Supporters Say Ftaa Will Create Jobs But Opponents Say Cost Would Be Too High
By Shannon Pettypiece
The proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas would affect all 800 million residents of its 34 Western Hemisphere nations if it is created. But that idea may be all that supporters and opponents agree about.
Next month, Miami will host the eighth round of trade negotiations among representatives of all North, Central and South American countries and the Caribbean except Cuba. The goal is to craft a common market by 2005 that would rival the European Union.
Supporters say nearly 90,000 jobs eventually would be come to the region if Miami can permanently host the proposed FTAA headquarters. But FTAA opponents say a trade pact would hurt South Florida’s economy in the long run.
Voices from both sides of the debate went head-to-head last week at a forum hosted by the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board.
"They promise the FTAA will create 90,000 jobs," said Gihan Perera, exective director of the Miami Workers Center. "Our question is: How many jobs will we lose? The FTAA will only make poverty and inequality worse."
An advocate for Miami-Dade County’s low-income and unemployed residents, Mr. Perera said a promise of more service-sector jobs in Miami should FTAA headquarters, called a secretariat, land here would be offset by a loss of agricultural and manufacturing jobs caused by a trade agreement.
"The secretariat is a nice horn," he said, "but if it is in a car that doesn’t work, we won’t buy it. It is a question of the vehicle the secretariat is in, and that vehicle will not take us where we want to be."
Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, said liberalized trade would boost jobs everywhere, especially in South Florida, regardless of where the secretariat lands. One-quarter of the US economy depends on trade, which also sparks one-third of the nation’s economic growth, he said.
"This part of the world trades more with Barbados than India, more with Trinidad and Tobago than China," Mr. Farnsworth said. "Trade brings more benefits than loss, but it does bring loss. Losing one’s job is a painful experience, but that doesn’t mean we should not trade."
While advocates say South Florida will gain thousands of jobs if Miami gets the secretariat, detractors cite jobs lost in the 10 years since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The FTAA would result in loss of jobs and a reduction in the quality of life by overriding local laws that protect small and minority- or woman-owned businesses and forcing local and foreign companies to be treated the same, said Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch, an arm of national watchdog association Public Citizen, founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
"Frankly, the least of what the FTAA is about is trade," Ms. Wallach said. "We don’t believe you can put in place one-size-fits-all rules. We think this city should decide policies and rules and not have to conform."
Ms. Wallach said the FTAA is being modeled after NAFTA, which has resulted in millions of job losses. Her group says eight big factories – such as the Levi Strauss facilities – have left Miami-Dade County for Mexico because of NAFTA.
Trade pact supporter Siegfried Marks, president of Sigmar International, said the pact would result in lower prices on goods and create jobs.
"The main objective is to reduce prices that ultimately are being paid by us, the consumers," Mr. Marks said. "Export jobs created are usually underreported because it is more difficult to report jobs created by exports like new service workers, new managers, new staff in a law office."
About 100 citizens attended the debate. All who spoke told the panel and several county officials in the audience that they were concerned that FTAA, like NAFTA, would mean fewer jobs for communities already plagued with unemployment.
"We need jobs, jobs and legal jobs," said Miami resident C.C. Reed.
County Commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler, who was the moderator, said after both sides spoke that there are unanswered questions about how the county would be affected.
"Certainly we need trade agreements, but is this the right one?" Commissioner Carey-Shuler said. "I hope when the voices are heard during peaceful demonstrations that the 34 nations will make the right choice."