FTAA under attack at integration forum

by Andres Canizalez

Caracas, 13 Jul 2001 (IPS) - The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), heavily promoted by the US, is an obstacle, not a tool for Latin American integration or development, agreed participants in a forum that concluded Friday in the Venezuelan capital.

At the Summit on Social Debt and Latin American Integration, convened by the Venezuelan section of the Parlatino (Latin American Parliament), there were many who advocated working towards regional integration without the participation of the US.

Jaime Estay Reyno, head of the Network for Global Economic Studies, in Mexico, stressed that “if Latin American integration does not advance prior to the start date of the FTAA, the process runs the risk of losing its way and of being overtaken.”

Advances in the regional integration process are “difficult” due to the neo-liberal macroeconomic adjustment policies being applied in each country, said Estay Reyno, a professor at the University of Puebla, Mexico.

The expert asserted that the FTAA’s main defect is what he sees as the predominant trend in industrialised countries - under the guidance of the US - of attempting to treat all nations the same way, regardless of their size or level of economic development.

One of the problems in the integration process is its predominantly trade-related content, which leads to “fragmented” relations and “a tangle of accords that are difficult to organise in a coherent way,” said Estay Reyno.

He also criticised the FTAA process for occurring “from above, out of reach of society,” thus failing to be a shared social aspiration of the Latin American countries.

The FTAA has been in negotiations since 1994, when the first Summit of the Americas was held in the US city of Miami.

At the most recent summit, which took place in Quebec City, Canada, last April, the heads of state from the 34 countries of the Americas - Cuba being notably excluded - signed a commitment to launch the FTAA in 2005.

The most critical voice against the FTAA at the Parlatino forum this week was that of former Mexican presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, leader of the centre-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the third leading political force in his country.

“We should be very clear that the FTAA is not a project for the integration of our peoples,” stated Cardenas, who believes that the hemispheric trade initiative is a bid by the US to ensure its access to the major energy resources in Latin America, such as petroleum and natural gas.

“With the FTAA, US influence over the region would be even more decisive,” Cardenas pointed out. This treaty is inscribed within a project of “continental domination” that is complemented by the anti-narcotics Plan Colombia and the Puebla-Panama Plan for development, said the Mexican politician.

“Plan Colombia did not originally involve anti-drug efforts,” according to Cardenas, but had been presented by President Andres Pastrana to the international community purely as a development initiative.

But it was transformed into a “peace plan with counter-insurgency content” for the northern region of South America.

The Puebla-Panama Plan, meanwhile, is aimed at developing infrastructure and productive activities across Central America and southern Mexico, but the PRD leader says it has a “hidden agenda.”

Among the hidden proposals, according to Cardenas, is the installation in the area of more maquiladoras (for export manufacturing based on imported inputs), which create jobs that are almost exclusively low paying and unskilled, and the construction of access routes across Mexico for US products to reach Central America.

The Parlatino forum spawned a broad debate among some 150 delegates from Latin America, Europe and the US about the Latin American social situation and potential ways to confront problems like poverty and marginalization.

Brazilian Theotonio dos Santos, professor at the University of Sao Paulo, called for casting aside “the limited thesis of neo-liberalism” and building “a new utopia that can sustain development in Latin America.”

Dos Santos criticised “the fundamentalist vision of neo-liberalism” that denies the universal distribution of the benefits of economic growth, asserting that the equitable allocation of these benefits among all members of society is “a feasible utopia.”

The Brazilian academic, author of numerous works about the problems of development, proposed putting an end to the “fallacy” that “we have no way to escape our dependence (and that) the best route is to negotiate.”

In recent decades, Latin America has been negotiating with the US believing that the northern giant has all the answers, without realising that it “only wants to perpetuate our dependence,” said Dos Santos. – SUNS4937

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