|Free Trade Area of the Americas - FTAA
FTAA - COMMITTEE OF GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVES ON THE PARTICIPATION OF CIVIL SOCIETY
CONTRIBUTION IN RESPONSE TO THE OPEN AND ONGOING INVITATION
FTAA ENTITIES (Please check the FTAA Entity(ies) addressed in the contribution)
Norma Castañeda Bustamante
The economic adjustment processes undertaken since 1982, featuring the updating of public administration and Mexico’s 1986 accession to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, now WTO), were the launch pad for our country’s entry into free trade. In 1988, Carlos Salinas de Gortari assumed the presidency of Mexico with a firm agenda to consolidate the opening of trade. The Ministry of Trade and Industrial Development (SECOFI by its Spanish acronym), under the leadership of Jaime Serra Puche, was then entrusted with the task of calling upon the large chambers of Mexican industry to start laying the groundwork of support and consensus for the signing of NAFTA.
In response to that call, the Coordinator for Foreign Trade Business Organizations (Coordinadora de Organismos Empresariales de Comercio Externo, COECE by its Spanish acronym) was established, with the participation of most chambers of commerce representing various sectors of Mexican industry (except micro, small and medium-sized enterprises). In 1990, at the Senate's behest, COECE became the Advisory Council on NAFTA and would thereafter include the presidents of major universities, leaders of the CTM (Confederación de Trabajadores de México, Mexican Workers Confederation) and the CNC (Confederación Nacional Campesina, National Peasant Confederation), SECOFI officers, and legislators, while excluding, of course, civic organizations and academics who had expressed views against the negotiations.
Negotiations were held in Washington, DC, and a so-called room next door mechanism was also used, whereby the three countries’ negotiating teams met while business sector representatives were convened in a contiguous room for consultations with the officials. The divergent civil society representatives were also able to set up an office in Washington and participate in several meetings of international citizen networks, held parallel to the official meetings, although, undoubtedly, with substantially less funds than the business sector. Interestingly, the groups that expressed their discontent over the lack of transparency in the negotiations and the manner in which the Agreement was being negotiated, received a level of recognition from the US and Canadian governments that was unmatched by the Mexican government.
Organizations like the National Transformation Industry Association [Asociación Nacional de la Industria de la Transformación], the Mexican Network for Action against Free Trade [Red Mexicana de Acción contra el Libre Comercio], the Authentic Labor Front [Frente Auténtico del Trabajo], and DECA [Desarrollo, Educación y Cultura Autogestionarios, Self-managing Development, Education, and Culture] Equipo Pueblo, as well as other environmentalist groups and union coalitions from the three countries, lobbied intensively, mostly with US and Canadian negotiators, and achieved the inclusion of one labor clause and one environmental clause as parallel cooperation agreements. The effectiveness of these agreements has since come into question, given that most of the accusations of labor and environmental violations filed have been dismissed due to the ineffectiveness and limited scope of these parallel agreements.
Negotiations with the European Union for the signing of the Global Agreement (October 1, 2000) involved similar consultation processes on the Mexican side. Again, civil society lobbied intensively, with the added advantage that the European Commission and several Union parliamentary members showed great interest in listening to what Mexican civil society had to say on the matter. Thus, the German and Italian Parliaments made ratification of the treaty contingent upon the Mexican government's upholding of comprehensive human rights, specifically with regard to the Chiapas situation, in addition to the demand for clear proof of progress regarding democracy, which partially explains the so-called democratic transition in Mexico.
However, the response from Mexican authorities to civil society proposals and demands has been to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. For example, on November 26, 2002, the First EU-Mexico Civil Society Dialogue Forum within the framework of the Global Agreement was held in Brussels, Belgium. Within that framework, Mexican and European organizations designed a methodology proposal for the event, which was not accepted by the Mexican government or the EU. This reduced the forum to just one day, which did not allow sufficient time for the debate. Despite the imposition, we decided participate in order to raise our proposals with the governments, in which we demand mechanisms for organized civil society participation to evaluate and monitor the impacts of the Agreement. We also sought to effectively influence, without success, the formulating of public policies favoring the positive enforcement of the Agreement's democratic clause and, in particular, the upholding of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, as well as civil and political rights, in both regions.
