Pulling another fast one?
Secret Trade Talks Are Back
The below analysis sounds interesting and certainly does not appear to come from conventional sources.
The débacle of Seattle's failed WTO conference is still stuck in the throats of WTO boosters unable to digest its significance. Their response to date has mostly been spittle and smoke, or as North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan has called it, 'high peeve.'
It is important to be clear on what the protests were not about. First, almost no one has suggested that the WTO be empowered to "fix the world's problems." The demand is rather that the WTO be disempowered from ruling against legislation on environmental protection, social justice, child labor, or cultural pluralism. Most WTO dissenters also agree that it is not the WTO's role: neither to improve, nor to undermine existing measures.
Secondly, the anti-WTO movement is often said to be protectionist or against free trade. This is the fallacy of "the WTO way or the highway." There are not two and only two alternatives. As a practical matter, anti-WTO protests may play into the hands of protectionists; or they may not. To ensure that they do not, pro-free traders must work together to create free and fair trade that is equitably adjudicated and negotiated through a democratic and transparent process. The wise choice is between different multilateralisms, not between unilateralism and a multilateralism dictated by powerful corporate interests.
What then were protesters demanding? Although some WTO boosters were eager to dismiss dissenters as a rag-tag group of lesbians, Christian fundamentalists, unions and tree-huggers with disparate objectives, in fact, two major points can be distilled from WTO dissent. One is that not everyone accepts the dogma that material wealth is the first good from which all social goods flow. There are other goods, and some of them are broader and deeper than material profit and economy. The second point is that no decision affecting the world's people can be taken until there is vigorous and open debate on the first point. Any final decision taken should reflect that debate.
In short, trade negotiations need to be democratized. Up until now they have not been in the least democratic. They have taken place in secret, with little or no consultation of diverse citizen groups. The WTO establishment has proved haughty and intolerant of dissenting views.
Stealth negotiations for the FTAA
After the WTO, trade ministers and President Clinton walked away saying they had heard the protests, and learned their lesson. But have they? From January 17 to March 29 in Miami, then again from April 12 to April 14 in Guatemala City, closed-door negotiations to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will once more take place. This will be a test of whether the born-again democratism of WTO supporters is sincere. So far, it looks pretty leaky. All signs are that the only interest group with significant influence on this process will be the corporate lobby.
For the last six years talks on the FTAA have been under way. Most recently, a round of ministerial talks were held in Toronto, shortly before the Seattle débacle. These talks 'coincided' with the Americas Business Form (ABF), a clique of executives self-described as "a hemispheric conference setting the direction of trade and social policy for implementation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas." The talks, of great importance for all citizens of the Americas, received little press coverage, and participating governments did not seek it.
The corporate lobby, however, had full access. In fact, as the ABF itself writes, "input from the ABF's private sector delegates has become an integral part of the FTAA process." Reporting on this very question, Canada's conservative National Post wrote :
'While business leaders got a full two-day conference of their own and the chance to present at length their wish lists to politicians, the entire groups of NGO's had to make do with one 90-minute session... [Canadian Trade Minister] Mr. Pettigrew said he welcomed the contributions from the NGO's, but had sharp words for them as well. "It's governments that do the negotiations. We are the elected representatives of the people."'The irony of Mr. Pettigrew's comments, coming as they did after two days of cozy meetings with businessmen who have just as little 'right' to counsel government on public policy, was lost on the minister.
Despite all the high-minded statements of contrition after the WTO, world leaders and the corporate lobby continue to show they have not got the message of WTO dissent - the message of equity, transparency and democratization.
It is important that the consciousness-raising that took place during the Seattle Ministerial be sustained, and that governments and businesses not be allowed to go back to the bad old days of secret talks pandering only to a corporate agenda.
After the failure of the WTO talks in Seattle, much of this corporatist agenda will for the time being be quietly offloaded onto regional multilateral talks like the FTAA, out of the glare of public scrutiny. But now is the time for citizens to influence the outcome of these far-reaching negotiations. Those who favour an open and democratic society and not a new era of corruption, plutocracy and sham democracy must make their voices heard before and during the FTAA's stealth negotiations in Miami. Government and corporations must prove their good faith by listening and creating an open, inclusive process for trade talks to move forward.
This report, we believe, comes from Democracy 2000, whose web site is at www.democracy2000.org
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