A Ten-Point Plan to Fight for the Americas: No to FTAA

No NAFTA for the Americas!

Over the last decade, transnational corporations have used international commercial agreements to improve their profit margins at the expense of the public interest. The 1994 implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the 1995 establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as part of the GATT Uruguay Round were both promoted as a means of creating global prosperity -- a rising tide which would lift all boats by opening markets and encouraging the freer flow of goods and capital across borders. However, the record has shown that this corporate-managed trade model actually has encouraged a race to the bottom in labor, environmental and public health and safety standards; increased pressure on the environment and natural resources; loss of living-wage and unionized jobs; attacks on food security; increased levels of poverty and economic inequality; wildfire spread of financial crises such as the Mexican peso crisis; privatization of services that denies many people access to essential social services such as health care, education and water access; and diminished democratic and accountable decision-making.

Now 34 heads of state and trade ministers, from every nation of the Western Hemisphere except Cuba, are discussing an expansion of this failed model of increased privatization and deregulation to the entire hemisphere via a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The proposed FTAA would combine the most problematic aspects of NAFTA, the WTO and the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), effectively handcuffing governments’ public interest policymaking capacity and enhancing corporate control at the expense of citizens throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, by:

  • providing new "investor protections" which empower corporations to sue governments in closed-door tribunals over domestic policies which may undermine their future expected profits, resulting in multi-million dollar cash compensations to be paid by taxpayers;
  • limiting governments’ abilities to regulate direct foreign investment, as well as speculative capital flows, in order to protect their economies from excessive volatility;
  • setting up dispute resolution processes which refer disagreements to secret international trade tribunals above and outside of national judiciaries which allow foreign governments and corporations to bypass a nation’s courts and legal system;
  • providing corporations with new rights and tools to attack government standards for food security, public health and safety, and worker safeguards and to attack laws that ensure that corporations do not pollute the communities in which they operate; and
  • expanding "trade" disciplines to cover the service sector, which could increase pressure on governments to privatize and/or deregulate essential public services that are already under fire.

 

FTAA negotiations have been conducted under the strictest terms of secrecy. Business groups acting as official advisors to the FTAA negotiators have seen the draft text and related documents, as have some government-selected labor and environmental groups in the United States. However, the public and journalists have not been allowed access to the complete text [a "scrubbed" version was released in July, 2001,but is lacking key information such as specific country negotiating positions]. Indeed, only one government of 34 has even made public its own recommended language for inclusion in the final agreement. Even parliamentarians have been denied access to crucial information or have been left unaware that negotiations were ongoing at all. Despite the lack of transparency and democratic process in the negotiations, the governments involved are moving towards completion of the FTAA no later than 2005. They also are considering some "early harvest" agreements, which means that certain chapters would go into effect much sooner -- wreaking havoc throughout the hemisphere as parliaments are forced to change public interest laws and regulations to comply with corporate-led priorities. While civil society has attempted to voice its opinions and concerns to negotiators from various governments, there is no evidence to date that these concerns have been heard, much less considered, in the actual FTAA negotiations.

The undersigned groups will closely monitor their governments’ participation in these negotiations to ascertain that FTAA negotiations modeled on a combination of NAFTA, MAI and WTO do not continue. Some specific indicators of the unacceptable corporate-managed trade system for which we will be watching are:

1. No New Corporate Power Tools: Any NAFTA-style Chapter 11 Investment language allowing corporate suits against governments is unacceptable. This extreme mechanism in NAFTA allows corporations to sue governments in undemocratic, closed trade tribunals for cash damages for domestic regulations that the corporations claim undermine their future expected profits. Already under NAFTA, this mechanism has been used to attack important domestic environmental, health and safety policies, effectively limiting the ability of governments to maintain national standards. In fact, every time corporations have invoked this NAFTA tool, the rulings and settlements have always been against the public interest and for corporations. In this perverse process, countries must compensate the "victorious" corporation with taxpayer dollars and must continue to pay the company continued ransom if it keeps a public interest law in place.

2. Hands Off Basic Social Rights and Needs of the Americas: It is inappropriate and unacceptable for social rights and basic needs to be constrained by trade rules, such as those proposed under current FTAA talks. Promoting, respecting and realizing fundamental worker rights and other human rights by all relevant means is important, including action at the appropriate international institutions. Issues critical to human or planetary welfare, such as food and water, basic social services, and health and safety, must not be undercut by commercial agreements. Inappropriate encroachment by trade rules in such areas has already resulted in major public campaigns centered on genetically modified organisms, old growth forests, and predatory tobacco marketing.

