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What Free Trade is Really About

From the original Canada-US free trade agreement and NAFTA to the WTO agreements and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, these international treaties are about making it easier for the world’s largest corporations to lower their costs. It allows them to seek out the cheapest workers, the most lax environmental laws and to use the threat of relocation to get what they want. The notion that any country, its workers or consumers benefit from such agreements is a myth.

When the subject of international trade comes up, most people probably think about imports of cars made in Japan, export of Midwest grain, or perhaps the shipment of fabric pieces to Mexico where they are sewn into garments and shipped back to U.S. retail stores. Until recently, free trade agreements were about reducing tariffs-taxes on cross-border shipments of goods-to reduce the cost of international trade.

Not any more. Now what passes for "free trade" agreements goes way beyond tariff reduction. Under the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, virtually any law that hinders international commerce can be considered a "barrier to trade." This new expansive view of trade puts democracy at risk, along with the rights of workers, the protection of the environment, and the health of communities.

Governments Pay Polluters



Harsh Impact of NAFTA



Current Issues for Labor In the Free Trade World It’s not looking to good.



April 2001, Quebec, Canada, saw a meeting of leaders from the hemisphere to discuss the FTAA.

The United States, being the dominant economic power in the region, as well as the world is obviously a major factor in the FTAA. The U.S. is very supportive of the FTAA and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) wishes to expand the trade in services which would imply the privatization of health, education and other public services. It would be similar to what is promoted via the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) at the World Trade Organization. (For more about GATS, visit this web site's section on GATS).

As with NAFTA, the USTR proposals for the FTAA would result in greater rights for investors, without establishing any corresponding responsibilities. The USTR's position is that investors should have the right to move funds into and out of countries without delay - meaning that provisions such as capital controls or performance requirements to ensure that investments serves to promote development goals would be illegal under an FTAA.

Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Free Trade Area of the Americas, The Development GAP, appearing in Foreign Policy In Focus Volume 6, Number 12 April 2001

Furthermore, as pointed out in this radio show back in April 2001 leading up to the FTAA meeting in Quebec, it has been difficult for the public to get access to the FTAA documents, even though major corporations have ready access to it. Even the world's largest journalists' group, the International Federation of Journalists, has raised concerns about the secrecy around the FTAA despite the fact that it impacts the lives of roughly 800 million people.

Labor Notes Subscribe to News Letter and Updates

Free Trade the Beginning in Canada Broadcast Oct. 25, 1988


Deal of the Decade Broadcast Dec. 10, 1997


How we got there

There's no consensus on Canada's free trade legacy. American investment in Canada increased and Canadian imports and exports to the United States more than doubled between 1990 and 1997. Critics contend that free trade resulted in a loss of 250,000 jobs by 1992 with the sale of Canadian companies or their movement to the United States or Mexico.

The Mulrony years

Companies continue to shut down or have their products outsourced. Farmers as well as others are still suffering because of Free Trade in Canada. Social Services have been devastated. Safety Nets have been dismantled. Labor and Safety laws have also been affected. Unions have been affected. The price of many things have risen in price to a point many have become homeless or living in extreme poverty. It seems to get worse as time goes on.


US Can Not be Trusted To Honour Free Trade Agreements.

Canada considers trade tariffs on U.S. exports News Staff

Senior Liberals came out swinging on the first official day of their caucus retreat in Regina, Sask., hinting at an escalating trade war with the U.S.

Prime Minister Paul Martin castigated the U.S. for its protectionist stance against Canadian lumber exports.

"The American position is absolutely untenable. It's unacceptable," said Martin on Tuesday during a photo op with the Saskatchewan Roughriders football team.

Last week, the U.S. announced it would ignore a decision by a NAFTA panel that found Canadian lumber exports posed no threat to U.S. producers.

"The fact is that we won those cases and under the terms of NAFTA and under the terms of any kind of an agreement, when a panel comes down and makes a decision, that should be honoured,'' said Martin.

Sources told CTV's Roger Smith that the prime minister plans to call U.S President George Bush to urge him to accept the softwood verdict, and head off what could escalate into a crippling trade war.

Although the prime minister didn't mention imposing tariffs on Tuesday, several of his cabinet ministers said Ottawa is identifying products where Canadian tariffs would put pressure on the U.S. economy -- while inflicting minimal damage domestically.