In summary, we would say that the European Union’s receptiveness and good will has exceeded that of the Mexican government’s. With the former, we have actually discussed the proposals submitted at the forum, although this does not mean that the EU is fully committed to making them effective. Our authorities, however, have not even responded, either for or against our proposals.
Obviously, little progress has been made in the transparency process of trade negotiations in our country. As to the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations, most of the 34 negotiating countries have merely publicized the ministerial declarations, which are nothing more than declarations and the FTAA draft chapters. The draft chapters, by the way, were only publicized as a result of leaks and the insistence of social organizations in the Americas. Furthermore, they consist mostly of bracketed text and do not allow for the identification of the negotiating position of each government in the different chapters that make up the Agreement.
Clearly, if there is no dissemination, in due time and form, of information on what national governments are negotiating regarding the FTAA, there can be no in-depth discussion or consultation with civil society. The process has already reached a very advanced stage; for example, offers on services and agriculture have already been submitted and are under discussion. These facts are indicators that national governments have no interest in addressing the fair demands made by civil society.
Mexican civil society in the FTAA
The interaction between the government and civil society in the FTAA negotiation process has been more obscure than clear, and the results have been less than favorable. Our interlocutor, the Ministry of the Economy, which is conducting the negotiations with the other 33 countries, has been supremely disinterested in involving civil society and has disregarded democracy- and transparency-related commitments, agreements and mandates assumed within the context of the inter-American system.
Concerned over this situation, organized civil society has remained in constant contact with the Ministry; this, however, does not mean in any way that said Ministry consults with organized civil society. In fact, the approach was initiated by the organizations that make up the Mexican Committee of the Continental Campaign against the FTAA to demand that we be kept informed of the government's position in this negotiation.
These demands were made through a questionnaire that we delivered to the officials, with specific questions about the negotiations underway. Some of the questions had to do with Mexico’s offers in the agricultural and services sectors, and we also wanted to find out which producer or peasant organizations had been consulted for the presentation of those offers.
To date, they have been unable to respond to us; in fact, they have categorically refused to say what it is that they're negotiating. Meetings have been held but they have merely shown graphs and charts which, from their very personal point of view, prove the successes of free trade. Their argument in support of the FTAA is that, “thanks to the opening of trade”, exports and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) have increased significantly. The statistics, however—even the official ones—prove otherwise: after more than ten years of NAFTA, the economy has not grown as expected. Perhaps certain small groups of entrepreneurs—the ones that we generally see close to the Ministry of Economy's negotiators—have been the only ones to reap some rewards.
This is no coincidence; we have heard it said that government negotiators lack sufficient knowledge of the “goods and interests” they are negotiating. This is why the entrepreneurs accompany them and announce, boasting excessively, that they are there to “represent society”, when they lack the moral, let alone the formal, qualifications to do so.
The Mexican government's reactions make it clear that it is not willing to discuss where the FTAA is headed nor to modify any substantial aspects, despite the proposals submitted by hemispheric civil society. Last year, after the event organized with civil organizations in this very State, the FTAA Trade Negotiations Committee met in San Salvador and it became apparent that the Mexican negotiators’ position was to exclude civil society organizations.
The bottom line is that, for the time being, the authorities have no interest in pursuing a dissemination policy nor in implementing new participation mechanisms that involve civil society and take into account the opinions, demands, and alternatives submitted by groups that have already been affected by other trade liberalization processes.
