An impending (as of 2001) trade agreement between almost all of the nations of the Western Hemisphere that would seriously undermine labor
al, and health
standards, engendering a dramatic 'race to the bottom' in these areas as nations compete for investment
. The proposed agreement also may contain ridiculous 'investors rights' provisions, similar to Chapter 11 of NAFTA
, that would allow corporations
to sue local government
s to recover profit loss resulting from regulations, as well as a hemisphere-wide instant patent system that would privatize and control the distribution of seed crops that have been in the public domain for centuries.
This agreement seems custom tailored to make subsistence farming in Central and South America even more impossible, thus ensuring a pool of unskilled exploitable labor desperate to take sweat shop jobs, which of course it is.
The Summit of the Americas was held in Quebec City from April 20-22, 2001. The heads of state present declared the summit a success and laid the framework for an eventual FTAA agreement that, if passed, will have all of the negative consequences outlined above.
The summit was greeted by a huge, multi-day protest. On Friday, April 20, protestors engaging in direct action were able to pull down two sections of the 5 km perimeter fence that had been erected around the center of town. This was met by intense volleys of tear gas from riot police which was to set the tone for the entire weekend.
On Saturday, some 60,000 or more activists, labor union members, and concerned citizens from Canada, the United States, and every other country in the hemisphere marched in Quebec City in opposition to the FTAA. Again those engaging in direct action clashed with police. Enough tear gas was used to coat a good portion of the city. In the culmination of the largest police action in Canadian history, the Riot Act was read.
Perhaps popular opposition to undemocratic 'free' trade agreements such as the FTAA that benefit transnational corporations at the expense of environmental, labor, and health standards, as well as national sovereignty, is reaching a critical mass. It is telling that the Summit of the Americas had to be held behind a 5 km concrete and chain link fence perimeter patrolled by 6000 riot police. As a bit of poignant graffiti declared, "How can this fence be associated with the word free?"