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The FTAA treaty: Great Walls of Our Time

Recently an economic summit was held in Québec City to discuss the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) treaty. If enacted, this trade measure will affect tens of millions of North Americans.

The elite business and governmental leaders attending the summit met in a building behind a newly constructed, 10-foot high and nearly three-mile-long fence. In addition to the fence, approximately 7,000 police and 1,200 military troops were on hand to prevent public disturbance. Meanwhile, the provisions of the treaty are still a secret to the general populations of the U.S. and Canada. (The heads of major multinational corporations like Merck and IBM can see it, though.)

Predictably, the mainstream U.S. media are working very hard to keep their readers from getting too excited about what is taking place. In a cartoonish news article published in the Sun (“Bush joins free-trade push for Americas,” Jay Hancock, April 20, 2001), none of the concerns of the opponents of this treaty were addressed.

In it, George W. Bush is shown once again in the most favorable light possible. The first sentence sets the tone: “President Bush, who campaigned on ‘free trade and free markets,’ will have his first big chance to strike at international business barriers this weekend as he and other nations’ leaders meet to consider a free-trade zone to run from Chile to Canada.”

One of these barriers concerns the possibility that just the process with which life-saving medicines gets developed can be patented. In other words, the medicines could be manufactured by anyone. If this idea were implemented, it would mean that tens of thousands of people, particularly in the Third World, could obtain generic AIDS drugs who otherwise can’t afford it. (The triple-therapy AIDS drugs cost $12,000 per person per year from the large pharmaceutical companies, and $500 elsewhere.) That this idea is unacceptable to Bush and the rest of the trade ministers has scarcely been mentioned in the mainstream media.

South Africa and Brazil have each been sued in international courts (e.g., the World Trade Organization; i.e., WTO) for attempting to produce generic versions of life-saving drugs. Thus, a leading goal of the elites attending the FTAA summit is to strengthen the ability of pharmaceutical companies to claim patent protection for the finished products that they produce. This will raise prices and maximize profits at an incalculable human cost.

The trade ministers at the FTAA summit are also reinforcing a system where fines are meted out by WTO judges (who also meet in secret) to punish those countries which make any attempt to reduce the profits of global investors.

The environment is another area of concern with the FTAA. In an email distributed by Z Magazine, Mark Weisbrot mentions how the Canadian government ran afoul of the WTO for attempting to ban hazardous additives to gasoline. The Ethyl Corporation successfully sued Canada in the WTO court and won. The WTO’s ruling compelled Canada to repeal its gasoline additive law and pay Ethyl $13 million in damages.

Efforts like Canada’s attempt to prevent lead from being added to their gasoline (and other hazardous business practices) will be considered an infringement upon the rights of the multinationals. Their rights are being advanced ahead of the general populations of the world.

In a nutshell, the FTAA treaty is capitalism as predatory as the world has ever seen. Thus, the provisions of it must remain a secret. The trade ministers must also have a three-mile-long fence and 10,000 police and military personnel protecting them.

While Québec’s measures may seem extreme, there is no greater wall protecting the trade ministers in their work than the mainstream U.S. media.

The Baltimore Sun is one of many in service of the present version of the FTAA treaty. Now is a good time for all of us to start raising a little Hell and demanding that the Calvert Street Castle do more than lobby on behalf of the nightmarish terms of the FTAA treaty.

Scott Loughrey

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