FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Colombia-US Free Trade Treaty

with Reflections by Toni Solo

The arguments against bilateral US free trade-in-your-sovereignty agreements with other countries that make it into mainstream anglophone media tend not to come from industrialists or business people. But in Latin America many people in private enterprise are alarmed and disturbed at US attempts to impose its imperialist plans on their countries. A recent article by Colombian industrialist EMILIO SARDI gives the view of one of Colombia’s leading businessmen. It’s worth noting.

US–Colombia “free trade” talks

The US trade representative Robert Zoellick began moves to open talks on a bilateral trade deal with Colombia in August 2003. Then after the failure of last year’s Cancun world trade summit last year, he had to face resistance from participant countries at the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting in Miami in November. At that time the US announced plans to start bilateral trade talks with Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Panama.1

The US government portrays this as a natural development of the Andean Trade Preferences Act which expires in 2006. They plan to have bilateral deals in place by then so as to greatly enhance US power in the region. As EMILIO SARDI notes in his article, these “free trade” deals cut at the roots of national sovereignty and self determination.

Moving on after Cancun and Miami

After bagging the five Central American countries with the CAFTA trade deal, Zoellick now seeks to take out the rest of Latin America systematically, country by country. The US trade representative gets his imperial way by behind-closed-doors arm-twisting and public doublespeak. He can depend on his colleagues in the State Department and the CIA to intimidate waverers by destabilising uncooperative potential partners, as they are currently doing in Venezuela.

In February this year, the State Department’s Bureau of Information added Dominican Republic to the list of countries on the US shopping list.2 The relevant statement deployed this fine specimen of Bush administration mendacity from the latest White House budget, “These agreements combine intellectual property and investment protections for U.S. companies with commitments for strong environmental and labor protections by our partners..” But it is precisely those environmental and labor protections, among other social protections, that Zoellick’s secretly negotiated trade deals consign to virtual oblivion.

The view from Colombia

Like many well-informed adn thoughtful business people throughout Latin America, EMILIO SARDI sees this with absolute clarity. His article was published in Colombia’s Portafolio magazine earlier this year in response to an article by a Colombian government adviser attacking his views.3 Sardi writes:

“I should stress I am no enemy of trade agreements. They can be dreadful if badly negotiated or fine if negotiated well. But I am opposed to the imposition of a treaty on Colombia that could be extremely damaging, as studies on the issue by the National Planning office and Fedesarrollo have shown. And I am opposed to signing the treaty in a hurry to a timetable imposed by a few government trade officials without debate and without the due intervention of public bodies.

Not long ago I wrote, “Colombia has named a small team made up of people with academic qualifications but with no experience of serious negotiation. Although the lead negotiator is capable, this team bears no comparison with the North American team. There is no hope of this negotiation working out in our favour. The worst feature is that this team from within the Trade Ministry will decide the positions of Colombia in the negotiation. It’s stupid that the people who define our position should be the ones who also defend it. The conflict of interest is obvious. The tendency is and has been to seek to make the job easy, defining positions to please the other side but which damage the country.”

All that remains true. And it’s not my two degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology or 40 years of business experience that qualify me to assert that, rather it’s that I am a Colombian who loves my country and also it’s my concern at the way people want to slip in by the back door a treaty that will cause huge damage to many national interests.

If it were just international trade that were at stake, it’s possible that only the government might deal with it. In that case, the position to negotiate–which should be sought after and agreed–ought to be formulated by the Ministries of Social Protection and Agriculture, responsible for the health and employment of people in Colombia, not by the Ministry of Trade. The role of the Ministry of Trade should be just to negotiate.

But this is not a treaty only on trade matters. This treaty will impose legislation on all Colombia’s economic life. Measures on matters like foreign investment, public sector procurement, health and phytosanitary measures, intellectual property, competition and legal arbitration could cause great damage to the country. In these areas, an attempt is being made to impose rules far beyond what the World Trade Organization has established and which Colombia fully abides by.

