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What lies behind the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)?
Professor of Economics, University of Ottawa
The Summit of the Americas will be held inside a four kilometer "bunker" made of concrete and galvanized steel fencing. The 10 feet high "Quebec Wall" encircles part of the historic city center including the parliamentary compound of the National Assembly, hotels and shopping areas. Cars will enter through closely guarded checkpoints; laissez-passers have been issued to official delegations, to the CEOs of major banks and corporations, as well as approved media and "selected invitees." (Click to see map of the "Security Perimeter" at
Outside the bunker, more than 6,000 police and security forces are on hand, equipped not only with "pepper spray" but also with "multi-shot" Arwen 37 guns shooting hard-coated plastic bullets. The latter --according to a RCMP spokesperson-- are
"...'meant to crack a rib and put them in a lot of pain', ... Tactical squads are usually required to test such less-lethal weapons --such as Tasers, which deliver electric shocks-- on themselves. But Toronto Police Constable Leighton said it would be 'too dangerous' to do so with the Arwen." 1
With Canadian Armed Forces personnel dispatched to Quebec's capital from military bases in Nova Scotia, the security apparatus in Quebec promises to be "better organized" than at the Seattle WTO Millenium Summit in 1999. In Seattle, the city's riot police was integrated with Gang Squads and SWAT teams of the Tactical Operations Divisions constituting the "more militarized components" of the police force.
By any standard this is the largest police operation in North America directed against ordinary citizens. Rather than "cordoning off" the conference center which is standard practice in international summits-- the Canadian authorities have chosen to "fence in" a large part of the downtown area --not only denying the rights of citizens to protest but also preventing residents from moving around within their own city.
And those who defy the Quebec Wall will be taken to Orsainville penitentiary which has been emptied of its entire prison population (including several members of the Hells Angels) to make room for these more dangerous "troublemakers."
Barely a week before the Summit, the Canadian and provincial governments, the City of Quebec and Quebec City's Police force were taken to court by a Montreal lawyer and the Vancouver based Canadian Liberty Committee (CLC). In a signed affidavit, the Canadian government representative stated that democracy was not under threat, to ensure:
''freedom of expression ... the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has [sent] invitations to the Summit to approximately 60 representatives of interest groups and lobby groups." 2
Moreover, "alternative protest sites" ("sites alternatifs de manifestation") have been designated --on the other side of the Wall-- so that the rank and file of these same civil society organisations can do their own thing.
The "People's Summit", organized by NGOs and major trade unions-- will receive "financial contributions for the holding of seminars, colloquia and public meetings."3 The federal government has allocated Can$287,000-- a comfortable amount of money, but "peanuts" in comparison to the 46 million dollar budget allocated by Ottawa for the police operation and the erection of the Wall.
The official list of civil society invitees has not been made public but we have a good idea who the "partner" civil society organizations are. The invitees include leaders of major trade union federations as well as several CEOs of mainstream NGOs. 4
The ritual is broadly similar to that of the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization (WTO) Millenium Summit. Several months ahead of time, the WTO and Western governments had called for a "dialogue" with the leaders of selected civil society organisations. A carefully worded AFL-CIO petition had been drafted urging the WTO Summit to adopt "trade and investment rules [which] protect workers' rights and the environment". In Seattle, Labor's buzzword was to "make the global economy work for working families". 5
Similarly, last January at the global business Summit in Davos --regrouping the World's top corporate execs, heads of State and VIPs, the leaders of some 59 "civil society" organisations --including the CEOs of Greenpeace, Oxfam UK, Amnesty International and Save the Children Alliance-- were also in attendance.
The ploy is to selectively handpick civil society leaders "whom we can trust" and integrate them into a "dialogue", cut them off from their rank and file, make them feel that they are "global citizens" acting on behalf of their fellow workers but make them act in a way which serves the interests of the corporate establishment:
The participation of NGOs in the Annual Meeting in Davos is evidence of the fact that [we] purposely seek to integrate a broad spectrum of the major stakeholders in society in ... defining and advancing the global agenda ... We believe the [Davos] World Economic Forum provides the business community with the ideal framework for engaging in collaborative efforts with the other principal stakeholders [NGOs] of the global economy to "improve the state of the world," which is the Forum's mission. 6
AFL-CIO's John Sweeney and Canadian Labor Congress (CLC) Ken Georgetti --together with Bill Jordan of the International Confederation of Free trade Unions (ICTFU)-- were also in Davos, mingling in a friendly environment with financier George Soros, Microsoft's Bill Gates and World Bank President James Wolfensohn. Meanwhile the rank and file protesters of these "civil society" organisations were being beaten with clubs and assaulted with water cannons by the Swiss riot police "outside" the Conference venue at the "counter-Davos."
