The Free Trade Campaign
In November of 2002, Campus Greens in conjunction with the Sierra Student coalition sent David Brenner, Rachel Byron-Law, and myself to San Francisco to learn about Free Trade. The Sierra Club sponsored the all-expense-paid weekend training. Along with veteran Sierra Club members and fellow college students from all over the west coast, we learned about how NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), and the coming FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas), are superseding America’s democratically decided environmental and social laws. Armed with information the three of us came back to Whitman to share what we learned and to hopefully foster a community of informed and interested voters and citizens.
We conducted more research, upon returning to Whitman, and gave each member of the group specific jobs. I wrote a letter for to our representatives in Washington D.C, helped to organize and facilitate the screening of Trading Democracy, conducted research about the U.S. trade agreements (Specifically the FTAA), and researched and delivered part of our presentation to campus clubs about the United States’ free trade agreements.
Our campaign had no official sponsor. Instead, Campus Greens acted as a great sounding board for ideas and were always willing to provide manpower. In addition, the Sierra Club and Global Exchange websites provided plentiful information and campaign tactics, which we have, and hopefully will continue, to use nest semester.
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My horizons have been infinitely expanded since November. The concept of globalization was semi unclear to me prior to this project. I understood who the main players were and I knew about sweatshops and unfair labor standards in the global arena but didn’t comprehend how they all connect. I now understand that our trade policies and business regulations provide the opportunity for such abuses.
This project gave me the chance to research law and international politics,
their effect on the environment, and free trade, all subjects I am very interested
in. I have learned about the United Sates’ global economic policies, a
subject I was clueless about prior to this project. In addition, I now understand
how a wide array of global problems connect to our economic policies. My eyes
have been opened to the effect our global world can have in my backyard. The
fact that California is being sued under NAFTA for their health regulations
and that meant packing plant in Wallula could potentially be a NAFTA target
is intimate and scary.
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Our 20-minute presentation was central to our outreach in that it was a primary method of spreading information. It gave a history of free trade, discussed the specific rules of current agreements, and the implications of these trade agreements for the environment and American citizens. Campus Greens, AIA, Organic Garden, the Global House, and the Social Problems class were all presented to and were receptive and appreciative of the new knowledge.
Fair Trade is something people know little about. Few students at Whitman have any in-depth knowledge of NAFTA and even fewer know anything about the coming FTAA. This made our project both harder and more important. Consequently, I think the information we spread is important. Students who heard our presentation seemed to be appreciate the information.
The education portion of our campaign went well. “Trading Democracy,” by Bill Moyers, was a huge success. During the post film discussion everyone seemed outraged and intrigued and the screening was even mentioned in my Politics and the Environment class. “Trading Democracy” presented information in a professional manner, which gave the film validity, and thus people responded positively.
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Despite the enthusiasm we have encountered there seems to be an under-riding
sense of bemusement. Students for the most part understood the information but
they didn’t have enough background in the subject to be able to use it
effectively or educate others in anything but a cursory manner. I think, nevertheless,
we have given a lot of students a little information that they can tap into
when interested in the subject in the future. Hopefully, their interest will
be peaked if they hear about the subject again and they will understand the
information to a greater extent.
Honestly, I don’t know how much of a difference made in the overall level of awareness on this campus. There is more we could have done to educate the campus. Conducting a tech-in and passing an ASWC resolution would be two high profile events, which would grab the attention of many students. These events were scheduled for this year but did not occur do to a lack of time and the confusion created by having both a free trade and fair trade campaign on campus.
Some of what we did do, however, was very effective. I like the fact that we targeted both individuals and clubs, getting a good cross section of the campus in this way. Also, tailoring the examples we used for each club was very effective in garnering interest.
Ultimately, I really want people to be interested in the issues that affect them. I hope that this campaign opened people’s eyes to issues on a global level. Hopefully, once they have seen the larger arena they will continue to be interested and learn.
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This campaign was a time and commitment challenge. We handled it with some degree of grace, however. We held our group meetings after ten when everyone was available and we pretty much managed to get both campaign and school work done. It didn’t help that no one in the group could resist getting involved in other campus Greens and campus activities. I can honestly say, however, that this campaign was usually the first priority of everyone involved! There were pointes I when life became exceedingly busy and we became a bit remiss in contacting and staying in-touch with people for whom we wish to present. Usually, the fact that this was a graded project got us back on tract and active quickly.
