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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Free Trade and the Environment | Global Exchange

Free Trade and the Environment | Global Exchange

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Free Trade and the Environment

by Deborah James

U.S.-based Harken Energy Company
wanted to exploit oil off the coast of Costa Rica, a country known for
its long history of democracy as well as its pristine natural parks and
natural resources. But the Costa Rican government denied the permit
because the oil exploration would negatively impact Costa Rica’s
environment. Harken attempted to sue the government for $57 billion –
more than the country’s entire GDP. The case was eventually settled in
local courts. But if CAFTA is approved, Harken would have the right to
sue the Costa Rican government for expropriation. Then the Costa Rican
people would be left with two options: let Harken drill for oil and
damage the environment, or pay them potential lost future profits.

For decades, governments have worked together through the United
Nations to develop agreements to protect the natural resources of our
shared planet. Unfortunately, so-called “free trade agreements” threaten
to erode many of the advances in global environmental protection,
endangering our planet and the natural resources necessary to support
life. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and certain
agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) were written to
prioritize rights for corporations over protections for our shared

But rather than being repealed, corporate interests
are negotiating the expansion of these corporate rights. The
U.S.-Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA),
soon to go before Congress, and the proposed Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA), currently in negotiations, are modeled on NAFTA. In
addition, negotiations are proceeding within the WTO to expand many of
its policies.

These new agreements threaten global biodiversity,
would accelerate the spread of genetically engineered (GE) crops,
increase natural resource exploitation, further degrade some of the most
critical environmental regions on the planet, and erode the public’s
ability to protect our planet for future generations.

No Protections for the Environment

Neither CAFTA nor the FTAA require member countries to adopt
internationally recognized standards for environmental protection. Nor
does either agreement ensure that member countries don’t lower or waive
their existing environmental laws in an effort to attract investment.
What’s more, rules in CAFTA and the FTAA would actually prohibit member
countries from enacting many new environmental regulations, allowing
those regulations to be challenged as “barriers to trade.” This strips
the public from a fundamental democratic right to pass laws that protect
our environment in favor of corporations’ “right” to profit from
environmental destruction.

Mega-Diverse Countries

Latin America is one of the most biologically and culturally diverse
regions on the planet. Four of the five Central American countries
included in CAFTA have tropical areas that have been identified as
“critical regions” for their biodiversity. Additionally, 7 of the
world’s 12 “megadiverse” countries, (Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru,
Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia) are found in the Americas.
“Mega-diversity” countries represent the majority of the world’s
biodiversity and surviving Indigenous peoples, the true guardians of
biodiversity. Unfortunately, so-called “free trade” agreements directly
contradict important international legislation designed to protect the
rights of Indigenous peoples and biodiversity, like the Convention on
Biological Diversity as well as the International Labor Organization
Convention 169, which states that Indigenous groups must be consulted on
issues that affect their rights to land and livelihood.

Piracy of Global Biodiversity

In the last decade, the biodiversity of the Americas has been targeted
by “life science” corporations (the growing consolidation of
pharmaceutical, agrichemical and seed companies) in search of “green
gold.” These corporations are pillaging humankind’s patrimony of
traditional knowledge and biodiversity to create and patent drugs and
agricultural products to sell for profit. The quest to patent life
forms, especially medicinal plants and crops, threatens our food
security, access to healthcare, and the biological and cultural
diversity of the Americas.

Intellectual property rules in CAFTA
and the FTAA would require that member countries grant protections to
the patenting of life forms. This would facilitate a massive increase in
“bioprospecting” or the practice of corporations patenting Indigenous
communities’ knowledge of plants and then profiting from that knowledge –
while forcing Indigenous communities to pay for what they had
previously held in common.

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