Noam Chomsky to OSD on FTAs

     The words “free trade agreement” should bring to mind the response attributed to Gandhi when he was asked what he thought about western civilization: “it might be a good idea.” Same with “free trade agreements.” Maybe they would be a good idea, maybe not, but the question scarcely arises in the real world. What are called “free trade agreements” have only a limited relation to free trade, or even trade at all, and are certainly not agreements, at least if the people of a country are regarded as its citizens.

The FTAs are investor rights agreements, negotiated mostly in secret by representatives of transnational corporations and the few powerful states that cater to their interests. The public is largely excluded, and often opposed. The agreements include highly protectionist elements, such as the monopoly pricing rights that impose enormous costs on consumers and have no legitimate justification. They interpret “trade” to include actions internal to command economies, as when a giant corporation produces parts in Indiana, ships them to a subsidiary in Mexico for assembly, then sells the product in California, with each border crossing called “trade” — a very large component of world “trade.”

We did not call it “trade” when parts were produced in Leningrad, assembled in Poland, and sold in Moscow, all within the Soviet command economy. The concept of “trade” is further illuminated by events taking place right now. The World Bank has just ruled that the Canadian mining corporation Pacific Rim can proceed with its case against El Salvador for trying to preserve lands and communities from highly destructive gold mining. Under the investor rights agreements, the crime of imposing environmental constraints can be punished on the grounds that it harms potential profits.

Predatory corporations must be guaranteed the right to destroy for profit, whatever the human cost. That is only a tiny sample of what is called “trade,” a category designed, not surprisingly, to enhance the power and privilege of the designers. The public should be concerned, informed, and engaged.”

Noam Chomsky (Contribution to Occupy San Diego on Free Trade Agreements when approached to being part of OSD Free Education Collective Counter-TPP Conference)

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