In the New World Order, the ritual of inviting "civil society" leaders into the inner circles of power --while simultaneously repressing the rank and file-- serves several important functions. First, it says to the World that the critics of globalization "must make concessions" to earn the right to mingle. Second, it conveys the illusion that while the global elites should --under what is euphemistically called democracy-- be subject to criticism, they nonetheless rule legitimately. And third, it says "there is no alternative" to globalization: fundamental change is not possible and the most we can hope is to engage with these rulers in an ineffective "give and take".
While the "Globalizers" may adopt a few progressive phrases to demonstrate they have good intentions, their fundamental goals are not challenged. And what this "civil society mingling" does is to reinforce the clutch of the corporate establishment while weakening and dividing the protest movement.
An understanding of this process of co-optation is important, because tens of thousands of the most principled young people in Seattle, Prague and Quebec City are involved in the anti-globalization protests because they reject the notion that money is everything, because they reject the impoverishment of millions and the destruction of fragile Earth so that a few may get richer. This rank and file and some of their leaders as well, are to be applauded. But we need to go further. We need to challenge the right of the "Globalizers" to rule. This requires that we rethink the strategy of protest. Can we move to a higher plane, by launching mass movements in our respective countries, movements that bring the message of what globalization is doing, to ordinary people? For they are the force that must be mobilized to challenge those who would plunder the Globe.
The FTAA is a good deal more than a trade agreement. Throughout the Americas, it would radically transform the social existence of sovereign nations.
Fundamental economic, social and institutional relations would be enshrined into a set of legally binding conditions. All public services that are at least in part subsidized by the State, would be opened up to international tender under the terms of the proposed clauses on "national treatment." If a government finances health or education, this service must be opened to international bidding. And who would bid? The large corporations would take control, all community based facilities would be transformed into profit-making undertakings ---schools, sports clubs, day-care centers, everything.
Moreover, the FTAA clauses would literally allow for the privatization of municipalities. Water, sewer systems, roads and municipal services would be owned and operated by private companies (rather than by citizens) much in the same way as the "gated communities" in the US. More generally, the FTAA would destroy local economies, depress wages and impoverish millions of people. The agreement --entrenched in international law-- would annul or invalidate national laws.
The FTAA would also allow for the privatization of water, inter-city highways as well as entire urban areas. The FTAA would also lead to the demise of national, regional and municipal governments.
Moreover, under FTAA rules, the enforcement of the IMF's deadly "economic medicine" --which has served to destroy national economies and impoverish developing countries --would no longer hinge upon cumbersome loan agreements, which for the governments had the advantage that they were not "legally binding" documents.
But under FTAA rules, Latin American governments would have no political leverage whatsoever; they would loose their "right" to even negotiate with their creditors: the "economic medicine" would become permanently entrenched in international law. Countries would not longer be "bonded" by external debt; they would be permanently "enslaved" by their creditors.
The FTAA would grant a "charter of rights" to corporations, which would not only override national laws but would also enable private companies to sue national governments, demand the annulment of national laws and receive compensation for potential lost profits which result from government regulations.
While some of these broad issues will be debated at the People's Summit, they have not been included in the demands of trade union leaders from the US, Canada and Latin America. Regrouped under the umbrella of the ICFTU, The trade unions have called upon the FTAA Summit to include the usual core labor standards, environmental and human rights clauses in the agreement.
This is not a trade deal; it is the American Empire. Behind the FTAA are the powers of Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. Ironically, while local economies including public services would be deregulated, under the FTAA the production of weapons of mass destruction by America's major defense contractors would remain heavily subsidized ...
Although not officially on the FTAA agenda, the militarization of South America under "Plan Colombia", the signing of a "parallel" military cooperation protocol by 27 countries of the Americas (the so-called Declaration of Manaus) is an integral part of the process of hemispheric integration. US strategic interests are at stake.
