Trade ministers from 34 Western Hemisphere countries will meet in Quebec City April 18-22 for essential negotiations on a new international trade agreement, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA. This particular meeting marks the first formal gathering of the ministers, who have been meeting since 1998 with executive branch trade representatives and corporation representatives in nine working groups. Originally the target date for ratification was 2005, but according to a story aired on Marketplace, a public radio program, on 3/30/01, the intent of negotiators now is to have the basic outline of the agreement in place by the Quebec summit and to implement the agreement by 2003. Congress will have authority to ratify or deny ratification, and that will be citizens’ “formal” chance to impact the outcome.


  • The agenda, pure and simple, is driven by large corporate interests to privatize, deregulate and ensure “free trade.” In the words of Lori Wallach of Public Citizen, “Trade uber alles.”

  • The agreement is expected to establish judicial and legislative powers for the trade regime which override national, state and local sovereignty. Both the WTO and NAFTA have such powers, including “tribunals” who rule on the illegality of national standards for health, safety and environmental protection.

  • Over 500 corporate representatives have full access to the negotiations, but public-interest citizen groups are excluded. All working group documents are private and held in secrecy. Early on, non-governmental civil society organizations demanded working groups on democratic governance, labor and human rights, consumer safety and environmental concerns. These were rejected.


Because negotiations are occurring in secret and no texts have been made publicly available, we cannot know the details of the draft text. However, communications from the U.S. Trade Representative have provided some clues about what to expect once a final agreement is unveiled.

Essential Social Services Endangered: The FTAA will contain a series of commitments to privatize and deregulate services. “Services” is a broad category that includes education, health care, environmental services including access to water delivery, energy, postal services and anything else for which we pay that is not a physical object. Education, health care and water delivery are the services most specifically targeted.

Investment Takings: FTAA will provide a potential “back door” for the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). It will allow corporations to sue governments directly for the removal of standards or laws designed to protect public health and safety if they increase corporate operating costs. In other words, FTAA would provide a hemispheric “regulatory takings” clause that explicitly values corporate profits over human well-being. For example, NAFTA allowed the U.S.-based Ethyl Corporation to force Canada to pay $13 million in damages and drop its ban on the dangerous gasoline additive, MMT, a known toxin that attacks the human nervous system.

Food, Agriculture & GMOs: The U.S. is trying to force all countries to accept biotechnology and genetically modified foods in which unregulated U.S.-based corporations have taken a lead. Being forced to buy expensive patented seeds every season will force traditional subsistence farmers in many countries into dependency on transnational corporations.

Intellectual Property Rights: The U.S. is trying to expand NAFTA’s corporate protectionism rules on patents to the whole hemisphere. This monopoly control allows pharmaceutical corporations to keep drug prices high and block production of generic versions of life-saving drugs. These rules also allow companies to “bioprospect” and patent traditional medicines that are considered “traditional knowledge,” effectively denying people their cultural heritage.


FTAA is but one more trade agreement which was adopted for inclusion when the WTO was formed in 1995. WTO was formed out of the Uruguay Round (1986-1994) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT. GATT, which was formed in 1947, is now effectively removed from the jurisdiction of the United Nations. According to Maude Barlow, director of the Council of Canadians, “The architects of the final agenda for the Uruguay Round wanted to put in place a body of rules governing the global economy—rules that would benefit them, and which would be backed up by the powers and tools of a global government. Unlike the GATT, which was effectively a business contract between nations, the WTO was given ‘legal personality.’ It has international status equivalent to the United Nations, but with the addition of having enormous enforcement powers.”

In addition to the above-mentioned alphabet soup trade regimes, it is important to note that other agreements are also currently on the table. The General Agreement on Trade in Services, or GATS, is currently in preliminary working group status. GATS, one of more than twenty trade agreements administered and enforced by the WTO, is to be finalized by December 2002, would include 130 countries, and could, quite simply, be the end of the very concept of not-for-profit public services. But that is another article!

How Can You Act?

Learn more: Especially good websites are: Public Citizen - Global Trade Watch:; International Forum on Globalization:; Coalition to Stop the FTAA:; Citizens will be gathering in Quebec City and throughout the U.S.


  • Join us for a teach-in at Bicentennial Park on Saturday, April 21st, 1-5 p.m, as part of the Earth Day celebration sponsored by the Central Ohio Green Education Fund.

  • Join us at 6 p.m. on the south side of City Hall to gather peacefully, to bear witness to the crucial implications of the FTAA, and to stand in solidarity with citizens throughout the Americas who say, “A different world is possible.”

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