David Waskow is an international policy analyst at Friends of the Earth U.S., where he works on trade policy, corporate accountability, and the environment.
Monday, 17 Nov 2003
It may as well be called the World Trade Summit Beach Tour: next stop, Miami.
The last stop was in Cancun, Mexico, in September, where World Trade Organization negotiations collapsed over deep disagreements between rich countries and developing countries (the rich countries wanted developing countries to accept rules granting broad rights to multinational corporations, but meanwhile didn’t want to seriously address fundamental inequities in global agricultural trade, including the massive subsidies that agribusiness receives).
I was there in the heat and humidity of Cancun, together with hundreds of colleagues from NGOs from around the world, to argue against the current trade system’s unfair — and frequently anti-environmental — trade policies. The stark inequities of Cancun itself in many ways told the story of the global economy. While the trade negotiators holed up in fancy hotels, just miles away the poverty and ecological degradation that flowed from the city’s tourism-dependent economy were evident for all who cared to look.
Now I’m in Miami. This time, it’s for a major summit of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the FTAA (or ALCA in Spanish), a trade pact that would cover the entire Western Hemisphere, from Argentina to Canada.
If the Bush administration has its way, the FTAA would be a far-reaching agreement, covering not only tariffs in manufactured goods, but also agriculture, multinational investment, services, government procurement, patents, and antitrust policy. Imagine, if you will, a congressional bill that touched on nearly every aspect of public policy, but — as is true in the case of the FTAA — was being negotiated and voted on completely behind closed doors.
Some countries, particularly Brazil and Argentina, are arguing for a scaled-back FTAA, and this summit will be focused on this major dispute between North and South. The developing countries don’t want some of the most intrusive elements of the proposed agreement to be kept in — especially rules on investment, services, and intellectual property that would provide broad rights to multinational companies.
The stakes for the environment are high. The investment rules in the FTAA would mirror those in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has been used by multinational corporations to sue governments for putting in place environmental and public-interest laws — suits that are argued in front of secretive international tribunals. Most recently, a Canadian gold-mining company said it would bring a $50 million case against the U.S. after California enacted a requirement that mining companies backfill the massive open pits they create. Mexico and Canada have already lost similar suits under these special NAFTA rules.
As I said the last time I wrote for Grist — more than two years ago, during another major meeting of the FTAA, in Quebec City — my message this week about trade agreements will be “First, do no harm.” Let’s not do trade agreements with imbalanced rules that will cut at the very heart of environmental protection.
I’m sitting now in a small storefront office being used by the Citizens Trade Campaign — a coalition of environmental, labor, farmer, consumer, and religious groups — to organize its Miami activities. The negotiations are taking place only blocks away, but once again, trade negotiators are almost entirely cut from what’s happening around them.
With a press pass, I was able to enter the small hotel zone where negotiations are happening (mere citizens and environmental advocates can’t get anywhere near the negotiators). But it was then virtually impossible to leave — no public transport, no taxis.
It was probably appropriate that I had to use foot power to reach the office where I’m sitting, but how many negotiators will do the same? The gulf between inside and outside is a great distance indeed.
Tuesday, 18 Nov 2003
I’ve spent the last day in the blocks around the FTAA trade meeting, while inside negotiations appear to be getting down to business (at least according to the reports we’re getting in dribs and drabs). Now it’s a matter of trying to get as much information as possible to the public outside and to the negotiators inside. (My refrain for the day, and probably for every day: inside, outside, inside, outside …)
Last night, I put the finishing touches on a statement signed by more than 30 groups from throughout the Western Hemisphere opposing investor-suit rules in the FTAA (everyone from environmental to labor to development-assistance to human-rights groups signed on). As soon as I’ve finished up today’s diary, I plan to distribute the statement to the media and to colleagues from developing countries who have ties with their governments’ negotiators.
Earlier this morning, I made my way from “outside” (the security perimeter surrounding the hotel zone where negotiations are happening) to “inside” and back again to “outside.” Inside, I spoke at a closed forum, the Americas Trade and Sustainable Development Forum, that was allowed to meet near the negotiations — not that there is much chance of actually talking with or lobbying negotiators.
