Why We Must Stop the FTAA

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     for
the Free Trade Area of the Americas
(FTAA) is coming to Miami this November
17-21, and I, for one, plan to be there.
What is the FTAA? It’s an agreement that
stands to have a devastating affect on our
wages, our job opportunities, our environment,
our laws, our quality of life. The
FTAA is an ambitious plan to link the
Americas in a neoliberal trade agreement
by 2005. It is an expansion – both geographically
and ideologically – of an
agreement out of which I can find no evidence
of positive results, NAFTA.
This agreement is being negotiated by
trade ministers from all countries in the
Caribbean and North, South, and Central
America except Cuba. The effort is being
led by those with the most to gain, the
coporate interests in our own US government.
Armed with his newly granted Fast
Track authority, President Bush can consent
to anything submitted to him by our
negotiating trade official without the
approval of Congress. You can thank those
you do have a chance to vote for in the next
Congressional election cycle. I can tell you
that Timothy Johnson, for one, deserves a
big fat “thank you” from the farmers in his
district who only stand to lose their subsidies
from lower and lower trade barriers.
He, along with 215 other “representatives,”
voted in favor of granting President Bush
Fast Track authority
To summarize: this agreement will be
negotiated behind a multi-million dollar
fence, under armed guard, without congressional
input, by a man appointed by a
President who was not elected. Do you feel
as though your best interests are going to
be well represented?
Of course, there is a theory behind
agreements like the Free Trade Area of the
Americas: “all boats rise with the tide.” The
basic idea is that any growth is good for
everyone inside an economy. The neoliberal
model states that macroeconomic
indicators are the most important measurements
of an economy’s health because
they affect the relationship between that
economy (in this case, a nation) and other
institutions globally. Good macroeconomic
indicators increase foreign investment,
which increases the number of available
jobs. If there are more jobs, the unemployment
rate decreases and wages will rise
with the increased competition for workers.
Meanwhile, employment increases and
wealth spreads in the countries that supply
the investments. Everybody wins. Right?
Wrong. No country in modern history
has ever succeeded in industrializing
under this model. The model is an
abstraction based on economic assumptions
that are flatly contradicted
by history. All of our
contemporary powerful
industrial economies
expanded under the shelter
of tariffs and other protectionist
efforts. These measures
allowed industries to
gain strength domestically before they
were forced to compete with cheap
imports from stronger economies. When
a market is opened prematurely, it is
swarmed with foreign interests. Agricultural
prices drop, and those who make
their living picking crops lose their jobs.
Thus, wages do not rise because there are
always so many more workers than jobs.
Union busting is easy for international
corporations that have no local ties and
that can move production anywhere wages
are low – consumers in richer countries
make no distinction between Nicaragua
and Honduras.
Unionization, not free trade zones.
Remember how those robber barons
fought against child labor laws, the 8-hour
workday, and the minimum wage? They
had to be forced.Workers had to walk off
the job under threat of violence and boycott
union busters. But we made gains.
And now we’re giving those gains up by
claiming that the men of the elite who run
today’s corporations will make decisions
in our own best interest, if only we let
them function more “efficiently” without
the restriction of government regulation.
Liberalization of trade usually also
means privatization of basic services like
water and energy. Private companies,
however, have no incentive to provide
these necessities to those who cannot
afford them, and they have no incentive to
keep the prices affordable. Furthermore,
the national government gains income
from the one-time sale of energy or water
facilities, but it loses the steady income it
can earn from these assets. Privatization
may be a better business model, but there
is no evidence that it is a better model for
consumers. In most countries where this
experiment has taken place, prices have
almost immediately skyrocketed,
causing a crisis for most
of the population. Electricity
and water, I think we can all
agree, are not just the trappings
of consumer society
but rather necessities for
urban living. Privatization, as
we can see from the price gouging that
caused an energy crisis in California, has
not been demonstrated to be effective.
The best reason to protest the FTAA,
though, is something that has already happened.
Under Chapter 11 of NAFTA, corporations’
right to profit now legally
trumps governments’ right to protect their
citizens. Foreign corporations have the
right to sue the government of their host
country for damages if its actions inhibit
the ability of the corporation to make a
profit. This provision, unbelievable as it
sounds, has already been acted upon by at
least 20 corporations, including US-based
Metalclad. When a Mexican state government
killed its plans to build a hazardous
waste plan in San Potosí on the grounds
that the plant would contaminate local
groundwater,Metalclad sued for damages.
Metalclad won a $15.6 million settlement
with the Mexican government.
Hearings under this agreement take
place in secret,with one judge appointed by
each party to the dispute, and one mutually
agreed upon judge. The judges are not
under any obligation to consider testimony
from groups other than the two parties to
the dispute. There is no mechanism for
input from civil society. Furthermore, the
threat of lawsuit under NAFTA can be so
chilling to a government that it may repeal
the law before the suit is even filed.
There is no reason to believe that similar
provisions will not be made under the
FTAA if it is signed. And if there are, it is
likely that we in the public won’t know
about such provisions until after they have
already been agreed to.
We didn’t rise up when our President
was appointed instead of elected.We didn’t
rise up when our President then started
a war of conquest with patently monetary
motives (see www.thenation.com/outrage/
index.mhtml?pid=978 for evidence
of Dick Cheney’s personal fiscal gain from
the “War on Terror”). When are we going
to wake up? If we don’t get out in the
streets and put a stop to business as usual
now, will we lose our democracy forever?
Will we sit back and allow our only avenue
to a better world to be stolen right from
under our proverbial, collective noses?
Now is the time for causing a disruption
and getting the point across. So let’s
educate ourselves, and then let’s get out
there in the streets and take back what’s
ours. Starting in Miami.
Why We Must Stop the FTAA
By Meghan Krausch
For more information on joining the
FTAA protests in Miami this November 17-
21, contact N20@chambana.net. If you
can’t make it to Miami, consider organizing
or participating in a solidarity event here in
town on November 20. The protesters are
seeking home support people to help out
with coordination during our time in
Miami.We also welcome any offers of legal
support or medical training. And, of course,
donations are appreciated.

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