"This softwood lumber dispute has really gone beyond the pale and its time for a pretty firm response on the part of Canada," said Trade Minister Jim Peterson.

Industry Minister David Emerson used a hockey analogy to describe Ottawa's willingness to retaliate against its NAFTA partner.

"I have a background from my younger days in hockey. When somebody slammed you into the boards with undue force and aggression, you took their number,'' Emerson told reporters.
"I think we've got to take their number.''

Canada is already seeking authorization from the World Trade Organization for billions of dollars in punitive tariffs against U.S. imports.

Finance Minister Ralph Goodale said the federal government is intent on making its point that U.S. Customs has illegally collected $5 billion in tariffs on Canadian softwood since 2002.

"We want to make sure that whatever option we pursue is effective in making our point ... without at the same time shooting ourselves in the foot,'' said Goodale.

Free Trade  Lets Take Their Water!

Control over water is one of the main incentives of the proposal for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The United States and transnational corporations want to use the neoliberal integration of the hemisphere to privatize water resources. They also want to use it to alter the course of water flows with megaprojects that environmentalists deem demented. But throughout Latin America people are organizing to counter these water management schemes by creating socially equitable and ecologically sustainable alternatives based on popular participation.

Privatization at Any Cost It doesn’t work to benefit anyone but the ones in control.

In spite of these cases of positive engagement, the U.S. government and transnational corporations insist on privatization and neoliberal orthodoxy in the management of water. The main tool to push the privatization agenda is the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Under the FTAA’s terms, foreign investors will be able to sue and demand compensation from governments for any law or rule that affects their profits. This could mean costly economic sanctions to the country that revokes privatizations of aqueducts or tries to limit or prevent the international trade in water, even if such attempts are motivated by environmental or public health reasons.

The End of a Cycle of Plundering
The Debt Crisis  

How they got there

Broadly speaking, "the privatization of state enterprises is always linked to the renegotiation of a country’s foreign debt," notes Belgian economist Eric Toussaint, president of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt.The roots of privatization policy can therefore be traced back to the so-called "debt crisis" ignited by Mexico’s payment moratorium in August 1982.

At that time, Washington was facing a crisis in its global hegemony caused by the United States ' military defeat in Vietnam, domestic antiwar protests allied with the black civil rights movement, and the demands of Third World countries. This erosion of power culminated when the Iranian Revolution of 1979 sparked the hostage crisis the following year.

The convergence of these multiple challenges laid bare the declining hegemony of the world’s most powerful nation and ushered in a long-term shift: "Domestic and global New Deals were abandoned, and the United States tried to restore its military prestige. To pay for increased military expenses for the Second Cold War, it raised interest rates and began to compete actively for international capital in search of investment. During the 1980s, it attracted the global surplus and precipitated the ‘debt crisis,’ signaling the abandonment of the promise of ‘development.’"As the U.S. Federal Reserve hiked interest rates, loans to poor countries were drastically curtailed, preventing them from obtaining new loans to repay their debts. As a result, Third World debt became unpayable.


Road show of Central American presidents can't prevent growing opposition to DR-CAFTA

Oxfam Press Release - 13 May 2005 

WASHINGTON, DC— The Dominican Republic - Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) is a threat to poor people in developing countries, said international agency Oxfam today, as the presidents of five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic are meeting with President Bush. The six presidents have just completed an unprecedented road show to convince US citizens and their lawmakers to support the Free Trade Agreement between their countries and the US, but opposition to the agreement is mounting.

Members of the US Congress from both sides of the aisle have been joined by non-governmental organizations, labor unions, producers groups, environmental groups, faith groups and others in the US and in Central America to campaign against DR-CAFTA. Only three Central American countries have been able to ratify the trade pact and did so amid widespread public protest with heavy military and police presence. Other countries have delayed consideration in response to mounting opposition. The trade agreement is under consideration by both the House and the Senate and is expected to come up for a vote in the US Congress before the end of the summer.

"The free trade deal being discussed today by President Bush and Central American presidents could throw millions of people in developing countries into deeper poverty," said Stephanie Weinberg, Oxfam’s trade policy advisor. "Those who stand to lose the most under DR-CAFTA are the ones who are already disadvantaged in these highly unequal societies, where the majority of poor people live in rural areas, rely on income from agriculture and must pay for medicines out-of-pocket."

