Environmental Impacts of the FTAA

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 ,      or heard
about the litany of problems associated with
the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Critics have usually noted some or all of the
following in their lists of negative impacts:
The FTAA will (1) force some countries’
workers into unfair working conditions due
to cross-border competition, (2) decrease
health benefits offered to workers by large
corporations, (3) create unfair trade practices
between developing and developed nations,
(4) harm monopoly protections in some
countries, and (5) contribute to hemisphericwide
environmental destruction. For details
about the first four problems listed, I encourage
readers to review The Public i article by
Laura Stengrim and Stephen Hartnett in the
last issue. Although all of these problems are
important to consider, it is the fifth one that
usually receives little attention. Most people
are unaware of the extent of environmental
damage the FTAA’s multidimensional assault
will entail. In this article, I want to make some
of these FTAA environmental dangers transparent
for all to see.
The FTAA has woefully inadequate protections
for the environment. Last November in
Miami, during the last round of negotiations,
ministers adopted an advanced draft of the
agreement that explicitly states their position
on the question of environmental protection:
“Environmental issues are not contemplated
in the TCI mandate or in the FTAA negotiation
mandate. Therefore, no provisions on
this issue should exist in the FTAA Agreement.”
The attitudinal resistance to incorporate
environmental issues into the negotiation
process has made its way into the document,
despite widespread outrage on the part of
Latin American nations and environmental
groups. As if the lack of environmental protections
were not enough, the agreement also
has rules in place to actually make the environment
worse. According to Public Citizen’s
Global Trade Watch, “Proposed FTAA rules
also would provide tools for polluters to
attack vital environmental and health regulations
that we all rely on to keep our families
safe.” The bottom line is that the FTAA not
only ignores environmental concerns, but
actually contains regulations that will make it
easier for corporations to engage in environmental
degradation. From these lax regulations,
a threefold problem will emerge.
Three key potential environmental effects
associated with the FTAA’s careless environmental
policy exist. The first involves corporations
suing nations over environmental
laws. Chapter six, section five of the latest
draft reads that each party has the right “to
sue another person under that Party’s jurisdiction
for damages under that Party’s environmental
laws.” Although the intent of such
phrasing is to protect companies from being
victims of unfair trade practices exercised
through unreasonable environmental protection,
the loophole further harms countries by
depleting funds that could have been used to
protect the environment. As an example;
Chilean Senator Jorge Lavandero, in a recent
edition of Newsweek, argues his country
could not be free to change their laws without
fear of legal action under the agreement and
would not be capable of defending its environment
from mining companies. He notes,
“We are practically giving up our sovereignty.”
If Chile were to be sued, under the FTAA
rules, they would not be entitled to an open
hearing. In essence, these environmental laws
are interpreted as “non-tariff trade barriers”
that must be circumvented behind closeddoor
tribunals. Language loopholes such as
this have also been seen in other multi-nation
agreements, like NAFTA. Of course, I am not
the first to observe the similarity between
FTAA and NAFTA. Georgetown Law Professor,
William Warren estimates that under the
NAFTA chapter eleven rules, rules similar to
the FTAA’s, companies have already filed
claims totaling over more than $13 billion.
Take the example of California-based Metalclad.
When prevented from dumping toxic
waste in an “ecological zone” by Mexican
authorities in Guadalcazar, they sued the city
under NAFTA rules. Metalclad was awarded
more than $16 million. Some companies
apparently believe if it is
not possible to put
things into your environment,
they can take
money out of your coffers.
Many critics have
attempted to make comparisons
between the
FTAA and NAFTA when
analyzing potential negative
effects. I wish to
also point out one way
the FTAA and NAFTA
are not alike. NAFTA,
although environmentally
harmful like the
FTAA, at least had a supplemental
environmental trade arrangement
(but as the previous paragraph demonstrates,
it was never really enforced). The FTAA doesn’t
even bother to give the appearance of caring
about the environment. Unfortunately,
our government is partly responsible for this
alarming omission.According to Foreign Policy
In Focus, “Washington suggested even
weaker language” than what was used in
NAFTA for the FTAA. The FTAA ministers
show no sign of discontinuing these free, but
environmentally unfair, trade practices.
Second, the FTAA also provides an additional
incentive for countries to continue
destructive environmental trade practices. It
should come as no surprise that economic
development is often accompanied by environmentally
questionable production practices.
