This Editorial Was Placed by a Citizen Like You!
(Also See a Sample Letter From a Constituent Like You!)
It's About Democracy, Dude!
While diplomats debated the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Quebec, the mass media bombarded us with their tired refrain: that the thousands of citizens protesting the exclusion of public input aspired merely to party and cause trouble. Amazingly, these elite pundits still fail to understand why tens of thousands of people showed up in Seattle, Prague and Quebec. If they really were interested, the pundits could easily ascertain that there is a common thread connecting the groups participating in such protests.
As a young protester might say, "Well, duh, it's about democracy, dude!" We want real democracy. Decisions affecting our lives should be made at the local level. We don't want some unelected, unrepresentative and unaccountable tribunal in far-off Geneva (or elsewhere) overriding our democratically enacted laws. Democracy, health, environment, human rights and labor rights are too precious to be sacrificed on the altar of corporate-managed trade.
Protesters realize that trade can be beneficial, even necessary, but they object to the undemocratic way in which trade agreements are crafted and then shoved down our throats. Corporate representatives work with government officials to write agreements that, surprise, benefit corporate interests. Then, the White House, if it has "fast track" authorization, presents the agreement to Congress for an up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed. Under fast track, Congress cedes its legislative power to the president, violating the concept of separation of powers. Fast track also limits the time for debate which prevents citizens from becoming informed and interacting with their elected representatives.
Protesters also value democratically enacted laws that protect our environment. However, these laws are at risk due to NAFTA's Chapter Eleven. This chapter allows corporations and other private investors to sue governments if governmental action undermines their future expected profits. To make matters worse, the suit is not heard in a domestic court, but before a NAFTA tribunal that puts trade above human values.
For example, as a result of a suit brought under Chapter Eleven, California's attempt to phase out methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive and water contaminant, is under attack. A Canadian company, Methanex, has sued the U.S. government for $970 million claiming California's proposed phase-out limits its ability to sell MTBE. It doesn't matter that MTBE is associated with human neurotoxicological problems and with cancer in animals.
What a revolting development "having to pay a corporation to prevent it from damaging our health or polluting our environment! If Methanex wins before a NAFTA tribunal, its victory will have a chilling effect on local, state and national governments trying to protect public health and the environment or to aid small businesses.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) includes an another agreement with the sleep-inducing name of Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures that, among other things, threatens the safety of our food. This agreement requires countries to harmonize (what a nice sounding term) their SPS standards by basing them on the international standards. Unfortunately, harmonization often weakens standards, thereby creating a threat to human, animal and plant life.
For example, over 40% of the international standards for pesticide residues are weaker than those of the EPA or FDA. You say you don't want DDT with your cereal? Too bad. Because of other WTO requirements, since early 1999 the U.S. Department of Agriculture declares imports of company-inspected meat from Australia to be equivalent to meat inspected by the U.S. government. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!
The harmonization process often aids and abets corporations in overriding laws that have resulted from our open and democratic process. Countries wishing to maintain higher standards and to follow the precautionary principle (a commonsense concept requiring proof of safety before a potentially risky product is allowed on the market) cannot just do so. Instead, they have to show that the weaker standard is unsafe. Imagine if the FDA hadn't followed the precautionary principle with thalidomide, the drug that caused horrible birth defects in Europe 40 years ago!
The above are just a few of the many frightening problems created by trade agreements that were negotiated without public input. Let's stop these anti-democratic agreements. Demand that your representatives in Congress uphold the Constitution and not grant fast track authority (or presidential trade promotion authority, as it is euphemistically called) to Bush!
Sample Letter From a Constituent Like You!
Dear Representative Kaptur:
I hope that you will continue to oppose FTAA, the trade agreement that, if approved, would expand NAFTA to include most of the Western Hemisphere. Knowing that you are a longtime opponent of NAFTA, I am quite sure that you will.
I feel strongly that it is important that strong labor and environmental standards be a part of any trade agreement entered into by the United States. As it stands now, the proposed FTAA agreement is virtually identical to NAFTA, except for the fact that it affects different nations. As such, it is designed to benefit multinational corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, and the environment just as NAFTA has. According to the Nation, the Mexican government estimates that Mexico'x manufacture wages have dropped from $2.20 per hour in 1994 to $1.90 per hour in 1999, and this is only one small example.
Furthermore, I am disturbed by the determination of those involved in FTAA negotiations to keep the dealings secret. I have learned that requests for relevant documents, legal and legitimate requests under the Freedom of Information Act of 1974, have been ignored. Needless to say, this secrecy raises questions about the nature of the deal and the integrity of the corporate and government officials involved in formulating it. It also undermines the U.S. Congress's constitutional authority to oversee trade negotiation.
Now, President Bush hopes to further tie the hands of the Senators and Representatives by securing "fast track" authority to prevent Congress from making any amendments to the trade deal proposed. Fast track would make it very difficult for the United States Congress to defend labor and the environment. I hope that you will not allow your own constitutional power to be crippled in this way. Please vote against the use of "Fast track" and against the FTAA agreement itself, unless the trade deal is revised to include strong protection standards for workers, consumers, and the environment.