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Bilaterals, FTAA = "sneaky globalisation"

Bilaterals, FTAA = "sneaky globalisation" - GATT Watchdog

GATT Watchdog PO Box 1905 Christchurch NEW ZEALAND

Media Release For Immediate Use - 20 April 2001

Bilaterals, Free Trade Area of the Americas = "sneaky globalisation" - GATT Watchdog

This weekend's Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, Canada will bring together leaders of 34 countries of the Americas to discuss controversial plans to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to cover the entire Western Hemisphere except for Cuba. It will be the focus for mass actions against corporate globalisation promoted by the FTAA, with thousands heading towards the city to protest.

GATT Watchdog says that in the absence of a new WTO round since the Seattle debacle, global capital and various governments, including New Zealand, are pursuing "sneaky globalisation" through regional and bilateral deals by which they hope to revive flagging political will in global free trade and investment.

"Like the bilateral agreements which New Zealand has already signed with Singapore, Argentina, Chile and which it is now negotiating with Hong Kong, the FTAA has been negotiated in secret. For all of the post-Seattle rhetoric of improved transparency neither the public nor the media are allowed to see the text of such agreements until it is too late. This is utterly unacceptable. These agreements are far-reaching, legally binding documents which go way past dismantling barriers to trade in goods. They are charters of rights for overseas investors, particularly the transnational corporations which dominate the global economy," said Aziz Choudry, of GATT Watchdog.

"Regional and bilateral agreements aim to stitch up a web of what can no longer be achieved so easily on a global scale through the WTO. Internal tensions within the 140-member WTO and increasing external pressure on it have left it in bad shape. What we are now seeing is globalisation by stealth through a resurgence in bilateral and regional backup trade strategies as the WTO tries to fix its serious crisis of credibility and legitimacy which even New Zealand's free trade action hero Mike Moore cannot patch up."

"The FTAA and many of the bilateral agreements which New Zealand has been signing strongly parallel elements of the stalled Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), parts of which were themselves based on provisions of NAFTA allowing foreign investors to sue governments for regulations that infringe on their potential profits - regardless of the negative health, social or environmental impacts of that investment. Some governments hope that through these agreements they can get concessions which they might not be able to get in multilateral fora. And notwithstanding this weekend's protests, bilateral and regional negotiations often attract less publicity and attention conducive to creating international campaigns that have dogged the WTO, the MAI and the programmes of the IMF and the World Bank.

"In Latin America, the free trade, free market policies of the past two decades have been a disaster. Income per person has grown 7% over the past 20 years, compared with 75% in the previous two decades."

"Instead of trying to put old wine in new bottles, the New Zealand government should impose a moratorium on all current negotiations. It is high time for a genuine, informed participatory and open debate on free trade and investment," said Mr Choudry.

For further comment contact: Aziz Choudry, GATT Watchdog notoapec@clear.net.nz

(Note: Many intending to join protests in Quebec City expect to get turned back at the US-Canadian border as Canada mounts the largest police operation in North America directed towards ordinary citizens. Police and immigration officials are already targetting some people heading to anti-FTAA actions in Quebec. Several key organisers in the USA and Canada for this weekend's activities against the FTAA have toured New Zealand in the past two years. They are Orin Langelle, and Anne Petermann of Vermont Mobilisation for Global Justice, USA, who visited in November/December 2000, and Jaggi Singh of the Montreal-based CLAC coalition against the FTAA, who took part in anti-APEC activities in September 1999.

Mr Langelle and Ms Petermann can be contacted at +1 (840) 6322 or (862) 4737or email vmob@riseup.net Mr Singh can be contacted at +1 (514) 526 8946 or email clac@tao.ca; jaggi@tao.ca)

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