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Sweatshopping the Hemisphere

by Revolutionary Worker Sunday, Apr. 15, 2001 at 5:21 AM

Impact of the FTAA on the people and environment of the Western Hemisphere

RW ONLINE:FTAA: Sweatshopping the Hemisphere FTAA: Sweatshopping the Hemisphere

Revolutionary Worker #1097, April 8, 2001, posted at

From April 20-22 the heads of government of every country in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba will come together at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, Canada. Representatives of 34 countries in North, South, and Central America, and the Caribbean will be protected by metal fences and the largest police deployment in Canadian history. The goal of their meeting will be to put together the Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement (FTAA). The goal of this agreement will be to increase privatization and deregulation and make it even easier for imperialist exploitation throughout the hemisphere.

The FTAA will cause profound changes for millions. But U.S. officials have avoided much public discussion of the FTAA. Negotiations have gone on in secret. Government officials and representatives of corporations and financial institutions have been deeply involved in developing the agreement. With rising anti-globalization protests around the world, the U.S. fears that the more people know about the FTAA, the more it too will become the target of broad opposition and protest.

Despite the attempts to keep it quiet, activists have dug up a lot of information on what the FTAA will mean, and determined resistance to it is rising. Thousands of students, environmentalists, trade unionists, anti-imperialists, anarchists, AIDS activists, revolutionary communists, and others from both Canada and the U.S.--including many veterans of anti-globalization battles in Seattle, Windsor, Washington, DC and Prague--are planning to go to Quebec to protest the summit. Other actions are planned on both the Canadian and Mexican borders, as well as many cities in the U.S. and in South America.

The Plunder of the Americas

In 1994, the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) was passed, making the U.S., Mexico and Canada a unified trade area. Soon after this, President Clinton announced that the U.S. wanted to extend the agreement to include the whole hemisphere, establishing a "free trade area of the Americas." This same year, the FTAA effort was launched by the Summit of the Americas in Miami. Formal negotiations started with the 1998 summit in Santiago. Now, a draft of the agreement is reportedly set to be submitted to the Quebec summit, where negotiations will begin for the final agreement. FTAA is set to be imposed by 2005, with the U.S. pushing for it to be ready by 2003.

The FTAA is one part of U.S. efforts to integrate the entire hemisphere into an integrated global market under the domination of the U.S. and serving U.S. interests.

Adoption of the FTAA would increase the impoverishment, exploitation and environmental destruction of the peoples and lands in the oppressed nations throughout the Western Hemisphere. It would further increase bloodsucking profit-making by big capitalist corporations. U.S. imperialist control and penetration of the economies of the poor countries of South and Central America would be strengthened.

The people of Latin America have already been devastated by austerity measures, privatization, and currency devaluation over the last decade. Already, 45% of the population live in deep poverty. Structural adjustment policies enforced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank--two international financial institutions dominated by the U.S.--have led to more destruction of the rainforests and lands of indigenous peoples. U.S.-backed counter-insurgency wars in Colombia and against the people's war in Peru have brought death, displacement and torture. The FTAA will make this nightmare situation for the people even worse.

FTAA--The Myth vs. the Reality

President Clinton said the FTAA would "create a partnership for prosperity where freedom and trade and economic opportunity become the common property of the people of the Americas." But this is an agreement between the U.S. as the world's dominant imperialist power, its junior capitalist partner Canada, and 32 poor, oppressed nations. The U.S. controls 75% of the total goods and services produced in the Western Hemisphere. So the remaining 25% is divided up between the rest, with Canada gobbling up a good part. Given this reality, some "partners" are far more "equal" than others.

As a recent article from A World To Win magazine points out: " 'Free trade' is itself a hollow watchword today--this is the era of imperialism, where big monopolies bestride the globe and dominate every major sphere of economic life. The 500 top multinational corporations, most of them based in the U.S., control 70 percent of all cross-border trade, and 60 percent of trade in agricultural products is controlled by U.S. agribusiness firms. In practice, expanding trade strengthens the ability of those able to take advantage of worldwide production and marketing networks by stripping away the mechanisms different countries have set up to protect the smaller home-grown industries and agriculture. Bringing small enterprises in particular in the Third World into more direct unfettered rivalry with the Western-based giants is a guarantee that the larger firms will gobble up the smaller ones and extend their penetration and domination of the oppressed countries." (See AWTW #26, "Free Trade-Engine of Growth or Plunder?" reprinted in the RW #1095-96.)

Trade expansion under imperialism has actually increased the polarization between rich and poor countries and within countries. The standard of living in the richest countries in the world was three times that of the poorest countries in 1800, six times higher in 1900, and 20 times higher in 2000. And in the period of the largest expansion of trade, from 1980 to 1996, 59 countries experienced an actual decline in Gross Domestic Product per year.

The official Summit of the Americas FTAA "Plan of Action" is full of public relations lies--aimed at covering up what this agreement will really mean for the people. The major points of the plan call for "preserving and strengthening the community of democracies of the Americas," "promoting prosperity through economic integration and free trade," "eradicating poverty and discrimination in our hemisphere," and "guaranteeing sustainable development and conserving our natural environment for future generations." But the reality of the FTAA has nothing to do with these lofty sounding slogans.

The FTAA is based on NAFTA, as well as elements of WTO (World Trade Organization) treaties. The major areas the agreement will cover are agriculture, services, investment, dispute settlement, intellectual property rights, subsidies and anti-dumping, competition policy, government procurement, and market access.

Essentially the FTAA will increase the ability of capital and goods to move across borders without any kind of hindrance or tariffs. Capital will flow rapidly in and out of countries to wherever the quickest and highest profit can be found. Health, safety, labor and environmental protections will be undermined or eliminated. Corporations will be allowed to sue governments for money--on the basis that certain laws (for example zoning laws against toxic waste dumps) prevent foreign corporations from making a profit.

FTAA will mean capitalist businesses can freely relocate without penalty or cost. Relocation will be used as a threat against workers to try to smash organization and resistance. This will increase competition between workers in different countries, driving wages down in all countries. Services like health care, education and even access to drinking water will be opened to privatization, putting them under the control of the "free market"--in other words, to be bought up by corporations to make profit. And the FTAA will expand the patenting of seeds, native agriculture, and even genes of indigenous peoples, turning them into commodities owned and sold by capitalist business for profit.

These are only some of the examples of what FTAA imperialist "liberalization" will mean for the people:

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