 

3. Services Needed for Survival: Services needed for survival, such as health, education, water, energy and other basic social services, must not be subject to trade rules. Domestic consumer health and safety, environmental and labor laws regulating any aspect of the service sector that treat domestic and foreign providers the same clearly must remain outside the purview of trade disciplines. In the Americas and the Caribbean, structural adjustment programs privatizing and deregulating essential public services -- which were required by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank -- have already led to a severe lack of access to health care, schools and clean water for peoples throughout the region. Current FTAA proposals would lock in this failure forever, making it impossible for any government to reverse any bad decisions on privatization of services.

4. Stop Corporate Patent Protectionism - Seeds & Medicine are Human Needs, not Commodities: All intellectual property policies must allow governments to limit patent protection in order to protect public health and safety, especially patents on life-saving medicines and life forms. The patenting of life forms including microorganisms mst be prohibited in all national and international regimes. Current intellectual property rules in trade pacts, such as the WTO TRIPs agreement and NAFTA's Chapter 17 Intellectual Property rules, effectively prevent consumer access to essential medicines and other goods, lead to private appropriation of life forms and traditional knowledge, undermine biodiversity, and keep poorer countries from increasing their levels of social and economic welfare. There is no basis for inclusion of such intellectual property claims in a trade agreement.

5. Food Is a Basic Human Right, Not a Commodity: Trade rules must not restrict countries' rights or abilities to establish or maintain policies safeguarding small farmers, rural economies and food security.

6. Control over Natural Resources: Citizens and governments -- not transnational corporations -- must have the right to make decisions about the use and protection of natural resources. Policies governing natural resources should strike a careful balance between the social benefits of preservation, job creation and economic expansion. Thus, international commercial terms such as those found in NAFTA, which allow corporate interests to challenge countries’ control or regulation of land, mineral oil and gas deposits, forests, rivers and other natural resources, are unacceptable.

7. Do No Further Harm: NAFTA and the WTO both contain provisions that undermine domestic environmental, health, safety, agriculture and labor laws. There is no place for such anti-public interest provisions in future international commercial agreements. Moreover, actions taken to implement multilateral agreements dealing with workers´rights, the environment, health, development, human rights, safety, indigenous peoples' rights, food security, women's rights, and animal welfare must not be challenged or undermined by international commercial rules.

8. Disadvantaging Women, Minorities and Indigenous Peoples: There is no place in just international agreements for provisions that disallow a country from providing special and differential treatment to women, minorities, and indigenous people. Such an attack on countries’ sovereign rights to determine domestic social priorities, for instance by offering preferential credit terms to disadvantaged segments of their populations, is offensive. Additionally, such policies are in direct conflict with international human rights agreements and the International Labor Organization’s Conventions.

9. Promoting Development vs. Corporate Control: International commercial agreements must not discipline what governments can do to ensure that their citizens capture the benefits of foreign investment. The FTAA must not prevent governments from employing a variety of policy tools to promote equitable and sustainable development, such as restricting foreign capital in certain sectors, the reinvestment of profits, or limiting the purchase of farm land or other real estate.

10. Speedbumps Against Speculation: In order to prevent international financial crises from spreading, countries must maintain the power to take measures against speculative portfolio investment. The investment rules of NAFTA, which are the model for the FTAA, are exactly the wrong model, as they forbid governments to establish such basic protective measures.

The undersigned organizations are committed to fight against the corporate model of globalization expressed in the FTAA, and will instead advocate for new visions for the Americas and Caribbean based on principles of democratic and transparent decision-making, equitable and sustainable development, and protection of the public interest above corporate profit.

How an organization can sign the letter:

1) This is an organizational sign-on letter only. We will not be adding individuals to it.

2) To add your organization, send an email with "FTAA sign-on" in the subject line to Timi Gerson at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch at tgerson@citizen.org. In the body of the e-mail list the organization and country (contact information such as address, phone & fax is also appreciated) that you are signing on. Those who wish should also mention how many people the organization represents. You can also sign-on via our website – www.tradewatch.org (look under FTAA, TAKE ACTION subsection). The statement is available online in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French.