However, if nations engage in tariff
reductions at an accelerated pace, corporations
will feel the unfettered pull of capitalism.
As the Public Citizen’s Global Trade
Watch notes about the South American effects
of the FTAA, “Tariff reductions on raw materials
(such as wood) would trigger higher levels
of trade and consumption of these items,
accelerating already rapid rates of deforestation
in the Amazon and in old growth forests
across the continent.” In other words, corporations
see the chance to make more money,
thus fueling their desire to hasten logging,
drilling, and mining efforts. Along with this
increase in industry also comes an increase in
pollution and health problems.
Finally, the FTAA has a problem in terms
of environmental justice. Industries, as we
have already seen, are advantaged in the pollution
wars that will take place throughout the
hemisphere. Where will the battleground be?
Suburbia? No. Environmental justice advocates
have long noted pollution is generally
located in areas near citizens who are in lower
economic brackets. Both the lax environmental
regulations and the free trade pull factors
will allow additional pollution to be released
near those who have already taken on the
brunt of capitalism’s burden. We can look to
the maquiladoras (border factories) along the
U.S.-Mexican border after the passage of
NAFTA as the harbinger of things to come
with the FTAA. According to the Public Citizen’s
Global Trade Watch, more than 3,000
maquiladoras have left the predominantly
poor Latino populations across the 2,000-mile
border “with a toxic legacy of polluted air,
contaminated land, and poisoned water that
has yet to be addressed.” Maybe this is why
Sierra Magazine called the U.S.-Mexican border
the “world’s longest toxic-waste zone.”
Another example of environmental injustice
has to do with garbage management along the
border. Depressed wages keep services at a
minimal level due to low
amounts of revenue gathered
from taxing, but the
increased worker population
has nearly tripled the
amount of trash in some
areas.Workers are literally
being killed by their own
waste because NAFTA,
and the FTAA, have no
mechanism to deal with
this environmental issue.
Of course, some scavengers
at the Rio Grande
dumpsite on the Mexican
side of the border came
up with the bright idea of
setting the garbage on fire. It lasted four
months because no one could figure out how
to stop the blaze from spreading. Trade ministers
need to realize that clean air and clean
water are not infinitely available and are not
goods that should be restricted to those who
can afford to buy them. These resources, and
the people who use them, must be protected
regardless of how much money someone
makes. Although the various injustices would
differ from location to location, the injustices
would nonetheless be rampant across the
entire hemisphere.
Not only does the FTAA allow corporations
to sue nations over environmental laws,
but the FTAA also provides incentives for
countries to engage in additional environmental
degradation while simultaneously
harming the working poor. What can we do
about it? For those of us who cannot attend
protests, other options do exist. As cliché as it
may sound, writing politicians does make a
difference. Use the voice you have, and make
sure that it is heard. It will take less time to
type out a letter or an email than it took you
to read this article. However, even if you do
not feel you have the time to write, you can
still make your voice heard by voting.With an
upcoming Presidential election, some candidates
have made their positions on multilateral
agreements a part of their platform. Both
Kerry and Edwards have taken positions
against NAFTA and the FTAA in their current
forms for a variety of reasons. Educate yourself
on their positions and vote accordingly.
Finally, stay informed about the issue. Even if
you do not act now, you may discover you
will need to act later. For those of you who
want more information, see the references
below. Most of them are easy to track down
and some can be found directly through the
web. It is my hope that you will continue to
keep up with developments surrounding the
FTAA’s environmental impact since it will
most likely be one of, if not the most, important
trade-related issue in this century.
Lisa Climon, “On a fast track to ‘free trade’
hell.” Dollars & Sense, January, 2002, p. 12.
Joseph Contreras, Jimmy Langman, and
Scott Johnson, “The Trouble With Free
Trade.”Newsweek International, December 1,
2003, p. 40.
FTAA website, www.ftaa-alca.org/.
Karen Hansen-Kuhn, “Free Trade Area of
the Americas”.
Foreign Policy in Focus, April 2001.
Online at www.developmentgap.org/ focustr.
“Once again, deck being stacked against
the poor.” National Catholic Reporter, May
24, 2002, p. 32.
Carl Pope, “Big River Between Us.” Sierra,
September, 2001, p. 12.
Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch,
“Environmental Issues in the FTAA: Trashing
the continent.” Online at

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