Quito Ministerial Debrief and Analysis


November 15, 2002

What the Heck Happened in Quito: The Nitty Gritty

By Timi Gerson, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

In November, I joined thousands of people from throughout the Americas to protest the proposed 31 country NAFTA expansion called the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) during the 7th FTAA Ministerial Meeting held on November 1 in Quito, Ecuador. While the CEOs of the Americas Business Forum and the national trade ministers holed up in the Marriot and Swiss hotels respectively, representatives of indigenous movements, womens groups, labor unions, environmental networks, campesino organizations, students and progressive think tanks participated in an alternative forum “Another Americas is Possible” and in vibrant public demonstrations, direct actions and marches denouncing both the concrete proposals of the FTAA agreement as well as the secretive and illegitmate process of the negotiations (for daily eyewitness accounts and pictures of the resistance on the ground in Quito see the FoodFirst website as well as U.S. activist Justin Ruben’s article at the Interhemispheric Resource Center website).

In terms of the nitty gritty inside the Ministerial, it is clear that in addition to the enormous civil society pressure, opposition to the FTAA now includes the actual governments of many Latin American countries who are not convinced of the benefits of the NAFTA model. The political landscape of South America particularly has changed dramatically with the election of Lula da Silva in Brazil (who campaigned on the theme that the FTAA was a “policy of annexation, not integration”). In addition, President Chavez of Venezuela sent a letter to the Ministers protesting the secrecy of the process and the rushed timeline (the Venezuelan negotiators tried to push the FTAA implemtation deadline back to 2010, but in the end were not able to). Finally, the newly elected Ecuadorian president, Lucio Guiterrez, has voiced serious reservations about the FTAA.

Even the countries where left-leaning parties are not in power take issue with U.S. in terms of market access in agriculture, not to mention their ire at the subsidies passed by Congress in the U.S. Farm Bill last year. The agriculture negotiations, along with negotiations of U.S. trade law rememdies (like anti-dumping laws), are the biggest bones of contention in the overall FTAA process. A telling sign of the impasse of the FTAA talks is the fact that the Ministerial meeting ended two hours early, with the final press conference being held at 4:30pm instead of the planned 6:30pm. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Zoellick is trying to cover the disaster of the attempted agriculture negotiations in Quito by saying that it doesn’t matter because all of the agricultural issues will be dealt with at the next WTO Ministerial (scheduled for September 10-14, 2003 in Cancun, Mexico).

One point on which there does seem to be widespread agreement among the FTAA country negotiators is that, as laid out in the official Quito Ministerial Declaration they “reject the use of labor or environmental standards for protectionist purposes. Most Ministers recognize that environmental and labor issues should not be utilized as conditionalities nor subject to disciplines, the non-compliance of which can be subejct to trade restirctions or sanctions.” In other words, forget any requirements to uphold the International Labour Organization’s core labor rights or compliance with any Multinational Environmental Agreements (MEAS) as conditions for trade agreements. What this means: You can put nice language in about labor rights and environmental sustainability, but any kind of enforcement (specifically sanctions - the kind of enforcement that is used for the comercial provisions of the agreement and which actually - egads! - works) is verboten.

The USTR is touting its “victories” in Quito, but a quick look at the seven objectives they “achieved” shows that they are mainly things that had already been agreed upon, such as the fact that the U.S. and Brazil will co-chair the FTAA negotations from now until the 2005 deadline (For a fuller analysis of this, please see the analysis of Victor Menotti of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG)).

Three concrete items every FTAA activist should know:

1) 2003 MINISTERIAL: The 2003 FTAA Trade Ministers Ministerial will be held in downtown Miami, Florida from November 20-21, 2003.

2) DRAFT TEXT: The draft text of the FTAA is available on the official ftaa website - thanks to the pressure brought to bear by civil society (during the Ministerial, more than 1,000 faxes were sent to USTR and Congressional representatives demanding the release of the text from the Public Citizen website alone!). However, like the draft released in 2001, it is a “scrubbed” version missing the crucial information of which countries support which positions. The text is heavily bracketed (brackets denote disagreements between negotiators), but there is no way to know which countries are disagreeing or what the positions of each are. Several groups are working on analysis comparing the new FTAA draft with the 2001 version - the Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA) has publisehd an updated analysis of the text available on the HSA website. Individual groups are working on analysis of issues of particular concern to them - for example, Essential Action and Doctors Without Borders have both done quick analysis of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) chapters and its implications on access to medicines and found that these are no substantive differences from their earlier analysis on the IPR chapter.

3) TIMELINES: Timelines were agreed to in terms of making bilateral “requests and offers” for market access in each of the nine negotiating group areas (agriculture, services, government procurement, etc). This is the process by which governments send requests to other government (“we’d like you to put your education sector on the chopping block” for example), to which other governments respond with “offers” (“we’ll put higher ed on the block, but not primary education.”). The “request” phase lasts from December 15. 2002 - February 15, 2003 and the offer phase from February 15 - June 15, 2003. The final outcome of these bilateral negotitions on what countries are giving up to whom is part of the prep-work to advance the agreement and clear contentious issues out of the way BEFORE the Miami Ministerial. It is interesting to note that the “requests and offers” for the services agreement in the WTO (GATS) is also taking place on a parallel track with final offers due in March of 2003. Both “requests and offers” in the FTAA and the WTO are highly secretive processes so that the populace doesn’t actually know what their government is giving up until its already too late (sound familiar?).

What is clear post-Quito is that the momentum internationally (despite the dismal outcome of the U.S. elections ) is in our favor. Probably in part because of this, the decision was made to have the next FTAA Ministieral on “safe” ground in Miami—where, not conincidentally, the whole process began in 1994 as part of the neoliberal post-NAFTA victory party. It is our unique responsibility to take the massive resistance the FTAA has encountered in the South and bring it home in the North. It is up to us to make sure that we’ve done our jobs this year to build the public awareness, political accountability and glocal campaigns to prove next fall that the “free-trade consensus” is broken where it was born.