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“Magical Realism” vs. Fact: How to Read the Bush Administration’s FTAA Spin

Oct. 31, 2005

“Magical Realism” vs. Fact: How to Read the Bush Administration’s FTAA Spin

Statement of Lori M. Wallach, Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

On Tuesday, leaders from the 34 member countries of the Organization of American States will gather at the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in an attempt to revive the corpse of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), an expansion of the NAFTA model to the 34 countries of the Americas. In its predictable attempt to create the illusion that the clearly dead FTAA has been reborn at the Summit, the White House likely will treat reporters to its own version of magical realism, akin to the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, inserting fantasy into an otherwise bleak setting. 

Half the target FTAA countries are firmly opposed to the FTAA, despite it being stubbornly pushed by the Bush administration and hemispheric negotiations having lapsed more than a year ago. Undoubtedly, the state of the FTAA will be referenced in the Summit of the America’s Ministerial Declaration, and the Bush administration likely will declare that whatever the statement says, it means FTAA is revived. Below is a chart to help observers measure whether any real changes have occurred that would revive the FTAA, or if we are being treated to more of the usual spin.

Further weighing against an economically significant expansion of the NAFTA model, such as the  FTAA, is the recent passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which reinforced that for the U.S. public and Congress, the NAFTA model is in a state of crisis. (The passage of CAFTA required last-minute procedural stunts, despite weeks of the president’s personal attention, a rare presidential visit to Congress (the first in two years), months of GOP leadership threats and goodies, and an army of corporate lobbyists, and was finally passed by one vote only when it was framed as a referendum on the viability of Bush’s second-term power.) Since then, the Bush administration has been plagued with scandals and setbacks relating to failed response to Hurricane Katrina, the indictments of GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and vice presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, and the forced withdrawal of a Supreme Court nominee.

Months ago, Mexican FTAA negotiators, in an attempt to save face, wrote to the co-chairs of the FTAA talks, virtually admitting that the FTAA would be dead on arrival in Argentina and offering suggestions for how the FTAA could be downsized significantly. It is obvious, then, that FTAA proponents are well aware of the agreement’s near-death status and will attempt to “spin” the events of the Summit of the Americas to depict a revival of the FTAA.  


MAGICAL REALISM: The leaders announce a revival of the FTAA talks, highlighting a far-away deadline for the talks’ conclusion as evidence of this rebirth, without any interim deadlines or instructions on how to meet this deadline.

FACT:   Unless the Ministerial Declaration includes an agreement on the scope for FTAA talks that resolves the two-year deep divide on that question and lists specific meeting dates for talks, the FTAA remains comatose. The FTAA Miami Ministerial Declaration was portrayed as locking in a forward path, but that document resulted in nothing. Anything less in the Ministerial Declaration than the presentation of a clear deadline for the completion of the agreement, combined with detailed instructions on how to meet this deadline and interim deadlines for specific talks, is essentially an admission of failure.

MAGICAL REALISM: The United States Trade Representative offers to open long sought-after U.S. agricultural markets to such “import sensitive” products as sugar, beef and citrus.

FACT: Any such offer is merely designed to force countries to increase their offers, because under Fast Track, negotiators cannot automatically put into effect tariff cuts on more than 500 “import sensitive” agricultural products.