That forum has been criticized — rightly — for being exclusive and accessible only to those pre-registered for access inside the security zone. But some groups are participating, if only to make sure that voices critical of the FTAA, and its potential impacts on people and the environment, are heard. The voice that struck me most today asked whether “free trade” rules are a good idea when it comes to tobacco products, especially when investment rules can be used to challenge policies like plain packaging for cigarettes.
I then went “outside” again to talk at a teach-in workshop with those (the vast majority) who can’t get inside. I focused on the way in which investor-suit rules give extensive rights to multinational corporations — but without any corresponding obligations to the countries where they’re operating. To do something about that lack of accountability for corporations, Friends of the Earth is working with a number of environmental, labor, and human-rights groups on a campaign to require U.S. companies to disclose their impacts abroad (such as toxic releases, use of child labor, payments to militaries). But here in Miami, negotiators are only discussing investor rights.
Meanwhile, what we’re hearing about the negotiations is that under intense pressure, the Bush administration — which probably can’t afford a collapse like the ones when WTO talks in Seattle and Cancun fell apart — seems to be backing down a bit. The U.S. has agreed that countries can decide individually whether or not to sign on to the investment rules in an FTAA (and similarly for services, intellectual property, and government purchasing).
But the U.S. (already 85 percent of the hemisphere’s economy) also wants to keep a stick in its pocket — the right to deny market access for products from countries that don’t sign the investment rules.
Outside, preparations for peaceful and legal citizen protests continue. Sitting in the storefront Citizens Trade Campaign office last night, I listened to colleagues frantically searching for housing space for the large (unexpected) numbers of people coming to town for teach-ins and the major march. In another corner, some colleagues are off to a press event outside a local Office Depot to criticize the company’s refusal to sell paper that meets key sustainable forestry standards.
Wednesday, 19 Nov 2003
In the streets of Miami, the police are now out in force to clamp down on the supposedly dangerous citizens here to protest the 34-country Free Trade Area of the Americas. But they haven’t been able to stop political moves taking place inside the FTAA negotiations, where the U.S. and Bush administration agenda is being pushed back and the FTAA is coming apart at the seams.
First thing this morning, I went to a meeting with other advocates, where we received a leaked copy of the new text for the final declaration that will conclude the talks here this week and lay the groundwork for whatever comes next in the FTAA. Today marks the day that the negotiators who do the hard preparatory work hand off their work product to the trade ministers from around the hemisphere who have just arrived, so getting this draft was a critical moment.
What we saw was a pleasant surprise — and, for now at least, an important victory. The U.S. has been forced off its position insisting on a “comprehensive” FTAA — including the investment rules that we believe are a significant assault on environmental protection (as a reminder: these rules give private multinational investors the right to sue governments before international tribunals if the companies believe environmental or other public-interest laws have interfered with their business rights under the agreement).
Now the agreement will be an a la carte set of options — countries can decide whether or not to join in parts of the agreement such as investment, as well as services, intellectual property, and government purchasing. While we’d rather see investment negotiations disappear entirely, we feel fairly confident that the biggest economies in the hemisphere, Brazil and Argentina, will not sign up for that part of the negotiations. In essence, it seems that the agreement is being hollowed out, becoming an empty shell.
So I spent the remainder of my morning tracking down reporters, rushing around the pressroom near the negotiations to hand out the leaked text and explain our take on the state of the talks.
In anticipation of this awkward failure by the Bush administration, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick held a series of press conferences yesterday to announce a number of new one-on-one free-trade negotiations with countries in the Western Hemisphere (what he calls the “can-do” countries, as opposed to the “won’t do”). Zoellick is trying to get countries to chase each other in cutting deals with the U.S. The only problem for Zoellick: Those agreements are with small countries that don’t interest U.S. corporations that much.
