Summit of the Americas: The More Things Change...

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

  • Lula


Written by Kyle Lambert

Leaders from the countries of the Americas are meeting this week in Monterrey, Mexico, for the 2004 Summit of the Americas. You may remember the Summit, protesters made quite a statement a couple years ago when it was held in Quebec City. The most important agenda item at that conference was the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. It was to be a deal which allowed South American states the opportunity to share in the glories of free trade, those same benefits which have seen jobs lost here and the Maquiladoras/near-slave labour zones created in Mexico. Though I suppose that since the Kate Quarries of the world can buy cheap shirts at Wal-Mart because of it, NAFTA can’t be all bad.

However, things are a little different in Monterrey. The FTAA is struggling. Three years after it was first tabled in Quebec City, Canada’s free trade championing Prime Minister now believes that we’ll have to wait until at least 2005 before the FTAA gets off the ground. This is due in large part to a group of leaders from prominent South American countries that have rejected the notion of the FTAA as it stands. Leading somewhat of a renaissance in South America are Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula, for short) of Brazil and Nestor Kirshner of Argentina. Both are from countries which suffered in the latter parts of the 20th century through brutal military dictatorships which were backed by the United States and its allies (yes, that means Canada too!) because they opened their respective economies to so-called free market principles and reforms. However, Lula and Kirshner have been recently elected based on their very public rejection of the principles of free trade in its current form. They argue that protectionist policies in the U.S., and in Canada to a lesser extent, are allowed while South American countries would be punished for supporting their own industries in such a manner. Unfortunately, the best efforts of Lula and Nestor Kirshner may not be good enough.

The FTAA may never get off the ground, but the unfair nature of free trade is unlikely to change anytime soon. I do not wish to take away from the great efforts of the South American leaders, but their quest to make trade fair could be defeated by the underhanded tactics of the more powerful leaders of the Americas. The NAFTA-implicated leaders, Bush, Fox, and Martin, have each stated that they will pursue bilateral agreements with more cooperative states such as Costa Rica and Chile. Basically, if they are unable to coerce the richer South American countries to submit to the current form of market domination, then Bush et al. will go after those who are so poor they have no choice.

This is the way it works in our wonderful world of free trade and open economies. For poorer nations, the NAFTA countries are markets to which they desperately need access, and so they allow wealthy North American firms unfettered access to their own markets. Keep in mind that for all the blabbering about investment and its benefits done by free trade zealots such as Paul Martin, none of the profits reaped by foreign firms in the South American countries will be returned to those markets. They will come back to the states that are already well-off. At the same time, less-developed states such as Chile and Costa Rica can only sell products made in factories owned by North American firms. Thus we have the vicious circle of today’s free trade regime. The poor do what they can to survive in the global market, while the rich take full advantage of their own wealth and power to further exploit the poor and gain even more of an unfair advantage.

One can only hope that the Kirshners and Lulas of the world continue to do what is best for their people and fight the creation of the FTAA. However, as seems to always be the case these days, the wealth and power of rich North America may be too overwhelming. If Argentina, Brazil, and others like Bolivia are surrounded by states with bilateral trade deals with the U.S. and Canada, where do they turn? Certainly not to any sympathies up North! To the likes of Paul Martin and George W. Bush, Lula and Kirshner are mere problems. And in the cutthroat world of free trade, there is no problem to which the market does not have a solution.

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