sue if prevented from clear cutting a forest, or a company affected by a labor strike. This framework would increasingly cause the gutting of environmental laws and labor rights considered too expensive to protect in a world organized for maximum extraction of corporate profit.

Maude Barlow, a Director on the Board of the International Forum on Globalization, said, "Under the new global food system, agriculture, in which farmers grow food for people and communities, has been transformed into a system of agribusiness, in which transnational food corporations produce food for profit and food safety standards and the rights of farmers are of little or no concern."

Barlow continues, "The FTAA draft, as it now stands, contains no safeguards for the environment." It will be harder to protect threatened and endangered wildlife. While under GATT foreign nations challenged our strong laws prohibiting importation of dolphin deadly tuna, under FTAA, not only can Latin and South American governments challenge our conservation laws, but foreign fishing fleet owners, tuna canneries and other corporations potentially could sue the US as well!

President Bush is urging Congress to grant him fast track negotiating power, now dubbed "trade promotion authority," which sounds misleadingly benign. This prevents Congress from altering the text of trade agreements negotiated by the White House. According to Reuters, Bush warned that protecting the environment and labor standards "must not be an excuse for self-defeating protectionism." FTAA will not protect the environment and animal protection laws adequately, similar to its global predecessors. The sad global reality is to push for corporate free trade agreements instead of democratic fair trade agreements.

Drawing by Kirk Anderson©

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