against bilateral US "free trade" agreements
with other countries that make it into mainstream
anglophone media tend not to come from industrialists
or business people. But in Latin America many people
in private enterprise are alarmed and disturbed at
US attempts to impose its imperialist plans on their
countries. A recent article by Colombian industrialist
Emilio Sardi gives the view of one of Colombia's leading
businessmen. It's worth noting.
"free trade" talks
US trade representative Robert Zoellick began moves
to open talks on a bilateral trade deal with Colombia
in August 2003. Then after the failure of last year's
Cancun world trade summit last year, he had to face
resistance from participant countries at the Free
Trade Area of the Americas meeting in Miami in November.
At that time the US announced plans to start bilateral
trade talks with Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia
US government portrays this as a natural development
of the Andean Trade Preferences Act which expires
in 2006. They plan to have bilateral "free trade"
deals in place by then so as to greatly enhance US
power in the region. As Emilio Sardi notes in his
article, these "free trade" deals cut at
the roots of national sovereignty and self determination.
on after Cancun and Miami
bagging four Central American countries with the CAFTA
trade deal, Zoellick now seeks to take out the rest
of Latin America systematically, country by country.
The US trade representative gets his imperial way
by secret "free trade" arm-twisting and
public doublespeak. He can depend on his colleagues
in the State Department and the CIA to intimidate
"free trade" waverers by destabilising uncooperative
potential partners, as they are currently doing in
February this year, the State Department's Bureau
of Information added Dominican Republic to the list
of countries on the US "free trade" shopping
list.2 The relevant statement
deployed this fine specimen of Bush administration
mendacity from the latest White House budget, "These
agreements combine intellectual property and investment
protections for U.S. companies with commitments for
strong environmental and labor protections by our
partners.." But it is precisely those environmental
and labor protections, among other social protections,
that Zoellick's secretly negotiated trade deals consign
to virtual oblivion.
view from Colombia
many well-informed business people throughout Latin
America, Emilio Sardi sees this with absolute clarity.
His article was published in Colombia's Portafolio
magazine earlier this year in response to an article
by a Colombian government adviser attacking his views.3
should stress I am no enemy of trade agreements. They
can be dreadful if badly negotiated or fine if negotiated
well. But I am opposed to the imposition of a treaty
on Colombia that could be extremely damaging, as studies
on the issue by the National Planning office and Fedesarrollo
have shown. And I am opposed to signing the treaty
in a hurry to a timetable imposed by a few government
trade officials without debate and without the due
intervention of public bodies.
long ago I wrote, "Colombia has named a small
team made up of people with academic qualifications
but with no experience of serious negotiation. Although
the lead negotiator is capable, this team bears no
comparison with the North American team. There is
no hope of this negotiation working out in our favour.
The worst feature is that this team from within the
Trade Ministry will decide the positions of Colombia
in the negotiation. It's stupid that the people who
define our position should be the ones who also defend
it. The conflict of interest is obvious. The tendency
is and has been to seek to make the job easy, defining
positions to please the other side but which damage
that remains true. And it's not my two degrees from
Massachusetts Institute of Technology or 40 years
of business experience that qualify me to assert that,
rather it's that I am a Colombian who loves my country
and also it's my concern at the way people want to
slip in by the back door a treaty that will cause
huge damage to many national interests.
it were just international trade that were at stake,
it's possible that only the government might deal
with it. In that case, the position to negotiate -
which should be sought after and agreed - ought to
be formulated by the Ministries of Social Protection
and Agriculture, responsible for the health and employment
of people in Colombia, not by the Ministry of Trade.
The role of the Ministry of Trade should be just to
this is not a treaty only on trade matters. This treaty
will impose legislation on all Colombia's economic
life. Measures on matters like foreign investment,
public sector procurement, health and phytosanitary
measures, intellectual property, competition and legal
arbitration could cause great damage to the country.
In these areas, an attempt is being made to impose
rules far beyond what the World Trade Organization
has established and which Colombia fully abides by.
being attempted is a legal framework to restrict local
competition and not just reduce our competitive export
ability but also to affect our internal markets by
means of restrictive practices that will massively
increase the cost of living. Behind the screen of
a hypothetical liberation of external trade lurks
this attempt to tie up internal markets to the detriment
of domestic consumers.
rules could finish off the nation's food security
and put at risk access to health for the majority
of Colombians. If they are accepted they will have
a supra-constitutional character - coercive and irreversible
- and they will prevent Colombia from changing or
influencing its future development strategies, which
will remain limited by the parameters of the agreement.
This treaty will seriously limit our sovereignty and
so Congress, as well as the controlling bodies have,
beyond the right, the obligation to take part in the
whole process, beneath the watchful gaze of public
former foreign minister Jorge Castaneda, the lead
negotiator of the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA) and the private business representative in
that negotiation, Juan Gallardo, have advised Colombia
to negotiate without haste, with a great deal of preparation
and with all those affected taking part. In the United
States, the rules demand that its Congress approve
negotiating positions before negotitations start,
along with continual approvals throughout the process.
cannot remain silent. Nor will it be possble to prevent
Congress and the controlling bodies playing their
due part to protect the common good and defend our
national autonomy. What's at stake is our national
article puts eloquently and concisely the fundamental
objections to these so called "free trade"
deals. In particular, Sardi reminds us that the US
position is monitored and subject to approval by the
US Congress. In stark contrast, Zoellick's team insist
on negotiating in secret beyond the reach of scrutiny
by the legislatures of the affected countries. That
was a fundamental reason behind the huge and successful
resistance in Costa Rica to the Central American Free
profoundly, Sardi reminds us that our societies are
seamless entities whose social, political and economic
needs and interests interact indivisibly. He is well
aware of the deeply cynical political sleight of hand
that Robert Zoellick and his team are trying to pull.
When they talk about "free trade" in countries
like Colombia, they seek to conceal their real intent,
which is to dominate that country's energy and other
resources to serve the needs of the United States.
The same is true for every country they sit down to
the current state of international affairs with one
superpower ready to use all its political, economic
and miltary might to get what it wants, talk of "free
trade" is deeply misleading and disingenuous.
Right now, nothing approaching anything like "free
trade" prevails nor will do any time soon. Corporate
multinational monopoly capitalism dominates the international
economy across the globe. "Free trade" doesn't
exist. It is a cant term taken over for contemporary
purposes from 19th Century British imperialist propaganda.
may make sense to talk about more or less regulated
trade. But who makes the rules? The failure of the
World Trade Organization summit at Cancun last year
indicates that this is what the United States, Japan
and Europe really mean by "free trade" :
a global deal to guarantee their interests and dominance
according to rules they impose. Robert Zoellick and
his team know very well that people in the majority
world are well aware of this. That is why they insist
on negotiating in secret. Sardi's article confirms
that prominent business people in Latin America understand
US intentions all too well.
Toni Solo is an activist based in Central America.
1. The US trade representative's letter to
Congress on an Andean FTA is available at: http://www.ustr.gov/new/fta/Andean/2003-11-18-notification_letter.pdf.
For Panama at: http://www.ustr.gov/new/fta/Panama/2003-11-18-notification_letter.pdf
2. U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International
Information Programs (usinfo.state.gov) Information
3. Emilio Sardi is Vice-President of the
Colombian company Tecnoquímicas. Original
Spanish verison published by Colombian publication
Portafolio 17th February 2004 and subsequently distributed
by MOIR 19th February 2004. For more information
try www.deslinde.org.co or www.moir.org.co
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