Conspicuously Absent at Summit of the Americas: A US President Pushing the ‘Washington Consensus’

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Conspicuously Absent at Summit of the Americas: A US President Pushing the ‘Washington Consensus’

or Trying to Revive the Hemisphere-Wide ‘Free’ Trade Agreement

WASHINGTON - Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Summit of the Americas is what is not
on the agenda, Public Citizen said today. At this fifth gathering of
regional heads of state, the goal that was the founding purpose of this
summit process - hemispheric expansion of the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) model of investor rights, deregulation, privatization
and "free trade" - is noticeably missing in an agenda spanning topics
from climate change to the economic crisis.

"The conspicuous absence of the summit's usual end-to-end focus on
pushing more-of-the-same free trade agreements and deregulation signals
the end to a regional integration model that has proved extremely
damaging to many," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's
Global Trade Watch division. "It is quite stunning that this summit is
focused on trying to deal with problems that in no small part were
caused by the model of hemispheric integration fiercely pushed at past
summits."

U.S. President Barack Obama will be shaking hands at this summit
with many leaders who were elected because of the backlash against the
neoliberal policies previous U.S. presidents pushed on the region for
two decades.

"Leaders throughout the hemisphere face broad public demand at home
for real change in trade and economic policy, and some have begun
creating new approaches. Others, like Obama, have committed to do so,"
Wallach said. "With many regional leaders elected on popular mandates
to ‘change' course from the failed, one-size-fits all neoliberal
policies of the past two decades, Obama's commitments to renegotiate
NAFTA and change failed U.S. trade policies fits well with other
leaders' calls for the policy space needed to rebuild economies that
deliver tangible benefits for the majority."

The negative effects of the economic model promoted at past Summits
of the Americas have been well documented. Most recently, the findings
of several major studies conducted by Tufts University's Global
Development and Environment Institute on the record of hemispheric
economic and trade policies showed that even when countries succeeded
in attracting foreign investors, the new firms largely operated as
"enclaves" with limited connections to the domestic economy.

Worse, these foreign investors put many local firms out of business
while total investment levels failed to rise with the inflow of foreign
investment. Environmental damage resulting from the current model was
also significant.   (See http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/policy_research/globalization.html.)

The institute's studies on Mexico provide significant long-term
evidence of the failure of the past model. Once highlighted as the
model of free trade's promise, the failure of Mexico's development
strategy after 15 years of NAFTA is evident.

"The lived failure of the neoliberal model has caused seismic
political shifts across the Americas and within the United States, as
shown by the election of 72 new Congress members since 2006 who
committed to change the current failed trade model and replaced
representatives who had supported it, as well as Obama's own election
on a series of similar commitments," said Wallach. "After spending four
Summits of the Americas and 15 years focused on expanding the failed
NAFTA model, leaders of the Americas may finally have heard - and will
act on - the public's call for a new day on trade."

Obama's campaign commitments included the antithesis of past
Summit of the America agendas, which focused on expanding NAFTA to a
hemisphere-wide Free Trade Agreement of the Americas:

  • Renegotiation of NAFTA and the Central America Free Trade Agreement
    (CAFTA) to safeguard domestic environmental and consumer protections
    against excessive foreign investor privileges and rights;
  • Renegotiating those pacts to include binding labor and environmental obligations;
  • Ensuring "trade" agreements do not require privatization of
    essential services, such as health care, pensions, education and
    drinking water; and
  • Safeguarding procurement policy space to promote environmental, development and labor rights goals.

READ Obama's written responses to question

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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