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Date: Sun, 25 Mar 2001 19:18:45 EST
From: Nancy Burnet Kent

Below is an article from the 3/25/01 Los Angeles Times about the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the proposed expansion of NAFTA. This is an excellent time to write a letter to the editor of the L.A. Times about FTAA! The address is below. "Letters should be brief. They must include valid mailing address and telephone number."

It's always an excellent time to contact your representatives about this issue!

Learning about the outrageous lawsuits described in this article is an excellent "concrete" way to educate other people about the detestable results of NAFTA (now in the process of being expanded to more countries). For more information, go to or, etc.

first draft of my letter to the editor of the L.A. Times:

[your name, address and phone number]

Letters to the Editor
Los Angeles Times
202 W. First Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
fax: 213-237-7679

It is unacceptable that, under NAFTA, a foreign corporation can sue a government for having a law restricting where a hazardous-waste plant can be located (the Metalclad Corp. case), or restricting the use of the gasoline additive MTBE which polluted water wells from Lake Tahoe to Santa Monica (the Methanex Corp. case). An ever-growing number of people are following the progress of these "investor-to-state" lawsuits mentioned in the 3/25/01 article "Groups Gear Up to Battle Hemispheric Pact."
        NAFTA has caused the U.S., Mexico and Canada to lose the right to have our elected local, state and national representatives enact laws to protect public health and safety. NAFTA has transformed the ability of a foreign corporation to make the maximum amount of profit into a property right comparable to owning a piece of real estate! This and all of the other unhealthy, menacing results of NAFTA should be corrected rather than expanded to additional countries.


Groups Gear Up to Battle Hemispheric Pact

By Gary Polakovic,

Los Angeles Times
Sunday, March 25, 2001
Page C1

Trade: Environmental activists will lead an assault on the far-reaching agreement. Critics see it as a threat to jobs, democracy and natural resources.

Environmental and labor groups that took to the streets of Seattle two years ago to protest global corporate power are preparing for a new clash over a far-reaching free-trade agreement for the Western Hemisphere.

The new front in the fight against globalization is the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which 34 nations, including the United States, have spent seven years crafting. The pact is aimed at knocking down trade barriers to create the world's largest trading bloc, stretching from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska to Patagonia in Argentina.

Completion of the pact is a priority for President Bush and an opportunity to prove his commitment to free trade, which the White House and business interests deem critical to the U.S. economy and say would improve living standards and stabilize democracies in Latin America.

But environmental advocates and labor groups are mobilizing resistance to the pact, calling it a threat to democracy, jobs and natural resources. Using tactics similar to those deployed to disrupt the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999, organizers are planning to turn out tens of thousands of demonstrators at key trade meetings next month.

The objections are an outgrowth of mounting frustration that environmental and labor concerns are not being taken seriously by most of the nations that would constitute the FTAA. Nongovernmental organizations are excluded from the trade negotiations.

Latin American governments vigorously oppose including environmental protections in the agreement. They fear developed countries would wield regulations as a form of eco-protectionism and they point to unruly protests as a reason to keep activists out of trade meetings, which are conducted in secret.

Bush also has opposed linking environmental and labor standards to trade agreements, although Democrats in Congress have advised his trade representative, Robert Zoellick, to reconsider that position.

"The environmentalists make a difference in the sense that the president won't get authority to negotiate the FTAA unless these issues are addressed," said John Mizroch, president of the World Environment Center and a member of the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee to the U.S. Trade Office.

Trade ministers of the participating nations are scheduled to meet April 6 in Buenos Aires to discuss draft language of the pact. Heads of state will meet April 20 at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City to discuss the FTAA, among other issues. The nations have agreed to complete the pact by 2005.

Detractors are planning to stage demonstrations along U.S. borders in the weeks leading up to the trade talks.