Still, the impact of this “bilateral” approach to negotiations isn’t something to sneeze at. So this afternoon I led a workshop for about 30 advocates and protesters on the divide-and-conquer strategy Zoellick is using with other countries. In a room a good distance from the negotiators’ hotels, we discussed the implications of the new trade approach and what we can do to deal with agreements like the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that are an attempted end run around public scrutiny.
Meanwhile, police continued to mass outside, and some of the stories of police overreaction reached the level of absurdity. A colleague reported that she tried to enter a food court area near the negotiations and was told that she couldn’t enter unless she got rid of her business cards (potential incitement to violence?). When she returned later with a friend carrying several vials of insulin and needles to treat her diabetes, they were asked to turn around because the police determined that she only needed two vials, not the several she was suspiciously carrying.
The police mobilization — including hundreds of officers in full riot gear — is born of the stories of potential violence that the police department here has been selling to the public for the past couple of months.
The other beach town where trade negotiations were held recently — Cancun — took a vastly (and maybe surprisingly) different approach. Police there were not armed with live weapons, and often were completely unarmed. With the exception of taking printed materials away from advocates and protesters, the police acted calmly and quietly. In Miami, we have the screaming sirens of 30-car police caravans.
The police may be able to lock down the town here. But they haven’t been able to protect the trade agenda being promoted by the Bush administration.
Thursday, 20 Nov 2003
This is the day of marches, rallies, and concerts in Miami during the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations. I’m tempted to begin with a description of the police overreaction, which continued today. But I’ll start instead on a positive note.
The activities began gently last night with a gala concert and rally at the Miami Bayfront Amphitheater. It was a welcome respite for me from the advocacy, the press work, the workshops — country, rap, rock, hip-hop, salsa, Billy Bragg, all mixed with messages of social justice.
Today was the major march and rally against the FTAA, with more than 10,000 people marching through the abandoned streets of Miami. The energy was upbeat, with the now usual mix of labor unions (from Teamsters to service workers), puppeteers and drummers, and activists from around the world.
But, for me, at a visceral level, today’s story is about the police. I went to bed last night thinking that I had been unfair in my diary entry yesterday, that I had not mentioned the number of encounters with police officers the past couple of days that had been positive. Many of the police are simply doing their jobs in the best way they can, following orders but not acting out of bounds, and often being deliberately polite.
All that’s true. But on an institutional level, the police force here has gone far over the top, creating what many activists visiting here from some Latin American countries saw as far too close for comfort to the repression they’ve experienced at home.
The police leader here is Police Chief John Timoney, who was also the chief in Philadelphia during the 2000 Republican convention. His strategy, both in Philadelphia and here, has been one of applying overwhelming force.
When marchers began to enter the amphitheater this morning, more than 300 police in riot gear stood guard in phalanxes, together with several armored amphibious vehicles and half a dozen helicopters overhead. The police presence was intended to — and did — create an atmosphere of intimidation. At most times, the number of police girded for riots nearly outnumbered the marchers on any given block around the major rally site. But there was also an air of (disturbing) absurdity — Steelworker union members faced down by police ready for battle with rioters?
I was at a small Amnesty International event at the Torch of Friendship just before the major rally began. As the Amnesty leaders began to set up equipment (with a permit in hand), a line of 50 police in riot gear marched down the street and stood directly in front of the stage area and literature tables.
A captain then barked that it was potentially unsafe to keep the literature tables where they were, and a half dozen police then went to stand near the microphone. At one point, as the captain moved to talk with one of the Amnesty leaders, he removed his gun from his holster. I think that the police were hardly aware of the irony of their using these intimidation tactics with Amnesty, one of the world’s leading human-rights and free-speech organizations.
Later, I stepped across a small piece of ground away from the rally, and when I turned to come back about two minutes later, I discovered that a line of police in riot gear had gathered and that I was no longer allowed entry.
There were several small “skirmishes” today between the police and a very small number of protesters. This afternoon, some protesters apparently threw water bottles at police and set a couple of fires in the street. In response, police officers fired rubber bullets and used long batons, plastic shields, concussion grenades, and stun guns (this is confirmed by local TV). Some protesters fled to an office where I was writing this diary to avoid the police phalanxes that were marching down Miami’s 3rd St.
