The Miami Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) summit last week was a doozy. A year ago, the Bush Administration was crowing about its unstoppable "free trade" steamroller, but in Miami the only thing that could be agreed in the negotiating suites was to scale back the FTAA's scope and punt the hard decisions to an undefined future venue. The White House was not going to make Miami the Waterloo of the proposed 31 nation expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Meanwhile, the streets of Miami - in stark contrast to the
impressive, restrained policing of Mexican federal, state and local police at the September 2003 Cancun WTO Ministerial - were turned into a militarized police state for the summit. Anti-protestor, pro-FTAA hysteria whipped up by the Miami mayor, police chief and Miami Herald (an official "Diamond" sponsor of the summit) fostered a horrifically tense, fearful climate. Miami residents cursed the FTAA as it meant a week of lost business after the city suggested all downtown businesses close, and cost tens of millions in extra police.
Columns of Robocop riot-gear-clad police randomly attacked bystanders, beat up protestors and swooped up reporters, residents and others in random arrest sprees as they became increasingly desperate to use the new torture toys that $8 million in federal funds tucked into the $87 billion Iraq appropriation had provided. Reports now coming in include a severe post-arrest beating that has left one protestor in serious condition in the hospital and allegations of sexual abuse of arrestees in the Miami jail. The arrestees include journalists from such outlets as Democracy Now! and the Miami New Times. The City of Miami certainly will face millions in liability from abused protestors and residents. The image Miami's leaders broadcast to the rest of the hemisphere was equal parts revealing and embarrassing and may result in Miami being rejected as a venue for an FTAA Secretariat, if an agreement is even completed.
Which gets us to where the streets and suites connect. While Miami was a democracy-free zone, grassroots movements are making accountable governance a reality in other parts of the Americas. Powerful social movements in Latin America against the FTAA have made it impossible for those governments to agree to the U.S. FTAA agenda - which is an expansion to 31 more nations of NAFTA's full buffet of failed policies extending far beyond trade. Prior to Miami, the U.S. had launched a nasty PR campaign attacking Brazil as an FTAA spoiler. Yet, the reality is that in a score of FTAA target countries, if the governments had continued to go along with the U.S. NAFTA expansion agenda for FTAA, the possibility of explosive social and political repercussions lurked (for instance, the recent Bolivian social uprising against gas privatization and FTAA which ousted its president).
Thus after months of huffing and puffing and threatening to blow Brazil's house down, the U.S. was forced to choose between no FTAA and a watered down framework for a possible FTAA-lite. The U.S. chose this week to make the uber concession - to move away from its "single undertaking" vision of the FTAA to an a la carte approach to ensure that the FTAA lives to stagger on another day Since FTAA's initial launch in 1994, the U.S had insisted that the pact be like NAFTA: a comprehensive set of rules to which every country is bound.
Instead, the Miami Ministerial Declaration tasks negotiators to draw up a list of "core" obligations to which all countries would be bound, which additional negotiations only binding those countries volunteering to be bound. Several tricks and traps were left in the text so that another attempt to expand the pact out to its old scope is possible - but improbable.
It is hard to overstate what a huge shift this is in the U.S. position , but still half of NAFTA expansion is still totally unacceptable. The NAFTA model has proven to be a failure over its 10 years in operation. The model needs to be replaced altogether, not expanded through an FTAA-lite. Yet, since the Miami Ministerial simply delayed all of the same intractable problems the FTAA faced coming into Miami, whether there will even be an FTAA-lite is far from certain. The draft Ministerial text pushed all the difficult decisions without further instructions back to the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) - where these issues have been stuck for a year. Perhaps the idea was to push these issues to post-Miami meetings where there will be less press attention, less public profile and less symbolic importance.
The clearest sign of the Miami FTAA punt strategy is the draft ministerial declaration's treatment of the deadline for completion of a pact. It reiterates the January 2005 goal, yet provides no interim deadlines or instructions about how to meet it. Indeed, the one firm deadline - September 30, 2004, for market access talks - tells the real story. It makes clear that everyone knows they cannot meet a January 2005 deadline. If they could, that deadline would have to be much earlier and other deadlines would have to have been set. But why provide another signal that the FTAA is in crisis by stating such in the text, when that news can wait until January 2005 dawns and the talks continue on - or not? The "not" option is still out there for two reasons of treacherous decisions and problems punted to the TNC means nothing was really agreed upon except not to implode the FTAA in Miami. Second, the social movements in many FTAA target countries are only growing in strength - with the very real possibility that elections occurring before the FTAA deadline in several countries could add to the already-growing bloc of countries that either have to represent their public's interest at the FTAA table or face electoral or governing crises. Heck, even in the U.S. trade is becoming a wedge issue in the presidential primary.
Lori Wallach is director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch