With great fanfare, the U.S. Trade Representative announced today the completion of a trade agreement between the United States and Chile. U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear said they expect to sign the agreement and submit it to their respective legislatures for approval next year.
Although the USTR has not made public the text of the agreement, American workers, consumers, farmers, environmentalists and reporters are asked to trust the government as it touts the agreements purported benefits.
What the USTR fails to mention in its press packet is that neither U.S. nor Chilean citizens were allowed to provide meaningful input into the creation of this FTA (Free Trade Agreement) and that the process was conducted largely behind closed doors. Representatives of industrial, agricultural, and banking interests were allowed full access to the process while citizens were kept out in the cold. Public interest representatives were forced to file suit to obtain negotiating documents, but failed to do so, due to USTR stonewalling.
"The U.S.-Chile Trade Agreement is yet another back-room deal, like NAFTA and GATT, created behind closed doors by special interests who seem allergic to any public oversight or transparency," said Martin Wagner, director of the International Program at Earthjustice based in the US. "These special interests, and the bureaucrats who did their bidding, fought tooth and nail against citizen demands for transparency in the process. The result will be yet another set of international trade rules that favor corporations while undercutting the ability of national and state lawmakers to protect the environment and public health standards. This is international law created by corporations for corporations with the public cut out of the process."
"USTR's approach for releasing information is increasingly Orwellian," said Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "After years of negotiating this agreement in secrecy, the USTR is trumpeting a done deal, but once again not giving anyone the text. U.S. and Chilean consumers, farmers, and workers are still in the dark, but they can be assured that bad process leads to bad results. The investment 'fixes' in the agreement fall far short of what is needed, and far short of even what Congress demanded in the Fast Track trade bill."
In November 2001, Earthjustice, on behalf of the Center for International Environmental Law, Friends of the Earth and Public Citizen, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, against U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick for stonewalling public access to the US negotiating position on the US-Chile Free Trade Agreement. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the groups asked the USTR to disclose documents it provided to Chilean negotiators including investment rules that would limit the ability of US local and national governments to protect their own health standards and environmental laws.
Similar investment provisions in NAFTA have been the basis for a $1 billion challenge to a California plan to phase out the use of the harmful gasoline additive MTBE, and a $16 million dollar award to the U.S.-based Metalclad corporation after local Mexican government officials refused to authorize the company to build a hazardous waste facility that could have contaminated drinking water. Extending these rules in an agreement with Chile could further weaken the ability of the United States and Chile to protect the environment and human health.