A part of me thinks I should be abstaining from writing so much about the police. In the run-up to the FTAA negotiations here, it has been difficult to get media attention in Miami (particularly the electronic media) for stories other than those about protests and potential violence. But here I am simply reinforcing the media’s obsession. Moreover, I’m a trade-policy expert, not a civil-liberties advocate.
But something disturbed me deeply here. Over the past several trade summits I’ve attended — Seattle, Quebec City, Cancun — I have not seen the kind of massive and aggressive use of police force that I’ve seen here. There was no clear threat here for which the police force on the streets would have been proportional. I am left to conclude, pessimistically, that the Miami police department’s approach is one designed to scare off public protest and free speech itself.
The FTAA was, at least in part, supposed to be about enabling democracy to grow in Latin America. Instead, it seems to have brought repressive government here to the U.S.
Friday, 21 Nov 2003
Outside: Last night, as most demonstrators left, the streets became calm again (for now at least). The police remained in place on the streets, but were now gathered in bunches, no longer marching in phalanxes. People were again able to move about downtown (outside the secured perimeter for the hotel zone where the negotiations were being held).
Inside: Without much warning, the negotiations came to an unexpectedly early conclusion. I got a call at 6:00 p.m. yesterday saying that the talks were over and a press conference with all the trade ministers would be held in 45 minutes. So almost immediately after finishing my Thursday diary for Grist, I ran over to the press center where I could watch the press conference on television and hand out a response statement to reporters.
Most of the key issues had already been addressed by negotiators on Wednesday. A so-called “flexible” approach had been adopted — one that mostly makes the FTAA a hollow shell, and certainly makes it unlikely that countries like Brazil and Argentina will sign on to the investor rights rules that we find so problematic.
That part of the agreement stuck once the trade ministers themselves arrived in town and got down to work on Thursday. All they still needed to address was a troublesome paragraph with some meager language calling for the creation of a work group on labor and environmental issues. Guess what happened? Over the course of the day, the language disappeared completely. In general, though, the outcome is a success: The threat that multinational companies can pose to environmental protections has been dissipated to a large degree.
So, now it’s time to offer some thoughts as I decompress from the week.
It’s been an interesting couple of months on this World Trade Summit Beach Tour. First, the collapse of WTO talks in Cancun. Then, a hollow agreement with no real substance in Miami. It’s time to feel good about the work we’re doing and the impact that it’s having.
But it’s also no time to rest easy on the trade front. In recognition of the fact that its trade agenda was beginning to stall in big international agreements, the Bush administration has embarked on a series of bilateral free-trade deals (with an individual country or with a small number of countries). It’s a divide-and-conquer strategy — get countries to run after each other in their eager desire to partner up with the U.S. (no matter the real consequences for their economies, people, and the environment).
The most important smaller agreement in the short term is one that is supposed to be completed next month with five Central American countries. But the U.S. is now negotiating in every region of the world and, taken together, these agreements — with more than 20 countries — become extremely significant. We will have to prepare to deal with them.
But, with the trade agenda in the large multi-country agreements stalled, we also have some real opportunities ahead to work on alternatives that can address some fundamental problems with the global economy (for example, lack of disclosure by U.S. companies of their environmental, labor, and human-rights practices abroad). It’s time to inject a much more positive, proactive note into our work.
As I write this, I realize that, if I have one regret for the week, it’s that I didn’t make it out to the convergence center where many of the demonstrators gathered. It was at the convergence center in Seattle during the WTO meetings and protests in 1999 that I had the most proactive, positive experience of my time there. Good, hearty, free food for all; puppet-making in one corner; a bicycle library (bicycles to be borrowed and returned) on a wall; a general, welcoming sense of calm — the convergence center is set apart in my memories of that week.
Even though I didn’t quite make it there this time, that’s the vision I’ll carry in my mind as I leave Miami.