Critics of the FTAA object to provisions allowing private corporations to sue governments for creating alleged trade barriers -- language similar to the so-called Chapter 11 provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

FTAA opponents are rallying around a case in which a Canadian company, Methanex Corp., seeks nearly $1 billion because California banned the gasoline additive MTBE. The dispute arose under NAFTA, but critics say more such cases will arise.

They say the Chapter 11 language could open the door to challenges of other state laws, including California's Coastal Zone Management Act and local growth-control measures that corporations deem an impediment to trade.

"The Methanex case is the loudest warning bell of the sorts of outcomes that the FTAA could result in," said David Waskow, trade policy coordinator for Friends of the Earth. "Trade agreements are making it possible for corporations to reap enormous benefits, but without ensuring there are restraints or controls to make sure health and the environment are protected."

The dispute pits Vancouver, Canada-based Methanex against the U.S. government over Gov. Gray Davis' decision to ban MTBE in California. The smog-fighting gasoline additive was banned after it was found to have polluted water wells from Lake Tahoe to Santa Monica.

Methanex says that decision harmed its methanol-producing business and has asked an arbitration tribunal to award it $970 million in compensation. If the tribunal rules in the company's favor, U.S. taxpayers might have to pay the bill.

"This is about damages and expropriation of our product," said Methanex spokesman Brad Boyd, adding that MTBE is safe. "There was intentional discrimination against MTBE in California."

In another Chapter 11 case under NAFTA, a tribunal recently sided with Metalclad Corp., based in Newport Beach, and directed Mexico to pay $16.7 million in compensation because that country's environmental laws blocked a hazardous-waste plant. The regulations amounted to an expropriation, according to the panel's ruling, which Mexico is contesting.

The potential for these kinds of trade disputes to multiply has prompted Canada to oppose incorporating the NAFTA provisions into the hemispheric trade pact. On the other hand, U.S. companies, as well as Mexico and other Latin American countries, are reluctant to include environmental protections in the trade treaty.

Expanded free trade across the hemisphere is of particular concern to environmental activists because of the natural and cultural resources at stake in Latin America.

Critics say the trade agreement could lead to consequences such as:

  • New scrutiny by trade partners of local laws protecting rain forests.
  • Claims for compensation resulting from import restrictions on wood or agricultural products that might bear exotic pests.
  • Ownership disputes between indigenous people and biotech companies arising from limits on bio-prospecting.

The U.S. Trade Representative's Office has begun a review of the FTAA to determine how it could affect the environment. U.S. officials say developing nations that become trade partners would benefit from access to pollution cleanup technology at lower prices.

"Free-trade agreements raise levels of economic growth in Latin American countries and, as people become more affluent, they will demand stricter environmental controls. You see this all over the world as countries build a middle class that pays more attention to environmental issues," said David Vogel, professor at Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

Free-trade advocates say expanded commerce and fewer protectionist barriers increase efficiency by opening markets to companies that produce goods and services at lower cost, regardless of national origin.

Exports to FTAA countries account for nearly half of all U.S. exports. Mexico is now the second largest trading partner of the United States, and jobs supported by NAFTA trade have increased 33%, to 2.6 million, since 1993, according to the U.S. Trade Office.

"The environmental concerns are often a smoke screen for uneasiness over the viability of a particular law. I see no reason why a free-trade agreement would have any impact on environmental laws," said Jonathan Huneke, vice president of the U.S. Council for International Business, which represents 300 multinationals, including IBM Corp., AOL Time Warner Inc. and General Motors Corp.

But it will fall to Congress to set parameters for U.S. negotiators in the FTAA. This year, it will consider whether to grant the Bush administration "fast-track" authority that would enable the White House to present a completed trade pact for ratification without possibility of amendment.

Critics oppose fast-track because it means Congress would have to approve all or nothing once the finished pact returns for consideration. But at the same time, they acknowledge it provides them an opportunity to leverage a more important role for environment and labor concerns.

Said Stephen Porter, senior attorney for the Washington-based Center for International Environmental Law: "The political reality is that, in this country, the FTAA will not pass unless it deals with these social issues."

© 2001 Los Angeles Times

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