What’s being attempted is a legal framework to restrict local competition and not just reduce our competitive export ability but also to affect our internal markets by means of restrictive practices that will massively increase the cost of living. Behind the screen of a hypothetical liberation of external trade lurks this attempt to tie up internal markets to the detriment of domestic consumers.

These rules could finish off the nation’s food security and put at risk access to health for the majority of Colombians. If they are accepted they will have a supra-constitutional character–coercive and irreversible–and they will prevent Colombia from changing or influencing its future development strategies, which will remain limited by the parameters of the agreement. This treaty will seriously limit our sovereignty and so Congress, as well as the controlling bodies have, beyond the right, the obligation to take part in the whole process, beneath the watchful gaze of public opinion.

Mexico’s former foreign minister Jorge Castaneda, the lead negotiator of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the private business representative in that negotiation, Juan Gallardo, have advised Colombia to negotiate without haste, with a great deal of preparation and with all those affected taking part. In the United States, the rules demand that its Congress approve negotiating positions before negotitations start, along with continual approvals throughout the process.

We cannot remain silent. Nor will it be possble to prevent Congress and the controlling bodies playing their due part to protect the common good and defend our national autonomy. What’s at stake is our national sovereignty.”

Some reflections

This article puts eloquently and concisely the fundamental objections to these so called “free trade” deals. In particular, Sardi reminds us that the US position is monitored and subject to approval by the US Congress. In stark contrast, Zoellick’s team insist on negotiating in secret beyond the reach of scrutiny by the legislatures of the affected countries. That was a fundamental reason behind the huge but unsuccessful resistance in Costa Rica to the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

More profoundly, Sardi reminds us that our societies are seamless entities whose social, political and economic needs and interests interact indivisibly. He is well aware of the deeply cynical political sleight of hand that Robert Zoellick and his team are trying to pull. When they talk about “free trade” in countries like Colombia, they seek to conceal their real intent, which is to dominate that country’s energy and other resources to serve the needs of the United States. The same is true for every country they sit down to negotiate with.

In the current state of international affairs with one superpower ready to use all its political, economic and miltary might to get what it wants, talk of “free trade” is deeply misleading and disingenuous. Right now, nothing approaching anything like “free trade” prevails, nor will do any time soon. Monopolistic multinational corporations dominate the international economy across the globe. “Free trade” doesn’t exist. It is a cant term taken over for contemporary purposes from 19th Century British imperialist propaganda.

It may make sense to talk about more or less regulated trade. But who makes and enforces the rules? The failure of the World Trade Organization summit at Cancun last year indicates what the United States, Japan and Europe and their fellow travellers really mean by “free trade” : a global deal to guarantee their interests and dominance according to rules they impose. Robert Zoellick and his team know that most people in the majority world are aware of this. That is why they insist on negotiating their bilateral treaties in secret. Sardi’s article confirms that prominent business people in Latin America understand US intentions all too well.

Toni Solo is an activist based in Central America. Contact: tonisolo01@yahoo.com

Notes

1. The US trade representative’s letter to Congress on an Andean FTA . For Panama at: http://www.ustr.gov/

2. U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs Information briefing 03-February-2004

3. EMILIO SARDI is Vice-President of Tecnoquimicas.

Original Spanish verison published by Colombian publication Portafolio 17th February 2004 and subsequently distributed by MOIR 19th February 2004. For more information try www.deslinde.org.co or www.moir.org.co


 

More articles by:
April 26, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
As Trump Berates Iran, His Options are Limited
Daniel Warner
From May 1968 to May 2018: Politics and Student Strikes
Simone Chun – Kevin Martin
Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires
George Wuerthner
The Attack on Wilderness From Environmentalists
CJ Hopkins
The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists
Richard Schuberth
“MeToo” and the Liberation of Sex
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Sacred Assemblies in Baghdad
Dean Baker
Exonerating Bad Economic Policy for Trump’s Win
Vern Loomis
The 17 Gun Salute
Gary Leupp
What It Means When the U.S. President Conspicuously and Publicly Removes a Speck of Dandruff from the French President’s Lapel
Robby Sherwin
The Hat
April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail