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NAFTA and after

Mexican labor leader Berta Luján on the Free Trade Area of the Americas

November 23, 1998

From her office in Mexico City, Berta Luján, leader of the Authentic Labor Front, an independent Mexican union federation, offered her perspective on the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. Peter Costantini spoke with her by telephone from Seattle in the United States.

IPS: The FTAA is moving ahead in ministerial meetings. Do you think it's a good or a bad idea?

BL: The FTAA is reproducing exactly the negotiating schema of NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement]. We think that this has been a bad experience. Because what Mexico is living through today, it will be the turn of the rest of the continent to live through, and in this sense it's a bad deal for the people of this hemisphere.

Nevertheless, we believe that there are experiences in the Southern Cone [of South America], the case of Mercosur and the Andean Pact, that should be taken into account in the negotiations, and that do in some sense make up part of the negotiations. So we see this as a positive counterweight. Still, we have our doubts about the outcome, because the influence of the transnational corporations, of financial capital, is very strong. And we really have to pull together an opposition with some clout to stop this onslaught.

We think it will be a very serious situation if the FTAA is just another NAFTA. On the other hand, it could be an opportunity for development, and it could present an alternative of growth and economic improvement for everyone, but only if the negotiations have a different logic and are devoted to different objectives.

IPS: Is the example of the European Union a better model?

BL: It probably is. This European model has at least three advantages over NAFTA. One is that they took into account the asymmetries between the countries in their accord, and therefore they provided compensatory funding and special provisions to help the less-developed countries reach higher levels of growth.

The second element was that they incorporated human issues into the negotiations. The issue of migration and the free movement of people is one of the important elements of the agreement.

The third is that they also incorporated clauses on labor into the accord, not as a parallel agreement nor as something added on, but as part of the negotiations, consultations and concrete accords on improving the position of labor for their workers. The social clause is in there and the decision-making process works. The unions participate integrally in it-not merely as advisors, and their opinions carry some weight in any sort of decision.

So what we call the incorporation of part of the social agenda is also a reality. We consider these three aspects very important and see them as different from NAFTA. If the FTAA were oriented towards this type of standard, we would think of it as an effort to improve NAFTA. That something different is really being negotiated. It's undoubtedly more beneficial for everyone.

IPS: What lessons for the FTAA can we draw from NAFTA?

BL: If the process of the FTAA negotiations is going to be as closed as the NAFTA process was, from the results that you can expect I believe they're not worth much. If they don't open up a process of real consultations with the productive sectors, with the social sectors, in order to take their interests into account in the negotiations, then the governments will have free rein and they'll just go on taking care of the interests that rule them, of the big financiers, of the big businesses. So we need to encourage a democratization of the process of negotiation of the FTAA.

And in the case of NAFTA, what we're proposing after five years is that there must be a thorough review so that the treaty can be renegotiated in light of the real flaws that it's had for Mexico, and for important parts of the U.S. and Canadian populations, such as workers, farmers and certain specific sectors of small and medium-size businesses.

—Translated from the Spanish by Peter Costantini

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Peter Costantini writes about Latin America, labor and technology issues for MSNBC News, Inter Press Service, and other news outlets.