Brazil: Unions Want FTAA Put to Popular Vote

Publisher Name: 
Inter Press Service

FLORIANOPOLIS, Brazil -- Giving in to the positions
imposed by the United States to create the Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA) under the current conditions would be tantamount
to suicide, warned central trade unions from the Southern Cone
countries.

Some 700 representatives of the central trade unions of the
members of South America's leading trade bloc, the Southern Common
Market (Mercosur) - Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay -
called on their governments to submit an eventual continent-wide
free trade treaty to national plebiscites.

The representatives of the unions of the Mercosur countries are
presenting their declaration, ''For a Mercosur with Jobs, Wages
and Social Protection'', to the bloc's leaders, who are meeting
Friday in the southern Brazilian resort city of Florianopolis.

In the document approved at its two-day gathering Wednesday and
Thursday, the ''Mercosur Trade Union Summit'' also urged the
governments to submit the question of adhesion to the FTAA -
currently being negotiated by 34 countries in the Americas, and in
which the United States takes a keen interest - to popular vote
through national plebiscites.

Agreements like the hemispheric trade accord could have ''very
negative consequences for our people,'' the trade unionists stated
in the letter addressed to Mercosur authorities.

They recommended that the governments consult voters before
adopting decisions regarding the FTAA.

The meeting, held in the Higher School of Tourism in
Florianopolis, was the second organised by the Southern Cone
Coordinator of Central Trade Unions, which claims to represent 20
million workers in the region.

The demand for popular votes on the FTAA emerged from an
analysis of the social situation of countries in the region since
the creation of the Mercosur in 1991.

Over the past 10 years, said the labour movement document,
conditions have worsened in terms of employment, income and the
rights of workers in the Southern Cone region.

''The immediate adoption of policies putting top priority on
resolving such problems'' is urgently called for, said the trade
unionists, who condemned the economic policies of governments in
the region, on the argument that they were part of a ''global
model of integration'' that had aggravated the social crisis.

The trade unions also complained that the declarations of the
South American presidents who gathered in Brasilia in late August
had already been forgotten.

At that time, the leaders agreed ''not to yield on timetables
and negotiations in the FTAA talks,'' and to move towards an
agreement between Mercosur and the Andean Community - South
America's two main trade blocs - to later expand the resulting
arrangement to South America as a whole.

Since then, Ecuador has remained firm in its decision to
''dollarise'' its economy, the Plan Colombia - an anti-drug
programme with a large military component - has begun to be
implemented with U.S. support, and Chile renewed talks with
Washington on the possibility of admission to the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the letter pointed out.

The labour leaders added that the question of the creation of
the FTAA by 2005 - or even 2004 if the United States and several
Latin American countries have their way - had returned to the
forefront, this time supported by the Chilean government and
officials in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

These changes were ''impositions'' that amounted to ''suicide''
for the people of the South, the trade unions declared.

If integration between countries of the South has fallen short
due to the lack of policies for the effective promotion of
development, the effects of hemispheric free trade with two of the
greatest powers in the world - the United States and Canada -
under the same conditions are all too predictable, the unions
argued.

Within the structure of the FTAA, no channel has been created
for the participation of civil society, since the majority of the
negotiations and documents are not open to the public, they
complained.

The union leaders called on workers in the region to mobilise
in demand of modifications of the economic policies of the
countries of the Southern Cone, and to ''reject the pressures from
the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Treasury
Department.''

They also called for an acceleration of ''the creation of an
economic and social bloc in Latin America,'' the adoption of
development policies as a Mercosur priority, and plebiscites to
give voters in each country the chance to accept or reject their
government's decision to join the FTAA.

Hemispheric integration in trade, in the form in which it is
occurring today, puts limits on national institutions that should
decide the future of each country, while pushing aside the
mechanisms that allow society to ensure a democratic
administration of the state, the declaration added.

To give workers a stronger voice, the central trade unions have
decided to seek alliances with other organisations of civil
society in order to influence Mercosur decisions through the
Economic and Social Consultative Forum, where the trade unions
have a seat.

The labour movement has already chalked up victories, such as
the Social and Labour Declaration approved in 1998, designed to
guarantee social rights in the Mercosur, the unions pointed out.

The World Social Forum, to take place from Jan 25-30 in Porto
Alegre, in southern Brazil, will draw representatives of civil
society from throughout the world to discuss economic alternatives
to the dominant neo-liberal model, and for ''the creation and
exchange of social and economic projects that promote human
rights, social justice and sustainable development,'' according to
the announcement for the gathering.

The Forum will be held annually during the same period as the
World Economic Forum, which is held in Davos, Switzerland since
1971 and ''has played a key role in formulating economic policies
throughout the world, sponsored by a Swiss organisation that
serves as a consultant to the United Nations, and financed by more
than one thousand corporations,'' states the call for the Porto
Alegre meeting.

The World Social Forum will also serve to strengthen South-
North alliances between non-governmental organisations, trade
unions and social movements, and will serve as an opportunity to
strengthen the unity of the labour movement, said the Southern
Cone trade union leaders.

AMP Section Name:Trade Justice
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