QUEBEC TRADE SUMMIT BRINGS OUT PROTESTERS
Byline: Kristi Ellis
WASHINGTON — Western Hemisphere leaders cautiously discussed free trade against the backdrop of violent anti-globalization protests this weekend at the three-day Summit of the Americas in Quebec.
Leaders from 34 nations gathered in Quebec on Friday for a third summit intended to jump-start talks on creating a free trade zone that would encompass 800 million people with an economic output of $11 trillion.
But out in the streets, tens of thousands of protesters clashed with riot police, tore down barriers and caused disruptions and delays in ceremonies. The Quebec protests mirrored similar ones in Seattle that contributed to the collapse of World Trade Organization talks in 1999.
During his opening remarks Saturday, President Bush reinforced his position on labor and the environment, stressing that those conditions should not “be excuses for protectionism.” He also told leaders that he would get the authority he needs to negotiate trade pacts.
Bush vowed to hold “intense consultations” with members of Congress to obtain trade promotion authority — formerly known as fast-track authority — which he needs to negotiate the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas pact that the leaders hope to implement by December 2005.
The authority, considered crucial to engage trading partners in negotiations, would mean Congress wouldn’t be able to change the pact through amendments. There is widespread agreement among lawmakers that fast track must be contingent on trade agreements containing access to markets based on labor and environmental standards, conditions that some Latin American leaders reject.
No real negotiations on the FTAA occurred at the summit. The leaders endorsed the four-year-timetable for negotiations set earlier this month but left the bargaining on areas such as tariffs, non-tariff barriers and rules of origin for later.
Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel for the National Retail Federation, said, “Real progress can’t be made [on the FTAA] until trade promotion authority is in place.”
Outside, protesters hurled rocks and bottles as riot police fired back with water cannons and tear gas. Over 400 protesters, who contend that free trade agreements do not uphold workers’ rights or environmental conditions, were arrested after two days, while 54 police officers were reported injured.
Ann Hoffman, legislative director of UNITE, said, “It’s ironic the leaders are saying free trade is great for democracy while so many people outside wanted to exercise their democratic rights but weren’t allowed.”