Translated by Amy Ness
Edited by Susan Tritten
On Thursday April 12th at the People’s Summit, the Thematic Forum about the impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took place. The different speakers explained the consequences of the implementation of NAFTA in Central American countries that already approved the treaty with the United States or Canada. The educator and economist Héctor Moncayo explained, “our fight is not against the countries, rather the multinationals; free trade agreements are a world-wide weave of new laws that favor business groups.” He insisted that the laws will no longer follow the Columbian Constitution, but rather, NAFTA, and that a political change in the government would have difficulty changing that if it wasn’t a relatively revolutionary government. Mancayo explained that “NAFTA is the guarantee for investments, the cover up of all the possibilities of interference from the United States and the denying of popular fights.”
More capital gain
The representative of Adida de Antioquia (Institution of the Founders of Antioquia), Luis Vallejo Osorio, remarked on that sense that the objective of trade agreements are “to take more capital gain to the working class from a resetting of the political regime in order to convert it to a hunter of income; the free trade agreements are a mechanism for intensifying the exploitation including dismantling the bourgeois legislature.” According to Moncayo, in Columbia it began with the Constitution of 1991 that imposed a neoliberal ideology. It was authenticated with intervention from the member of the Anthoc union, Yesid Camacho, who said that, “Columbia has prepared itself for 20 years for NAFTA with the decentralization and privatization of health.” He insisted that healthcare is already a business in Columbia that involves 40 billion pesos per year, and is one of the most profitable sectors of the Columbian economy. “The problem with healthcare is not a lack of money.”
With respect to the demand that a group of lawyers imposed against NAFTA in Columbia, Moncayo explained that the Constitutional Court said that NAFTA does not violate the law as a whole but it did say that in its application it would violate some laws. That is one of the remaining arguments saying that the legal battle against NAFTA is important since “although the capital can pass over all laws, the same laws facilitate work and complicate the fights.” He declared that small fights for social issues strike the framework of NAFTA and the fight against trade agreements indentifies itself with all fights.
Interventions in the Forum
According to the summary of the speakers, the general panorama of the application of the trade agreements is: structural unemployment, increased inequality and poverty, closing of national companies, end of the agricultural production in traditional sectors of the economy, privatization of health and education services. It establishes an international division of labor where big corporations take control of strategic resources like mining, water, or basic food products.
The principal interventions were from Angélica Chaparro, Red Colombiana de Acción frente al Libre Comercio (Columbian Network of Action against Free Commerce); Jorge Coronado, CSN (National Commission of Liaison of Costa Rica); Raúl Urbano, Common Frontier Canada; y Héctor León Moncayo. All the interventions conclude that the fundamental motive of NAFTA es to protect investors, transnational companies, and the finance sector.
How NAFTA affects women
Chaparro presented a summary of an investigation of Oxfam in 2004 about the effects of NAFTA on women now that, according to her, the economy is neutral and affects men and women in a different way. Some facts:
- 60-70% of women work in the worst paid sectors of production like textiles, fruit, or flowers.
- Women have to combine paid work with unpaid work and at the same job in the same company the salary is lower for women.
- 80-85% of the women entering the workforce work in familiar sectors (house, services, food).
- 68% of women classified by DANE (National Administrative Department of Statistics) as “inactive population” dedicate themselves to working in the home while the percent of men doing this is only 8.8%.
Chaparro supports that NAFTA does not improve that situation because it threatens the main ways of employments (national industry) y affects the worst paid jobs and subcontractors (exporting industry).
Rules of NAFTA
Some basic standards of the implementation of free trade theories are the national treaty- the same treaty for every type of corporations, national or foreign- that affects weaker companies. Another basic standard is indirect expropriation: companies can sue the State for not having expected earnings. As far as this theme, Chaparro affirmed that labor claims affect the companies’ earnings because they all imply some economic question about how to structure maternity leave.
Raúl Coronado briefly explained the investigation that they did having to do with the implementation of free trade agreements in Costa Rica and Central America. The four main points of the treaty were: impacts on agriculture; impacts on employments and labor rights; intellectual property; and the macroeconomic situation.
“The improvement of labor rights were the main slogan of the defenders of NAFTA and also they told us that commerce and exports would increase.” However, Coronado explained that the prices continued to grow and that the Central American economies are in red numbers: Guatemala, for five years, sold more than it bought, but now it is the reverse and similarly 80% of its exports are by transnational companies. Those countries are affected the most by the unemployment increase between 2008-2010 and have largest dependency on the United States whenever economic crisis occurs in North America.
With respect to intellectual property, the free trade agreements hope to take the largest generic medical companies from China and India off the markets. The agreements also impose a clause that says, “Generic medicines can only be imported if there is an epidemic.” The laws of intellectual property hope to patent the biodiversity that exists in American countries and persecute the informal economy, such as street sales of music and movies. In Costa Rica, reproduction of educational texts is prohibited and is a crime, which affects the business of photocopiers.
Agriculture and national consumption
In regard to the agricultural situation, Coronado raised questions because Central America has lost its farming self-sufficiency it had in basic grains such as beans, corn, and rice. For example, El Salvador imports 79% of its rice consumption and 43% of its corn. Costa Rica imports 77% of its beans and 45% of its rice. Guatemala imports 70% of its rice and 100% of its wheat. China exports beans and the United States exports wheat and corn. Wall Mart currently monopolizes the commercialization sector through transnational companies like Maseca and Cargill and transnational companies that produce seeds like Monsanto, Bayer, Dupont, and Syngenta.
Pineapple, watermelon, melon, and oranges crops, as well as palm oil, are displacing traditional crops and affecting the fertility of land. The level of depredation of the land is enormous along with contamination of water: there are communities in Costa Rica that have had to restrict aqueducts and supply itself with tanks.
Role of Canada
The Canadian Raúl Urbano said that Common Frontiers Canada, a group of various unions, “is not against free trade, but we want labor rights and and the environment to be at the center of agreements.” He said that Canada has a very important role in the extension of the free trade agreements, but that it does everything under a low profile. The North American government hides behind the United States but it has for years encouraged a strategy to promote access to Latin American markets and improve relationships with radical transnational companies in Canada.
One of the examples in mining: Canadian companies have 65% of exploration in the world and Latin America and the Carribean have increased that area by 30% since 2002. Urbano explained that Canada was the first country to recognize the elections in Honduras where Profirio Lobo was elected as president through the coup de etat against Manuel Zelaya. Urbano explained that Zelaya imposed laws restricting Canada’s mining in Honduras; however, Lobo does not prohibit mining and has lower taxes against mining.
Location: None Provided
Date Published: April 12, 2012
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