Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)
The dedicated proponents of Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) argued that the agreement would increase prosperity by eliminating investment and trade barriers between the countries of the Western Hemisphere. The FTAA is an expansion of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and includes all of the Latin American countries except Cuba; NAFTA applies only to Canada, the US and Mexico. The same proponents believed that the FTAA would deepen the impact of NAFTA by claiming jurisdiction over a number of functions that have previously been under the control of state and local governments.
These proponents used a number of deceptive practices, according to opponents of the treaty. They say the tactics of FTAA keep the American public asleep while this transformational scheme is implemented. The nay-sayers believe the name itself violates truth in labeling laws. Free trade is not free according to them; because someone somewhere pays something, the treaty is not free. These activists also say the free trade agreement is a charade intended to enlist support from people who understand the economic benefits of true free trade.
Free Trade Area of the Americas is usually described as an extension of NAFTA but in reality it is much more than that. FTAA is a proposal to extend free trade to all countries of the Americas except for Cuba, but its basic impact and main target is the deregulation and privatization of public services. Most people think of trade as the flow of commodities, but as a percentage of the Gross National Product (GNP), commodities rank low in total output. The big percentage is public services.
Public services account for 70 percent of the GNP of the US. Those services include a $1 trillion-a-year water industry, a $2 trillion education industry and a $3.5 trillion healthcare industry. The people who oppose FTAA say the treaty is a cash-cow and new frontier for investors. Investors can use Chapter 11-type provisions to sue governments for the unjust subsidies of these industries, which would allow these investors to then take them over.
That scenario is not entirely far-fetched. A US private health insurance company or a health management organization might sue the Canadian government for unfair advantage because the government subsidizes its national health care system. FTAA could make public services a thing of the past. Public institutions would disappear, and all of the protective regulations could be challenged by greedy corporate investors. The fact that the manufacturing sector is the direct target of FTAA is not the whole story since education, water, postal services and the health industry are directly affected by FTAA, as well.
A growing number of activists have been calling for the outright elimination of these agreements and unions for years. Most activists generally demand the reform of trade agreements to include environmental and labor standards and the inclusion of labor's voice in trade negotiations.
These demands have been delivered through massive grassroots organizations that have slowed down government's excitement when it comes to consolidating free trade. Past victories have been realized in the refusal of the 1997 US Congress to grant fast track authority to President Clinton, and the defeat of the MAI in 1998, plus the 1999 curtailment of WTO deliberations. But, the world continues to face mounting pressure from free trade initiatives with hidden agendas.