While the Central American presidents have made stops in Washington and other US cities to drum up support for the increasingly unpopular agreement, others from the region have also visited to urge Congress to oppose DR-CAFTA.

"DR-CAFTA poses a serious threat to farmers in my country, who won’t be able to compete with highly subsidized U.S. producers," said Victorio Valerio, president of the Dominican Republic’s National Federation of Rice Producers (FENARROZ), which represents 30,000 small and medium-scale rice farmers in the country. Valerio came to Washington to express his concerns about the trade agreement.

DR-CAFTA blatantly ignores the fact that US farmers receive extensive subsidies and domestic supports, estimated to be around $18 billion this year alone. The agreement requires Central American countries to open their markets to the dumping of subsidized US rice and other commodities, which could spell economic disaster for over five million people in the region who depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

"If DR-CAFTA passes, the poor people in my village will be pushed into extreme poverty," said Fabián Saavedra, a rice farmer from Nicaragua, who joined Valerio in Washington. "We have to work together to stop this from happening."

Citizens and lawmakers throughout the region are increasingly voicing concerns over the destructive impacts of the trade deal. Costa Rica’s concern over DR-CAFTA’s adverse effects on that country’s poor has delayed a vote on the agreement. Lawmakers in the Dominican Republic recently decided to delay consideration of DR-CAFTA after recognizing that domestic agricultural producers would need to be compensated for their losses if the agreement were to be ratified.

"DR-CAFTA is just one of a proliferation of regional free trade agreements being negotiated by the US and EU, which threaten to undermine the multilateral process at the WTO and throw millions of poor farmers in developing countries into deeper poverty," continued Weinberg. "The US should do better if it wants to promote peace, political and economic security in this region that has struggled with poverty and inequality, and the resulting instability, for so long."

 More On Free Trade and WTO And The Damage It Is Doing. A Fabulous Read.

Go To Take Action For Petitons

Free Trade Issues, World Trade, Biotech, Canada-Us Relations, Beyond Factory Farming, Blue Planet Project. Take Action- Petitions. Please take the time to sign them.
Send this letter to the trade Minister Peterson Canada Post or You Could E-Mail it. 
The Honorable James Scott Peterson Minister of International Trade House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6 Minister Peterson, I am writing in order to share my deepest concern regarding your government’s position on Chapter 11 of NAFTA. For the past ten years, the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in Chapter 11 has allowed foreign corporations to sue our country for taking actions in the public interest. Foreign investors have used these extraordinary rights to challenge our environmental laws, municipal land-use controls, water protection measures, Canada Post, and even the decisions of juries and appellate courts. To make matters worse, your government seems to have become one of the biggest proponents of these investment rules around the world. Your department pushes “Investor protection” rules at the World Trade Organization, at the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations and in countless bi-lateral investment treaties, this despite the fact that they are controversial and strongly opposed in most multilateral forums. I ask you to impose a moratorium on any further investment trade deals, call for an immediate review of our trade positions, and officially reject Chapter 11. We should not have to pay foreign multinationals for the right to exercise democracy in Canada! Sincerely,
(your name here)

World Trade Org. :( Shrink or Sink Petition;) You can as an individual sign it.

Medicare Protection Pledge- Petition Dear friends of Medicare, The fate of Medicare is at stake. Although all federal parties claim to defend it, the forces of privatization are hard at work. The medicare protection pledge was created by a non-partisan coalition of citizens who want to protect and enhance Medicare.  Keep Cananda Healthy. We don't want the American System. Over 13 million in the US do not have access to Health Care. The insurance rates are horiffic in price most are over $600 hundred a month for only two people. And if you are lucky enough to be able to afford it. Don't get to sick. Insurance covers everything until you get sick. Then they will not cover you. It isn't profitable. Keep Cananda Strong. I have talked to many American citizens and they wish they had our system. Lets not be foolish enough to allow Insurance Companies take over our Health Care. If we do that the cost of Health Care will sky rocket. The private sector cares only about profit not the health of people. Our system is cheaper, simply because profit is not a priority, people are. 7933 Signatures Total As of June 11. There are over 13 million Canadians. Wake up.