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Combatting Free Trade Treaties

Combatting Free Trade Treaties


by Silvia Ribeiro, La Jornada, Rebelión

For something more than a decade, free trade deals have spread like a plague across the world, setting the terms for much of our daily life.

Beyond merely regulating trade between countries they have turned into real agents for changing each country's model and reality. They have facilitated the privatization of socially essential resources and elements that would probably never have come about if proposals for each component had been put separately.

Put en bloc, via superficially technical formulations most people do not understand, they have managed to deepen significantly huge inequality gaps both within and between societies.

If the World Trade Organization is a powerful weapon for imposing rules and privileges in favour of a few multinational corporations and even fewer countries (a "world constitution" as then WTO director Renato Ruggiero called it), most bilateral and regional free trade treaties have gone much further.

They have done so on specific issues as well as on others that were not even within the WTO's remit. Thanks to the "most favoured nation" clause imposed on its members by the WTO, the terms a country agrees in any given treaty, including bilateral South-South ones, automatically apply to treaties negotiated with any third country.

Via the free trade deals, multinational corporations have been able to increase their profits exponentially, not just through the territorial expansion of their markets but also by turning into tradeable goods natural resources and things vital to life, like biodiversity and related knowledge, or water and the services necessary to make use of it, or medicines, education and health care, among others.

Around the world, campaigns of resistance to these trade deals are taking place involving different sectors, issues and forms of organization in accordance with global realities and against the uniformity the multinational coporations want to impose, turning us all into mere consumers of their products and services.

"Combatting Free Trade Treaties", published in February 2008 by Grain, Biothai and the Bilaterals.org collective, tries to give an account of this panorama covering the contexts, issues, situations and resistances which these treaties have provoked throughout the world.(www.combatiendolostlc.org).

For example, it tells how according to World Bank data, in 2004 a total of 229 free trade treaties were in operation around the world and 174 countries had signed at least one. A conservative figure, it includes neither treaties signed but still to be enacted, nor those under negotiation. NAFTA (the United States, Canada and Mexico) is the main precedent for the new generation of these treaties, just as the North American Security and Prosperity Alliance (NASPA) is a bridgehead for adding new components.

Certain key themes repeat themselves in these treaties, including, among others:

  • agricultural market access (in practice for multinational corporations) to break up national agricultural production, particularly small scale production by rural families;

  • protection and privileges for foreign multinational investment, allowing foreign corporations to take States directly to litigation (Mexico has suffered 15 such cases since 1996, costing US$1.7bn in public funds);

  • the obligation to implement intellectual property laws with a heavy negative impact on access to medicines for impoverished classes and countries;

  • the obligation to apply intellectual property law to living things, first micro-organisms and now also plants and animals, inlcuding human genes;

  • liberalization of financial services to facilitate speculative capital flows;
  • conversion of "services" into tradeable goods so as to permit the privatization of education, healthcare, water and energy systems, communications and transport;

  • the redefinition of environmental processes and assets like biodiversity and ecosystems into "environmental services", which in that form can also be made into tradeable goods.

As well as important data for analysis, "Combatting Free Trade Treaties" offers a panorama of the struggles against these global impositions as related by their protagonists.

Finally, it offers a few of the many lessons from these battles. For example, the impact of co-opting sectors of civil society via "participation" in treaty negotiations, or the trap of "having to present an alternative" when the only sensible thing is to say "no" to proposals no one asked for and which only serve big business.

Much more than an update, "Combatting Free Trade Treaties" is necessary reading for understanding and for thinking about ways to resist.

*************

The author is a researcher for Grupo ETC

Original article: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2008/04/12/index.php?section=opinion&article=025a1eco

Translation copyleft tortilla con sal

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