Back to homepage...

Building a Hemispheric Social Alliance to Confront
Free Trade in the Americas

Declaration of the Third Trade Union Summit

On the occasion of the Third Trade Union Summit, parallel to the Ministerial Meeting of the FTAA in Belo Horizonte on the 12th and 13th of May 1997, representatives of the trade union organizations of the Americas, affiliated and fraternal organizations of the ORIT/ICFTU and a number of important social organizations have had the opportunity of sharing our respective work on the social dimension of integration.

As a part of this meeting, the trade union movement has reviewed the joint text prepared by networks of organizations from Mexico, the United State, Canada, Chile and El Salvador and presented to U.S. President Clinton during his recent tour of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean and signed by other organizations.

As an example of the will to achieve an effective complementarity between the perspectives and actions strategies of the trade union movement and other social movements, we have approved this declaration based on the aforementioned document and on the trade union experience acquired in the various subregional processes of integration. Therefore this declaration can be seen as complementary to that of the III Trade Union Summit.

    There should be no FTAA if it is to be converted into an agreement similar to other existing agreements such as NAFTA. We need an agreement which promotes genuine development for all of the peoples of the hemisphere; one that recognizes and attempts to reduce the differences in levels of development; one that allows for integration of our economies, based on democratically determined national development models; and one that is based on a consensus. Strong national economies must be the basis for a strong continent. We are proposing an agreement designed for sustainable development rather than for trade liberalization.
Trade agreements are not an end in themselves, but rather a means toward combatting poverty and social exclusion for achieving just and sustainable development. We do not support isolationism or traditional protectionism. We are not nostalgic for the past. We are looking forward and we have viable proposals. We know that our economies cannot be isolated from the dynamics of the world economy, but we do not think that free trade is the solution. The problem is that free trade involves more that the opening of borders; it involves the abandonment of national development models and poses a serious threat to democracy.

Any national development model, to be viable, must take into account trade and world economic conditions. It must also build on each nationís potential and develop a strategy to establish its unique position in the world. It has never been demonstrated that the market achieves optimal distribution of resources and the fruits of development. So-called free trade is actually trade regulation that increases the advantages of international capital, speculative or not, over productive investment, and over the rights and well-being of workers.

    There should be no FTAA if it does not include a social agenda that contains at least the following fundamental elements.
      There must be broadly-based citizen participation in the negotiation of any agreement, and its ratification must occur in each country through genuinely democratic means.

      Any agreement must include respect for and improvement of the social and economic rights of workers, women who have suffered the greatest impact caused by restructuring of production, campesinos, indigenous peoples and migrant workers.

    Competitiveness for our countries must not be based on the exploitation of workers and social dumping. The current tendency towards downward harmonization of working conditions and wages must be stopped, promoting instead an upward harmonization of labour conditions over the medium term and a recovery of wages. The starting point should be ILO conventions that guarantee freedom of association, collective bargaining, prohibition of child labour and forced labour and no discrimination based on sex, race or religion. Moveover, we demand a Charter of Social and Economic Rights for Citizens of the Americas accompanied by democratic and transparent enforcement mechanisms.

    There should be no FTAA if it does not also include protection and improvement of the environment, ensure respect for the rights of migrant workers and place special attention on food security, and therefore, on the protection and support for campesinos, small-scale farmers, and the social sector without subsidizing large agribusiness corporations. It should also protect and promote micro and small urban enterprises, because of their capacity for generating employment.

    There should be no FTAA if it does not protect people from the vulnerability and instability caused by speculative capital and fly-by-night investments. Chile, despite the fact that it is the Latin American pioneer in free trade has protections on portfolio investment: authorization is required; a percentage must be deposited in the Central Bank; and it must be held in the country for a minimum period. Regarding foreign investment, performance requirements must be negotiated with regulation that protects labour rights. Intellectual property, which is primarily held by large corporations, should be protected, but not at the expense of global progress toward a social dimension, including national sovereignty. The subject of foreign debt must also be taken up again, as it continues to reduce the ability of governments to act in key areas of development, such as housing, health, education and environment.

    On trade issues, the problem of non-tariff barriers must be resolved. The elimination of non-tariff barriers to legitimate trade should not be confused with lowering sanitary and phytosanitary barriers for environmental protection. The interaction of our economies should support national integration of productive linkages, for which we demand rules of origin with national content.

This Summit was a first step toward complementary work between trade unions and other social organizations, which could be made more concrete at the time of the Second Summit of Heads of States of the Americas next March in Santiago, Chile with the convening of a Peoplesí Summit of the Americas, in order to build a hemispheric social alliance. Towards that end, in the coming months, we must establish mechanisms of communication and coordination, draw new organizations into the initiative, exchange joint proposals, and participate together in activities linked to these goals.

We will work in our respective countries to defeat any agreement that is not consistent with these demands.

This Declaration remains open to endorsements by other trade union and social organizations.

    ORIT/ICFTU

    Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC)

    Alliance for Responsible Trade (ART-US)

    Common Frontiers (Canada)

    Action Canada Network

    Chilean Network for a Peoplesí Initiative (RECHIP)

    Brazilian Association of NGOs (ABONG)

    Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (US)

    National Indigenous Council of Mexico

    National Union El Barzon (Mexico)

    Réseau Québécois sur líintégration continental

    Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN - Québec)

    Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers

Belo Horizonte, May 15, 1997.
Back to the top