The imposition of "free" trade by Washington is an instrument of economic conquest which serves US corporate interests as well as those of the military-intelligence-apparatus. Trade Negotiator Richard Zoellnick --who is slated to play a key role in Quebec City-- is part of the Bush National Security Team working closely with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The deregulation of national banking institutions is part and parcel of the Summit agenda. Supported by the Bush administration, Wall Street wants to extend its control throughout the hemisphere, eventually displacing or taking over existing national financial institutions.
With the help of the IMF, Washington is also bullying Latin American countries into accepting the US dollar as their national currency. The greenback has already been imposed on five Latin American countries including Ecuador, Argentina, Panama, El Salvador and Guatemala.
The economic and social consequences of "dollarisation" have been devastating. In these countries, Wall Street and the US Federal Reserve system directly control monetary policy. The entire structure of public expenditure is controlled by US creditors. Real wages have collapsed, social programs have been destroyed, large sectors of the population have been driven into abysmal poverty.
While not officially part of the FTAA Summit agenda, the adoption of the US dollar as the common currency for the Western Hemisphere is being discussed behind closed doors.
Militarisation and "dollarisation" are the essential building blocks of the American Empire.
With mounting dissent from all sectors of society against the FTAA, the official Summit desperately needs the token participation of "civil society" leaders "on the inside", to give the appearance of being "democratic." The Summit is seeking the endorsement of these organizations in exchange for token modifications of the Agreement, which do not put into doubt the overall legitimacy of the FTAA nor modify substantially the workings of the proposed free trade area.
The hidden agenda is to weaken and divide the protest movement and orient the anti-globalization movement into areas that do not directly threaten the interests of the business establishment and --more importantly-- which do not raise the broader issue of Washington's political hegemony in the Western Hemisphere.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush's trade negotiator Robert Zoellnick is preparing fast-track legislation packaged under the "presidential trade promotion authority", with a view to rushing the FTAA (without amendments) through the US Congress. In other words, instating the American Empire will not be subjected to the uncertainties of parliamentary consent.
In turn, in consultation with the AFL-CIO, the powerful Business Roundtable (BR) and The Emergency Committee for American Trade (ECAT) --integrated by the representatives of America's largest corporations-- are pushing the line of the trade union bosses, they are demanding the Bush administration "to make labor and environmental standards part of future trade talks."6
While most of the protesters who have converged on Quebec City (including Quebec's vibrant student movement) reject the trade deal outright, the leaders of some of the mainstream "civil society" groups want to get their human rights, democracy, labor and environmental clauses embedded into the official texts and then "cry victory," we've done it! 7 However, by doing this they would not only go against their rank and file, they would also provide --without fully realizing the implications-- legitimacy to an all encompassing process which destroys institutions and impoverishes millions of people.
The American Empire cannot be amended; it must be rejected, fought and defeated. The FTAA must be closed down!
1. Toronto Star, 22 March 2001.
2. Canada, Province de Quebec, District de Quebec, Cours supˇrieure, No. 200-05-014848-019, Affidavit de Denis Ricard, Section II, paragragh 16).
3. According to the signed affidavit, Canada, Province de Quˇbec, op cit.
4. CLC K. Georgetti and AFL-CIO J. Sweeney are also on the guest list of the official FTAA Summit in Quebec City. While the Council of Canadians (COC) has stated that it will decline Ottawa's invitation, Matthew Coon Come, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations has accepted. Among union leaders, the President of the Quebec's FTQ Henry Massˇ has accepted, while making clear that he will also be participating (outside the bunker) in the People's Summit in solidarity with his rank and file.
5. See AFL-CIO, "Make the Global Economy Work for Working Families",
http://www.wslc.org/wto/index.htm. , October 1999)
6. See World Economic Forum, Press Release,
http://www.weforum.org/whatwedo.nsf/documents/what+we+do?Open 5 January 2001.
7. In these Times, 16 April 2001
Related texts by Michel Chossudovsky:
Seattle and Beyond: Disarming the New World Order, November 1999 at http://www.transnational.org/forum/meet/seattle.html.
Global Poverty in the Late 20th Century, Journal of International Affairs, Fall 1999 at http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/chossu.htm.
CBC "Commentary", on the FTAA and the likely fate of the Canadian Dollar, CBC, 9 April 2001.
C Copyright by Michel Chossudovsky, Ottawa, April 2001. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to post this text on non-commercial community internet sites, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. The text can also be photocopied for non-commercial distribution. To publish this text in printed and/or other forms contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 1-514-4256224.