Multinational Monitor

APR 2001
VOL 22 No. 4


NAFTA's Investor Rights: A Corporate Dream, A Citizen Nightmare
by Mary Bottari

The Chapter 11 Dossier: Corporations Exercise Their Investor "Rights"
by Michelle Swenarchuk

Serving Up the Commons: A Guest Essay
by Tony Clarke

NAFTA for the Americas: Q&A on the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas)
by Monitor Staff


Chile's Democratic Challenge
an interview with
Sara Larrain


Behind the Lines

Fast Track to Hell

The Front
Unilever's Dumping Fever - The Torture Trade

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Book Review
Trust Us, We're Experts!

Names In the News



Fast Trade to Hell

Here we go again.

Clinton's out, Bush is in. Charlene Barshefsky is out as U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick is in.

But the U.S. trade agenda hasn't changed. The goal is still to expand and deepen the model of corporate globalization, to push trade and investment agreements that tie governments' hands to regulate or intervene in the economy to advance the public interest and counteract the impact of overwhelming corporate power.

Nor has the political approach changed. The new administration, like the old administration, understands well that its ability to push trade agreements through Congress depends on limiting democratic influence. And so the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration before it, is prioritizing passage of Fast Track - a procedural mechanism by which Congress would delegate authority to the administration to negotiate trade deals and then empower the administration to ram trade proposals through Congress with a limited debate, no-amendment, up-or-down vote on the implementing legislation to adopt trade agreements.

Here's where the Clinton administration left things: In 2000, the administration negotiated a trade deal with Vietnam to normalize trade relations with that country and a free trade agreement with Jordan; both still await congressional passage. At the changing of the guard in January 2001, negotiations for a free trade agreement with Singapore were underway, and were proposed for a free trade agreement with Chile. Most importantly, negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) - an effort effectively to expand NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, to all of the Americas except for Cuba - are moving swiftly forward, with a scheduled completion date of 2005 (and with some calling for completion by 2003).

A Clinton effort to win fast track collapsed in 1997, in the face of opposition from Democrats in the House of Representatives. A House Republican effort to push fast track through in 1998 proceeded without serious backing from the administration, and failed as well.

Now Robert Zoellick, a free-trade zealot in the mode of Charlene Barshefsky, takes the stage. On trade, Zoellick and the Bush administration differ from Barshefsky and the Clinton administration only in their hostility to the potential inclusion of labor and environmental standards in trade agreements. But while this is a distinction that for unfathomable reasons seems to matter to business groups, it is in reality a distinction without a difference, given how inconsequential all of the labor and environmental protections proposed by the Clintonites are. (Perhaps the business lobbyists simply believe that being uncompromising across the board pays off for them as a political strategy.)

Zoellick wants to pick up right where Barshefsky left off. But with the momentum of a new administration, he also wants again to take up the Fast Track mantle.

To capitalize on the popularity of the Vietnam and Jordan agreements (the Congress seems finally ready to quit fighting the Vietnam War, and the Jordan agreement contains very weak environmental and labor provisions that have led some liberals to embrace the deal), Zoellick is proposing to ask Congress to vote on the two bilateral trade deal and Fast Track in a single vote.

The early floating of this idea has generated shrieks of opposition from some Democrats, but it may be Zoellick's best play, and there is a decent chance the administration will proceed with this plan. (There is also some chance the administration will choose not to bring Fast Track to a vote this year, as it expends political energy on its giveaway-to-the-rich tax plan.)

And so the growing movement against corporate globalization must direct energy to defeating Fast Track. Without Fast Track, the United States will be impeded from pushing forward with the FTAA negotiations, and with efforts to kickstart World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations (though not entirely so; executive branch claims that it cannot negotiate without Fast Track are exaggerated).

A new WTO negotiating round, if it actually starts, and the FTAA would undermine the remaining authority of governments in important ways. Perhaps most alarmingly, the United States is proposing inclusion of a NAFTA-style investment section in the FTAA. This move comes even as it is becoming increasingly clear that these "investor rights" are being used to make state, local and federal governments pay for the right to enforce environmental and other regulations and even to challenge the existence of state-run enterprises (like the Canadian postal service) that combine monopoly services with services that compete directly with private companies [see "NAFTA's Investor Rights," and for more on the FTAA, see "NAFTA for the Americas," both in this issue].

Protests in the spirit of the demonstrations that disrupted meetings of the WTO, International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Prague are scheduled for April 20 in Quebec City, where the heads of state of the countries of the Americas will be gathering. These protests represent a crucial opportunity to again display the public's rejection of the corporate globalization agenda.

But activists, especially in the United States, must tend to the nitty-gritty work as well. There is no more important way to derail the forward trajectory of corporate globalization than to deny the Bush administration Fast Track.

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