Performing this campaign as part of an internship gave me, and my group, a reason to work consistently and well. In addition, the required reports and log entries will keep track of our actions and allow for reflection and improvement.
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I still have great hopes for our plans to educate the Walla Walla area next semester when we present to the city council. Barbara Clark will be an important contact for that phase of our project as she is very sympathetic to our cause and on the city council. The interfaith coalition should also be very helpful since they seem to be very open to campaigns such as ours and have a wide base of support in the community. The Greens’ strengthened connection with Teamsters local union, 556, we will be able to garner additional support. The union represents workers from the Tyson/IBP slaughterhouse in Wallula, which is a multination corporation and thus currently falls under NAFTA rules.
It would be great to open up the campaign by recruiting additional student activists. Thus, there would be additional people learning about the issues, spreading the information on an individual level, and helping to make the campaign effective. In addition, many things we wanted to get done this semester didn’t happen simply because of time constraints and the limited amount of energy. With additional blood a lot more could be accomplished.
NAFTA was negotiated by the first president Bush and passed under Clinton. It was designed to promote trade between Canada, the United Sates, and Mexico. Unfortunately, many of the provisions designed to promote trade have damaged environmental protections.
The FTAA is an expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The FTAA stands to impact 800 million people. However, few of these people have heard of the agreement and even fewer have had any input on it. Since 1994 the trade agreement has been negotiated by business and government representatives from every country in the Western Hemisphere, except Cuba. Corporations are allowed direct input in the trade negotiations, while citizens and environmental, labor, and consumer interest groups are excluded. This is a direct contradiction of the United States’ ideal of representation for all.
The corporate molded FTAA will include many of NAFTA’s provisions, which have helped big business but have been proven to hurt the environment. For example, after NAFTA was passed many corporations moved operations to Mexico in order to benefit from lower environmental standards. In the eight years that NAFTA has been active, 40% of the Mexican state of Guerrero’s forests have been lost at the hands of the U.S. and Canadian companies. Under the FTAA, corporations will threaten to move operations to even less regulated countries if Mexico enacts environmental protections.
NAFTA’s chapter 11 is undermining our democracy. It gives international and multinational corporations the right to sue governments participating in NAFTA. These suits can be brought if a corporation thinks that any government action has damaged their profits. This puts the United States’ environmental, health, and safety laws in jeopardy. Under chapter 11 corporations prevent unwanted legislation from being passed by blackmailing governments with the threat of suit. Currently, the Canadian company Methanex is suing California for banning the gas additive MTBE. Methanex manufactures the methanol component of MTBE and they claim that by banning the additive California is damaging their profits. In addition, chapter 11 has been used to challenge unfavorable court rulings. Chapter 11 is attacking United States citizens’ right to self-determination. A similar provision is expected to be included in the FTAA.
Cases Filed Under NAFTA’s Chapter 11:
In 2000 the Canadian Parliament banned the fuel additive MMT in response to an investigation that connected the additive with health abnormalities. Ethyl, an American manufacturer of ethanol, the key ingredient in MMT, sued the Canadian government for compensation, sighting NAFTA’s Chapter 11. The Canadian government was forced to pay $13 million in compensation, repeal the ban on MMT, and release a statement denying that MMT caused health problems. (MMT is now banned in most parts of the United States).
In 2001 the government of California banned MBTE, a fuel additive that was contaminating water supplies across the state. The Canadian company Methanex, which produces Methanol for MTBE, launched a Chapter 11 lawsuit for over $900 million in compensation. The case is still pending, but Methanex has won a preliminary ruling in a NAFTA tribunal.
In 1999 the Canadian Parliament began discussing new advisory packaging on cigarettes in a campaign against teenage smoking. The American cigarette companies, represented by Carla Hill, the primary author of NAFTA, sent a letter to Canada promising a lawsuit for over $500 million in compensation if the new packaging was implemented. The Canadian Parliament backed down.
