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There Really is No Free Trade
Published on Friday, April 6, 2001 in the Toronto Globe & Mail
There Really is No Free Trade
by Rick Salutin
Whatever happened to free trade? Softwood lumber -- aieee, the eyes glaze over. But bear with me. I think I can make this interesting. Years ago, American lumber producers didn't like the competition from Canadian lumber, so they got their government to slap on tariffs that made it too pricey to buy. Our government caved and agreed to put quotas on lumber we sent south, in return for the tariffs being dropped. Now that agreement has run out and the U.S. is ready to impose even higher tariffs. But wait: Don't we have free trade with the U.S.? Isn't that what we got into these trade deals for? So we'd have guaranteed access to their markets that would make us all rich? Of course disputes were bound to arise, but that's why we needed a set of rules that applied to both sides and could be enforced. Otherwise -- no reliable access. But the Americans, back in '88, refused to give up the right to unilaterally impose their idea of fair and unfair trade; they kept their own trade laws, and Canada agreed. All we got was a little panel that decides whether the U.S. has correctly applied its own rules. If they lose, they can turn around and change those rules again. I know: It sounds too absurd to be true, but there it is, Section 19. The result? We have no assured access, no common rules, no dispute settlement process and no free trade! It never happened. Nothing. Bupkas. That's what we got in return for the sovereignty we were told we had to give up. Then, in 1994, they extended the same nothing to Mexico. And now they want to extend it to all Latin America. And surprise -- there are protests!

Just why are they called the "news" media? On Tuesday, I went by a designated protest site in Toronto near the hotel where the hemisphere's finance ministers were meeting to prepare the next glorious phase: the nothing agreement of the Americas. That's "near" as in blocks away. It was instructive less as a simulation of a police state than of martial law. Next morning, almost all the news -- if it mentioned the reason at all -- said the protest was over globalization. It sounded like protesting sphericality, or perpendicularity.

Actually, the protest was organized by the Employment Standards Work Group, and backed by various unions, the Canadian Students' Federation and other bodies. The leaflet they handed out, available to journalists, read, "Stop the FTAA. Province paves way for free trade by gutting employment standards," thus drawing a link between local deterioration and global trends. That may seem complex compared to Wooo, violence, but it's interesting, too, n'est-ce pas? A member of the group said one reason for demonstrating is to get your concerns heard. She'd been booked for a media interview the following day, but it was cancelled after there turned out to be no violence at the demo.

By the way, we're never told what kind of violence the police and media expect. Is it the "violence" of people going to an Ottawa ministry to "liberate" a secret negotiating document, as happened this week? Or the violence of people pressing against barriers to try to see politicians they elected? Or the rare cases of violence against store windows? At any rate, it is almost never violence against people, against human flesh. Almost all the person-to-person violence at these events -- and there is a lot -- is done by police. Yet because of all the TV we watch, where violence is routinely against others -- from cartoons to cop shows -- we tend, by a kind of default mechanism, to insert "against people" when we hear the word violence.

Caramba, that's us! If there's a leading force of global protest, it's Mexico's Zapatistas, led by Subcomandante Marcos. Before beginning the recent march on Mexico City, he gave an interview in a jungle village to the editors of France's Le Monde Diplomatique, a literate monthly that has maintained a humane Marxist viewpoint through trying times for it: the era of Reagan and Thatcher, the turnaround of Mitterrand, the Blairization of the European left. The interview goes on for pages. More than halfway through, unheralded by subheads or pull quotes, Marcos suddenly says, "And what you in France at Le Monde Diplomatique describe as pensée unique" -- here the paper inserts a footnote, as is its wont -- "supplies the ideological glue needed to convince the world that globalization is irreversible and that any other project would be utopian, unrealistic." There's no indication that the editors' chins dropped or that they high-fived. They stay cool, as we like continentals to do. But how their hearts must have soared. What vindication. While global corporations ran the world unimpeded, here was Marcos, sitting in Chiapas, ingesting their analysis, probably by satellite link, and drawing appropriate conclusions for eventual action. Like an existentialist philosopher, before the days of the odious nouveaux philosophes, they draw on an unfiltered Gauloise, and simply ask their next question, about how this "relates to the dramatic situation of indigenous peoples."

Copyright © 2001 Globe Interactive


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