Free Trade Area of the Americas - FTAA

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April 22, 2002

Original: English



Name (s) Shantal Munro-Knight,  Christopher Sinckler
Organization (s) Caribbean Policy Development Centre,
the Caribbean  (NGO),
Reference Group on External Relations (CRG)
Country Barbados

The CRG Process

The work of the Caribbean Reference Group (CRG) on External Relations is - coordinated by the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC). The CRG is an independent, non-political grouping of major NGO development networks representing over 1000 national and community-based organisations in the Caribbean region.

The views expressed in this paper emerged from an intense period of consultation among grassroots organisations across the region, on matters pertaining not only to the FTAA process but trade and economic development issues affecting the Caribbean.

The overall objective of the CRG is to:

  • Raise public awareness about the ongoing process of negotiations for a Free Trade Area of the Americas and the likely impact that this will have on ordinary Caribbean Citizens;
  • Give Caribbean citizens the widest possible opportunity to contribute to their views on how and if such a system should be shaped;
  • Raise the confidence of Caribbean people to challenge their respective policy makers to share information about the decision that they are about to make on their behalf;
  • To use this medium as a platform for creating citizens participation in the framing of Caribbean public policy and in the governance of their affairs;


  • The Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) - Co-ordinator
  • The Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA)
  • The Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL)
  • The Centro de Investigacion Economica para el Caribe (CIECA)
  • The Association of Caribbean Economist (ACE)
  • The Association of Development Agencies (ADA)
  • The Haitian Platform for Alternative Development (PAPDA)
  • The Windward Islands Farmers Association (WINFA)
  • Supported by OXFAM Great Britain, NOVIB and Oxfam Canada

Building Broad Based Partnerships in FTAA: The role of Civil Society

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)1 have and continue to contribute to the overall social and economic development of the region. Such organizations in this hemisphere, including NGOs, labour and academia have been and are working critically in the interest of the most vulnerable sectors and populations. CSOs have worked consistently in a number of areas, including the development of concrete social and entrepreneurship programmes, which offer alternatives to citizens, acting as watchdogs against governments and other excesses, protecting worker’s rights and providing non-formal education. This contribution has increased significantly in the past ten years, as a number of factors limit the ability of some governments within this Hemisphere to deliver important social and economic services to their populations.

NGOs and other similar CSOs by their very purpose are often the sole repository of essential information on the concrete social conditions of the most vulnerable in the society. This information is critical for effective policy formulation and management. The exchange of such information between civil society and those involved in international/regional negotiations and processes can often bring to the fore specific actual and potential conditions of social and economic distress and therefore lead to improved policy development and co-ordination.

Various social development reports, including The World Bank, World Development Report, WDR (1999) United National Development Programme, UNDP (2000) and United Nations Commission for Trade and Development, UNCTAD (1999) suggests that there has been some social and economic dislocation from globalisation and economic liberalisation, particularly within developing economies.

World leaders have accepted, particularly in relation to poverty alleviation/ reduction strategies that sustainable answers to social problems will only come from collective responses involving civil society. Specifically, Hemispheric leaders have stated at the third Summit in Quebec City, April 2001 and again at the Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey 2002 that poverty reduction has to be the critical focus of global action. In this context, if the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) process is to lend anything to that ideal, then civil society has to be recognised as a crucial partner.

Though slow in coming, the role of Civil Society is increasingly becoming recognised by policy makers in other international processes and institutions including, the UN, the World Bank and the EU-ACP Agreement, Cotonou. In the Cotonou Agreement, Ministers passed Amendment 43 paragraph 28a which states that the Agreement ‘reiterates the importance of enlarging the partnership between the ACP countries and the EU to include those involved in development and in particular the representatives of organized civil society who ought to be consulted when development programmes are drawn up and implemented.’, and Amendment 44 Paragraph 28b which lays out the agreement for the creation of an ACP-EU Civil society Working Group that is constituted of representatives of the ACP and EU civil society, as well as the ACP secretariat and the European Commission. Additionally, several governments within this Hemisphere have established national collaborative partnerships with civil society on trade issues. This suggests that a platform for the effective participation of civil society has been laid.

The democratic principles of good governance, which leaders in this Hemisphere have also pledged to ‘preserve and enhance’, would suggest a process, which is inclusive, participatory and transparent. In this context, the Caribbean NGO Reference Group (CRG) on External Relations believes that the current involvement of Civil Society in the FTAA process is too limited, unclear and the structure to facilitate participation is flawed.

Apart from the lack of clarity of the real role of the so-called Committee of Government Representatives on the Participation of Civil Society, the Committee lacks one fundamental element - real Civil Society representatives. This in our view points to the fact that the Committee is a weak attempt at facilitating the genuine participation of CSOs.

We believe that the efforts of the FTAA policy makers to include Civil Society must go much further. Indeed, it is the view of the CRG that a genuine process of partnership between all actors in the process needs to be designed and implemented which ensures effective participation of CSOs in the negotiations.

Such a process would give true meaning to the Ministerial mandate given to this committee ‘to foster a process of increased and sustained participation of different sectors of civil society as well as its interest in the continued contribution by these sectors on issues of relevance to the FTAA….The current interpretation of the mandate, which limits the role of the committee to collecting submissions from CSOs, is clearly unsatisfactory.

In this light, the CRG believes that the process for facilitating CSO involvement should be restructured as follows:

  • The current Committee made up of Government representatives should be restructured and a Joint Committee of Civil society and Government representatives on the FTAA should be established.
  • A structured mechanism to facilitate a process of ongoing feedback and input directly into the FTAA negotiations groups based on the recommendations submitted by civil society should be established. CSOs who submit proposals should be provided with feedback on how their proposals have been taken into account.
  • In an effort to foster ‘a process of increased and sustained participation’ the committee should initiate a process of sub-regional consultations and encourage hemispheric governments to initiate similar national processes, as well as establish collaborative partnerships with CSOs on the FTAA process.
  • The Committee should clearly differentiate between the varying interests and activities of civil society into ‘for profit business organizations’ and ‘issue driven not-for-profit organizations operating in the non-commercial sector’ and ensure that contributions are received, addressed and inputted into the process accordingly.
  • The report of the committee on civil society which is to be submitted to the upcoming October Ministerial in Quito, Ecuador, should be made public and available on the FTAA website. Additionally, the responses of Ministers to the report should be made public.
  • Provisions should be made for training and other technical assistance for civil society organizations to increase their knowledge and awareness of the ongoing FTAA process.
  • Specifically, in order to increase the participation of women in the FTAA process, technical and financial assistance should be allocated to build the capacity of women’s organizations.
  • In order to increase the transparency of the process as well as the information available to the public, the Civil Society Committee should oversee a process of wider de-restriction of FTAA documents which should be easily accessible on the FTAA website.

  • Notes
    1 Civil Society is defined for the purposes of this paper as ‘the collectivity of all issue-driven not-for -profit organizations operating in the non-commercial sector.

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