Evidently, the trade negotiations underway among the countries are already a mature and advanced process. Despite the fact that, lately, consultation forums have been established with civil society by the official committee of non-governmental representatives, it is unclear how this might substantially modify the document. Furthermore, the organizations are not adequately represented at these forums. In April of last year, I had the chance to participate at a similar event held at the UDLA [Universidad de las Américas, University of the Americas], where I commented that I saw no one from unions or peasant organizations, or women’s organizations and other sectors that should have been represented there. Things are the same today. It’s imperative to understand that civil society is not only composed of entrepreneurs and select academics—we are much more than that.
The grand consultation mechanism offered by governments and the official FTAA organization consists of submitting proposals by e-mail; yet, assuming that an isolated community in the north or south of Mexico can access this kind of medium is sheer mockery.
It must be noted that, from 1992, when the FTA agreement with Chile was signed, to the present, the implemented mechanisms have been lightly based on the population’s most intensely felt demands and needs, thereby increasing the lack of credibility in the State’s political institutions.
In order to preserve democratic governability, the legitimacy of the processes of economic and market globalization, and, consequently, of social and cultural globalization as well, needs to be recovered by the political institutions at the helm of the decision-making process, making it more urgent to involve all sectors of the population in creating participation mechanisms. Democratic culture in Mexico is going through a consolidation process in which all actors—both the governing and the governed—must become involved in; democratic culture not only implies demanding transparency but actually living it. It further implies creating real consensus processes among all sectors and acknowledging every citizen's right to fully and always exert an influence on governmental decisions and actions that affect us, a right that was established after the signing of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in September 2001.
Strict adherence to this Charter has been mentioned in almost all the declarations issued at the different conferences, summits, and other meetings held within the context of the Summit of the Americas. This includes the context of trade-related meetings, in which the FTAA is being discussed.
So-called civil society is in no way opposed to globalization processes; we are part of them. We don't want to go back to the previous model for development, however, nor have it be a benchmark. Even less do we want a new model in which society's demands and voices are being excluded and trade opening has not worked in a positive way for the population; on the contrary, it has adversely affected several aspects of life. For example, in the area of labor, there has been a marked increase in underemployment, informal employment, and the privatization of social security benefits, along with the added factor of using low salaries as a competitive edge. Ten years after signing NAFTA, there has been no upturn in Mexican agriculture. While FDI and exports showed a positive tendency at the beginning, they are currently decreasing, with plenty of examples.
Where are the advantages that Mexico was to derive from NAFTA? Instead, we are being led to a globalization mode in which the citizen is no longer the average person. We're not the citizens anymore, but rather, as economist Jeff Faux said, “the citizen” now is the multinational corporate investor—he's the one who has rights, benefits, guarantees, and protection from the State. The rest of us—according to the logic of NAFTA, the proposed FTAA, and the WTO—are merely obliged to abide by whatever the investors impose on us.
For worse rather than better, we have the NAFTA benchmark; let us use its results to conduct a different kind of negotiation in the FTAA so that it becomes an FTAA that protects the labor, social, economic, political, civil, cultural, and environmental rights of the real citizens.
There is, however, no will to do this, especially when we are given the spiel that the FTAA should be seen as an integral strategy for Latin American development. The FTAA, as it now stands, is merely a trade agreement erroneously termed “free”, when it is actually regulated to benefit investors exclusively and built on a legal bridge of investment legislation that gives preference to large capitals and makes no room for our proposals to achieve fair trade and sustainable development.
We have submitted a different alternative for engaging in trade integration processes that can lead to truly fair trade; we have proposed and demanded democratic participation mechanisms in these negotiations. We have been branded, however, as rebels; we’ve been called “globalphobics” who do nothing but protest in the streets.
And, yes, we are out on the streets and at alternative forums, simply because we feel that we have been left out of this globalization model and our proposals have had no influence on the new trade negotiations.
Furthermore, as long as the dialogue with the government continues to be a monologue falling on deaf ears and there is no real intention to make the FTAA negotiations transparent and democratic, we will stay out there protesting and pushing our proposals.
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