Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)
“The paradox is that a model that has failed so spectacularly continues to be promoted, crushing popular interest, democracy and the very development of our productive forces.”
— Deputies of the sovereign National Congress of Honduras
in a letter regarding CAFTA to the United States Congress
The United States eagerly hoped to initiate, by January 1 st 2005, the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA), creating the world’s largest free trade area, but at present the trade policy’s only visible sign is anti-imperialism graffiti in the streets of many Latin America cities. The massive protests and social upheavals that await every trade summit epitomize the global community’s frustration with current trade talks and development models. Fearing drastic changes to their communities, many citizens of the Americas have utilized the Internet to sow together a vast network of solidarity, slightly derailing this free trade locomotive.
The FTAA purports to unite the economies of the Americas by eliminating barriers to investment and trade. The negotiations began after the implementation of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 and include a total of 34 states throughout North, Central, and South America as well as the Caribbean. The FTAA talks include the followings twelve negotiating committees:
The groups “summit” frequently, having their last collective gathering in Cancun . Even though the talks appear to be stalled, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) is far from calling back the bulldozers. Instead, the strategy has changed.
Over the past three years, the United States has negotiated (or is negotiating) bilateral trade agreements with Chile, Panama and Uruguay as well as multilateral agreements with Canada, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. The US Congress is set to vote on the Central American Free Trade agreement (CAFTA) early this year and the Andean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) following the current negotiations. The USTR’s logic is that after it has pieced together enough trade agreements within Latin America, Brazil and Argentina, the strongest and most audible opponents to these trade policies, will be forced to capitulate to the corporate storm of US style neo-liberalism.
The current FTAs are much more comprehensive than just the harmonization of international law and the abrogation trade barriers. Today’s regional trade agreements have become emerging commercial avenues for further exploitation of human and natural resources. The FTAA provides the “Washington Census”, Wall-Street-driven policies at the IMF and WTO, an unmistakable blueprint to open markets, deregulate industries and privatize services in the Americas. In effect, the US shadow of absolute capitalism eclipsed across all of the Americas will seriously cripple countries without clear competitive advantages and will impinge export-driven growth, advancing a system that resembles many of the past characteristics of colonialism.
If affected communities, (not unelected trade ministers and unaccountable investment firms), decide to use trade agreements for development, then those trade agreements need to include respect for human dignity and the environment. If the architects of these agreements champion them as tools for economic and social development, then the FTAA should create committees accountable to the public regarding capacity building, social welfare, capital retention, cultural preservation, the environment and otherwise. Presently the talks do not involve the campesinos who chance to lose their farms, the small business owners who jeopardize their livelihoods, the poor who gamble their health and education, or the indigenous communities who risk the flooding of ancient lands and destruction of their culture altogether. These people, although most deeply affected, are not involved in current “talks.”
The conversation and legal language forged in international treaties such as NAFTA and FTAA prescribe our future. What is decided now binds the fate of the Americas for uncountable generations to come. These agreements will come to define the worldview for us all. They are of unconscionable influence. That said, it is imperative that we fulfill our responsibility as members of the global community and intervene vociferously in this conversation.
US-based non-profit policy studies center
Official FTAA website
“Stop the FTAA” website
“Global Exchange” FTAA information
“Public Citizen” – a national, non-profit public interest organization’s FTAA information
Independent media coverage of FTAA information and events
Washington Office Latin America