Is the FTAA Washington wanted dead?

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at
Sat Nov 15 07:01:58 MST 2003

	It looks like Brazil has pushed the button on torpedoing the
Free Trade Area of the Americas, at least in any form similar to what
Washington wanted. 

	A dpa (German press agency) dispatch from Brasilia reports that
Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the U.S. and Brazil would jointly
propose and FTAA "light" to the Miami ministerial meeting.

	DPA quotes Amorim as saying: "The main result of the Miami
meeting will be an accord that allows for the intensification of
negotiations, in keeping with the flexibilities we agreed to adopt in
the architecture of the ALCA," as the FTAA is called in Latin America.

	"Amorim said that at next week's meeting, Brasilia and
Washington will propose the signing of a broad accord among the 34
countries involved in the trade talks with general rules for all
chapters but including a provision that allows each country to take on
only the commitments they see fit," the agency added, citing reports in
the local press on Friday. 

	"For example, Brazil could initially opt out of agreements on
investment and intellectual property, preferring to negotiate them
directly through the World Trade Organization (WTO)."

	The Reuters news agency gives a somewhat different spin but
seems to agree with on the main point: 

	"Up to last week, Brazilian Agriculture Minister Roberto
Rodrigues predicted the [Miami] meeting would collapse, much like world
trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, if the United States refused to cut
domestic farm subsidies that block trade.

	"In Washington, Amorim agreed to leave the domestic farm
subsidies out of the FTAA, so long as a pact allowed nations to choose
whether or not to adopt rules."

	Such an agreement, which would not bind anyone to anything,
would seem to be largely a face-saving sop to the United States. There
is no question but that this is not what the U.S. capitalists wanted, as
was reiterated this week by an authoritative spokesperson for big

	"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading U.S. business group urged the
Bush administration Thursday not to give in to efforts by Brazil to
narrow the scope of a proposed free trade agreement covering the

	"John Murphy, vice president for Western Hemisphere affairs at
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said U.S. businesses want an ambitious,
comprehensive agreement that includes areas such as copyright and patent
protection, investment and government procurement in addition to market

	"Brazil and the United States have locked horns over the scope
of the proposed pact, with Brasilia urging that issues like intellectual
property protection, investment and government procurement be excluded
from the FTAA."

	It is not clear whether the Bush administration has actually
agreed to the FTAA lite that Brazil announced. According to the Reuters
dispatch on the Chamber of Commerce statement, "'certainly an a la carte
approach to the FTAA is not going to be acceptable,' Murphy said, adding
he was confident the Bush administration had the same view."

	That may be true, but Lula --with whom Amorim met before making
his announcement-- may well figure he is making the Americans an offer
they can't refuse. A complete collapse of the talks would be worse. It
would be viewed as yet one more diplomatic fiasco by the Bush
administration, and hailed as a victory for Latin America's resurgent
popular movements, which just last month drove out of office one of the
most cravenly pro-American corporations presidents in the region,
Bolivia's Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, a.k.a. "el gringo."

	Since the United States first proposed the FTAA as an instrument
of imperial domination of the Western Hemisphere in the mid-1990's, the
relationship of forces in the Americas and the world has changed.
Neoliberal governments have been toppled by protests or thrown out in
elections in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela and Peru. Brazil,
the giant of Latin America with 175 million people, moved significantly
to the left with the election of a president from the Workers Party who
ran in a coalition with a capitalist party.

	The relationship of forces has shifted still further against the
United States in the past year and a half. The attempted coup in
Venezuela only served to radicalize the revolutionary process underway
in that country and drive it forward. The United States push to invade
Iraq weakened the Bush administration diplomatically and politically in
the international arena, and destroyed the rally-around-the-president
domestic effect of the September 11 attacks. 

	The invasion and subsequent occupation have only made things
worse. With virtually all available U.S. ground combat forces already
committed to Afghanistan or Iraq, or scheduled to be rotated in over the
next several months, the credibility of the U.S. threat to use military
force against anyone else has been undermined. The Bush administration
has gotten the U.S. stuck in a quagmire: even the CIA admits it, and the
position of U.S. in Iraq is deteriorating steadily.

	International organizations have pulled back or maintain only a
token presence in heavily defended redoubts. Turkey has welched on its
promises to send troops; Japan is about to; and most traditional U.S.
allies flat out refuse to make any commitment. This is a much more
sincere assessment by other ruling classes of Washington's prospects in
Iraq than the hypocritical votes giving the U.S. political cover, but
absolutely zero practical help, at the U.N. Security Council.

	All these factors interact. It appears that pressure from
Venezuela President Hugo Chávez may have played a role in strengthening
Lula's resolve to stick it to the United States, if that is what
happened. The AP reported in its Spanish language  wire that  Chávez on
Thursday night had blasted the United States's proposed FTAA as
"colonialist" and denounced Washington for having excluded Venezuela
from a preliminary meeting to the Miami event. He also revealed that he
had talked to Lula on Tuesday "to express his concern about how the
negotiations were proceeding," as the AP put it, saying that Venezuela
would not sign an agreement that limited its sovereignty or harmed its
interests or did not make allowance for the different levels of economic
development between the U.S. and Latin America.

	Lula's government has been looking for a way to thwart the FTAA
for some time. It favors instead moving towards a South American common
market, and then having that bloc negotiate as a bloc with the NAFTA
bloc, which is really the U.S. It is easy to see why even some
procapitalist elements in Brazil are in favor of this. But  this would
also be an advance for the anti-imperialist struggle in Latin America as
a whole. Cuba has long advocated such an idea, as does Chávez, who has
called for setting up an "ALBA" (Bolivarian Free Trade Area of the
Americas, and also the Spanish word for dawn) instead of an "ALCA" which
is the Spanish acronym for the U.S. initiative.

	Two things that need to be looked at more closely.

	Thing one: the details of the supposed "light" version of the
FTAA. All these negotiations have been conducted in secret, behind the
backs of the peoples of the Americas, and so far the only thing we've
seen are some press statements. 

	Thing two: how Washington and both reformist and unabashedly
capitalist forces in Latin America try to use this. My inclination is
still to say that the anti-ALCA campaign should continue unabated. If
what is claimed is true, it may seem like this is largely a moot point,
as Washington will have to deal bilaterally with each country. However,
even then, pro-imperialist forces should not be given the cover of a
"hemispheric accord" to hide behind in carrying out their sellouts.


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