Perhaps Gandhi said it best: "The only tyrant I accept in this world is the ‘still small voice' within me."
For many people, the April gathering of 34 heads of state in Quebec City to negotiate the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was an opportunity to speak against what they perceive as the tyranny of globalization.
What is globalization?
Broadly speaking, globalization and the rubric of "free trade" denote the increasing interconnection of all countries and peoples.
More specifically, however, the term "globalization" refers to an agenda, set by corporations, which seeks to 1) privatize public services, 2) end environmental standards that stand in the way of global trade, and 3) flatten the playing field so any corporation has access to any market in order to maximize profits.
A different agenda
Those who went to Quebec to protest the FTAA meeting are the "public face" of a world-wide movement that is calling for a very different agenda for globalization.
A very brief listing of concerns includes:
*Democracy and Participation: Currently, the trade regimes' working groups are accessible only to corporate and trade representatives.
All requests from citizens' groups for participation and review of draft documents prior to the Quebec Summit were denied. This has been the pattern for all trade talks.
*Sovereignty: Both the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization allow corporations to sue national governments in secret arbitration tribunals if they feel that a regulation or government decision has affected their investment.
One example: The United Parcel Service (UPS) has sued the Canadian Postal System for $100 million, arguing that the service's involvement in the courier business infringes on the profitability of UPS operations in Canada. This case represents the first NAFTA suit by a corporation against a public service.
*Profits above People and the Natural World: Integrating highly unequal economies without social protection has eroded the quality of life for all. Companies have taken advantage of countries where health, safety and environmental standards either are nonexistent or much weaker.
One example: In one Mexican state, 40 percent of the forests have been clear cut since NAFTA's inception.
Another example: In Mexico, poverty has increased 20 percent and the minimum wage has lost almost 50 percent of its purchasing power.
A UCC Perspective
"The United Church of Christ has long placed itself in solidarity with the poor and marginalized, and we oppose the FTAA and all it represents," says the Rev. Wally Ryan-Kuroiwa, Minister and Team Leader of the UCC's Economic Justice Ministry Team.
"Any prosperity resulting from such an agreement would only be for those plundering the natural resources and cheap labor markets," he says. "In its wake we could expect massive destruction of the environment and a whole host of social ills. This is the legacy of NAFTA. It is the promise of the FTAA."
The next step is for President Bush to seek fast track authority, a negotiating power Congress grants.
For those opposed to FTAA, denying this authority is crucial to stopping this agreement.
Maryilyn Welker is a free-lance writer in Columbus, Ohio, concerned with the economic dimensions of our faith.
To discuss this issue go to United Church News Forum on this topic by clicking here. For more information, visit the following web sites: www.a20.org, www.alca-ftaa.org, www.web.net/comfront/, www.indymedia.org and www.art-us.org. You also can contact the Rev. Wally Ryan Kuroiwa (216-736-3707) firstname.lastname@example.org or the Rev. Ben Guess (216-736-3709) email@example.com.