In 1999 Metalclad bought an abandon toxic waste dumb in Mexico, which had been closed on account of extremely high cancer rates in the area. When Metalclad tried to reopen the dump, the people came out in protest and the governor promptly shut down the dump. After suing the Mexican government in NAFTA courts, Metalclad was awarded $16 million in compensation.
The United Postal Service (UPS) is suing Canada’s subsidized postal service, claiming unfair competition. UPS is suing for $230 million.
Lowell, a Canadian funeral parlor company, is suing O’Keefe’s funeral parlor in Mississippi. In 1999 a Mississippi jury forced Lowell to pay O’Keefe $170 million after they refused to honor a contract for funeral parlor insurance. Three years later Lowell sued the state of Mississippi for $600 million in compensation in NAFTA courts. If Lowell wins it will be the first case to overturn an American jury.
Letter to Representatives in Washington D.C
May 1, 2003
Senator Maria Cantwell
717 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Cantwell:
I am writing to express my opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The FTAA is an expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and thus will include many of NAFTA’s provisions, which have hurt working families and the environment. Following are specific reasons why I think the FTAA will be bad for the U.S. and the Western Hemisphere.
The FTAA trade agreement stands to impact 800 million people. However, few of these people have heard of the agreement and even fewer have had any input on it. Since 1994 the trade agreement has been negotiated by business and government representatives from every country in the Western Hemisphere, except Cuba. Corporations are allowed direct input in the trade negotiations, while citizens and environmental, labor, and consumer interest groups are excluded. This is a direct contradiction of the United States’ ideal of representation for all.
NAFTA’s chapter 11 is undermining our democracy. It gives international
and multinational corporations the right to sue governments participating in
NAFTA. These suits can be brought if a corporation thinks that any government
action has damaged their profits. This puts the United States’ environmental,
health, and safety laws in jeopardy. Under chapter 11 corporations prevent unwanted
legislation from being passed by blackmailing governments with the threat of
suit. American Tobacco companies did just this when Canada proposed new regulations
on cigarette packaging. Canada backed off.
In addition, chapter 11 has been used to challenge unfavorable court rulings. Chapter 11 is attacking United States citizens’ right to self-determination. A similar provision is expected to be included in the FTAA.
Under NAFTA, workers have suffered. U.S. working families have lost 765,000 jobs as corporations have moved the jobs to Mexico in search of lower wages and labor protections. Under the FTAA the Mexican workers will suffer as well as corporations discourage unionizing efforts in Mexico and other Latin American countries with threats to move jobs to countries with even lower wages.
After NAFTA was passed many corporations moved operations to Mexico in order to benefit from lower environmental standards. In the eight years that NAFTA has been active, 40% of the Mexican state of Guerrero’s forests have been lost at the hands of the U.S. and Canadian companies. Under the FTAA, corporations will threaten to move operations to even less regulated countries if Mexico enacts environmental protections.
NAFTA has hurt small farmers in both the U.S. and Mexico. Farmers in the U.S. are going out of business at six times the pre-NAFTA rate. In Mexico NAFTA has resulted in a 45% decrease in the price of corn, severely hurting corn producers. Under the FTAA small farmers would be hurt in many more countries.
It is predicted that FTAA rules will force counties to privatize basic governmental services. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights guarantees basic healthcare, education, clean water, and electricity for all people. Privatization and deregulation can conflict with these basic governmental duties because the policies often lead to price increases that impoverished communities can’t afford.
I am not against Free Trade. However, I am against the form of Free Trade that currently exists. Trade policies need to be created which, don’t favor the biggest corporation but which, benefit all people and export our democratic ideal of equality for all.
There are ways of achieving this. All trade agreements should be transparent and accountable to the citizens they affect. There must be equal representation for all. Corporations shouldn’t be given a bigger vote than citizens. Provisions like NAFTA’s chapter 11 must be banned from all future trade agreements and regulations protecting the world’s natural resources added. Furthermore, services provided under the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights need to be excluded from international trade agreements. In short, trade policies ought to be enacted that protect human and worker rights, as well as the environment.
In 2005 the FTAA will come before congress. Please vote against it and similar trade agreements.
Thank you for your time.