The Free Trade Area of the Americas: Hemispheric Forest Threat
by Steve Holmer

The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is a free trade and investment agreement being negotiated amongst the governments of North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. It is modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between North America, Canada and Mexico.

Negotiations are scheduled for completion in 2005. However, negotiators claim to be ahead of schedule and expect that a draft text will be completed by the end of this year. President-elect George W. Bush has expressed plans to push swiftly ahead with the FTAA.

The goal of the FTAA is to create a free trade and investment zone that extends from northern Canada to the southern tip of Chile. As with NAFTA, "free trade and investment" means reducing government regulations on corporations, opening markets to foreign competition and expanding trade in all products, including forest products. In fact, it appears that the FTAA will include a Global Free Logging Agreement (GFLA) like that proposed and thus far defeated at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

We can use NAFTA as a model to predict the impact of the FTAA on forests. After signing NAFTA, all three countries involved lowered protections for forests and biodiversity; 15 US forest product companies set up new operations in Mexico taking advantage of lower environmental and labor safeguards. One US corporation, Boise Cascade, has been linked to extreme human rights abuses against forest activists in Mexico. Boise Cascade has also been blocked in its plans to open the world's largest chip mill in the heart of Chile's endangered rainforests by Chilean and US citizen opposition. However, the FTAA could be the silver bullet the company needs to push its plans to completion.

The FTAA would promote unbridled hemisphere-wide consumption of forest products without a single biodiversity safeguard. US negotiators expect that the FTAA will also include investment liberalization initiatives like those included in NAFTA and the ill-fated Multilateral Agreement on Investment that allow corporations to sue governments if environmental laws cause their properties to lose economic value.

In fact, a member of the United States Trade Representative's office confirmed that the FTAA Market Access Negotiating Group is working on tariff elimination and non-tariff trade barrier (NTB) removal for forest products. NTBs are forest and species protections that are argued to interfere with free trade.

Tariff elimination could increase the consumption of forest products, while the elimination of NTBs could threaten existing and future forest protection laws and initiatives. Current logging practices have decimated the world's forests. An increase in such unsustainable practices will hasten the destruction of the world's native forests.

With a GFLA, US laws designed to protect forests, the environment and small locally owned mills can be challenged under the FTAA as NTBs. If challenged and defeated, these laws would have to be eliminated or the US would face costly trade sanctions. The record of trade agreements vs. the environment thus far proves that when faced with a trade-off between free trade and environmental protection, the environment always loses.

Forest protections that could be threatened include a ban on the export of raw logs from federal and most state lands; federal and state green procurement laws such as those requiring the use of recycled paper; eco-labeling and certification laws used to identify environmentally friendly products; and laws to protect against invasive species. For more information contact American Lands Alliance 726 7th Street SE, Washington, DC 20003; (202) 547-9105; www.americanlands.org.

© Earth First! Journal, February-March 2001

 

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