On Native Ground: A SECRET TRADE PACT EVEN WORSE THAN NAFTA
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- If you thought the North American Free Trade Agreemen= t (NAFTA) was a disaster, its sequel -- the Free Trade Agreement of the Ame= ricas (FTAA) -- promises to be even worse.
FTAA, which will be discussed at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec Ci= ty on April 20-22, will expand NAFTA to the entire Western Hemisphere (exce= pt Cuba). If you've haven't heard about FTAA yet, you're not alone. Almost= all the details of the treaty have been secret, even though trade minister= s have been working on it since 1999. From what little is known about FTAA,= it appears that it magnifies the worst pro-corporate, anti-democratic elem= ents of every trade deal of the past decade.
Like NAFTA, FTAA is not so much about free trade as it is about giving m= ultinational corporations more power than the governments that are supposed= to be regulating them. It would allow companies to sue a member country if= its laws constitute an "unfair barrier to trade." In other words, what few= environmental and labor laws that are still left could be swept away if a = corporation decided it interfered with its divine right tomake as much mone= y as possible.
FTAA also goes beyond NAFTA in opening up trade and investment in health= care, education and other services provided by the public sector. It would= make privatization of the public sector a priority for member nations, pro= hibit regulation of speculative capital and sharply limit health and safety= regulations.
For American workers, FTAA means even more jobs will be exported to low-= wage countries. While the agreement will give Latin American countries grea= ter access to the U.S. market and greater multinational investment, it will= come under the caveat of greater dominance of corporations over the hemisp= here's economies and governments
If you would care to journey to Quebec City to register your displeasure= with FTAA, good luck to you. The center of the old city has completely sur= rounded with Jersey barriers and a 10 foot high chain-link fence that stret= ches nearly six miles in length. There will be more than 6,000 police and o= ther security personnel to prevent any protest from interfering with the su= mmit.
Since the "Battle of Seattle" in 1999, governments have cracked down har= d on anti-globalization protests. This explains why the next gathering of t= he World Trade Organization (WTO) will take place this fall in Qatar, a tin= y Persian Gulf nation where all public demonstrations are outlawed.
The b= acklash against the anti-corporate globalization forces is one sign of how = effective they've been.
While they have far to go before their demands for labor rights, enviro= nmental protection, increased citizen control over corporations and saner e= conomic development models for the global economy are included in future gl= obal trade agreements, the folks who write the agreements are concerned eno= ugh to start making some concessions to defuse the growing opposition to gl= obal economic agreements that put corporate needs ahead of citizens. Of cou= rse, the concessions will likely be as weak as possible and will likely com= e without binding obligations or tough enforcement.
While the U.S. negotiators will likely push for the most favorable deal = for its corporations, other countries such as Canada and Brazil are looking= for a treaty that will not give the U.S. so much power. But whether the U.= S. gets its way is not as important as whether our government realizes the = economic bind it's getting itself into with full-bore globalization.
The U.S. trade deficit is growing rapidly -- it'S now at a record 3.7per= cent of our Gross Domestic Product. We are by far the world's largestdebtor= nation. At the same time, manufacturing jobs are rapidlydisappearing. Duri= ng the so-called economic boom of the last three years,the U.S. lost more t= han 400,000 manufacturing jobs.
Additionally, the global economic prosperity of the last few years has b= een based on U.S. consumers, because the workers in China, Mexico and other= low-wage nations can't afford to buy the goods they make. In Mexico, for i= nstance, most manufacturing workers still earn about a $1 an hour and live = in appalling poverty.
Agreements such as NAFTA and organizations such as the WTO were created = in a relatively prosperous economic climate. Now that the stockmarket bubbl= e has burst and consumer debt is at record levels, the U.S.can't continue t= o sop up the world's production. What happens then? Onething is certain: th= e workers will suffer most.
Given the disaster NAFTA has been for North American workers, the last t= hing we need is an expanded version that gives even more power to corporati= ons and undermines democracy in the name of ever-greater profits. It's time= we reined in corporate power and got back control of our economic and demo= cratic institutions. The alternative is a world where corporations, not gov= ernments, completely rule our lives.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 = years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).