Byline: Kristi Ellis

WASHINGTON — The summit intended to move forward the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas is still a week away, but labor, environmental, human rights and AIDS activists have already taken to the streets to express their concerns about its possible outcome.
On Thursday, some 300 demonstrators rallied outside the Washington offices of the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, chanting “FTAA go away” and carrying signs calling on him to “stop corporate greed.” Many USTR employees quickly shut the blinds as the rally began though a few peeked out of the upper-floor windows.
The demonstration, arranged by a coalition of organizations, was an effort to build momentum in advance of the Summit of the Americas, which is to be held in Quebec on April 20-22. Representatives of the 34 Western Hemisphere countries are expected to discuss ways to phase out tariffs, remove non-tariff trade barriers and set country-of-origin standards.
The FTAA — the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s trade agenda — would cover a combined population of about 800 million people and more than $11 trillion in production.
Ann Hoffman, legislative director of UNITE, who attended the protest, said the goal of the day was to encourage others to join the coalition of protesters and send a message to Zoellick. Similar protests are scheduled next week around the country.
“As with any other trade agreement we are not inherently opposed to the idea of expanding trade,” said Hoffman. “We are opposed to expanding trade the way we’ve been doing it, which is protecting investors and business and not protecting workers’ rights, public health or the environment.”
At a news conference prior to the protest, Thea Lee, the AFL-CIO’s assistant director for international economics public policy department, said she is concerned the FTAA will “undermine existing worker’s rights protections in the Western Hemisphere.”
“In the Caribbean and Central America, which has a very active apparel and textile sector, a lot of the countries would like to be exporting more apparel and textiles to the U.S.,” said Lee. “We have always said that that market access should be tied to workers’ rights.”
The negotiators trying to advance the FTAA last weekend set a May 15, 2002, deadline to start talks on how the 34 participating countries will phase out tariffs, remove non-tariff trade barriers and, crucially for apparel and textile trade, set country-of-origin standards. The ministers also decided negotiations should conclude by January 2005, with the pact going into effect by December 2005.
In 2005, quotas on textiles and apparel will be phased out among World Trade Organization-member nations. That will leave tariffs as the primary tool of governments trying to control access to their markets.