Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Way back in April of 2001, I got my first good taste of tear gas at the Quebec City protests against the F.T.A.A. (Free Trade of the Americas Agreement). Roughly five thousand of us tried to halt the F.T.A.A. in its tracks by waving placards, getting rubber bullets shot at us, and attempting to tear down the 12 foot high barricade that was erected in the middle of downtown Quebec City. We were welcomed by thousands of black-clad police officers lined up in phalanx formation, brandishing billy clubs in one hand and enormous riot shields in the other.

The chaos and disorder of the Quebec City protests were justified, in my eyes, since the F.T.A.A. was essentially a backroom deal, forged without any input from the populations of the nations involved. We "regular folks" couldn't read the text of the F.T.A.A. itself until after our nations had already agreed in principle to signing it! Then again, many CEO's were present at the meetings. Any time they only let you in if you can pay a cool grand for a plate of lasagna and a glass of Chablis, you know there is something fishy going on.

I am pleased to report that our struggles were not in vain. Thanks to our valiant efforts, more and more nations in South America are questioning the logic of such a deal, especially since it risks tampering with both environmental and labour laws. It also will allow companies to sue nations for "lost profits", à la NAFTA!, if they feel that the laws of a particular country are hurting business.

As a Canadian, I admit that my country is dropping the ball in terms of standing up against the F.T.A.A. The Canadian government is bending over backwards (and forwards) trying to help our American allies get this deal signed by 2005. Luckily, Brazil is leading the opposition to the deal, thanks to their feisty left-leaning president Lula da Silva, along with Argentina. Lula is worried that Brazil won't be able to compete with American agricultural exports, since the U.S. subsidizes their farmers.

William Grieder brings up an important statistic in one of his columns on Lula and South American opinion on the F.T.A.A.--"According to a Zogby International poll, only 39 percent of the continent's business and government elites think FTAA would benefit everyone equally, while a majority expect the United States to be the big winner." Obviously, the U.S. has led the South Americans to the Rio Grande, but is having a tough time convincing them that they are thirsty.

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