Social Movements Reject Free Trade Agreement Between European Union and Central America

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On Friday June 29, 2012 six Central American presidents signed the Association Agreement between the countries of Central America and the European Union.   According to the European Commission “The Association Agreement is supposed to open up markets on both sides, help establish a stable business and investment environment, increase benefits for citizens and foster sustainable development. The Agreement is also meant to reinforce regional economic integration in Central America and the EU hopes for it to have a positive spillover effect on the overall political integration process and contribute to the stability of the region”. Although these lofty goals might sound good many questions have been raised since the negotiations began in 2007. Much like negotiations of other free trade agreements the two sides do not come to the table on equal ground, the economy of Central America is 150 times smaller than that of the EU, which gives the EU much more leverage to negotiate terms that will be good for EU businesses.  Similar to CAFTA, the free trade agreement between the US and Central America, the Association Agreement will stifle the Central American countries ability to make laws which would benefit their own citizens by allowing foreign companies to bring lawsuits against the country if the corporations feel that their “rights to profit” have been violated. It is not only access to the Central American markets to sell their goods that European businesses are after but also the raw materials that they will be able extract from Central American countries, but this extraction has a high cost for the Central American countries.  It will only increase competition for the use of land and water.  Instead of being used for food production as the FMLN government has been promoting through the Ministry of Agriculture mega corporations will plant monocrops for export and biofuels, and mine gold and other minerals reducing the biodiversity in the country and forcing El Salvador to import more basic foods. The agreement pretends to make up for some of these negative effects by offering technology transfer commitments by the EU. However, the commitments are vague, not binding and not concrete. The EU agreed to make “its best efforts” to encourage its institutions and companies to transfer technology to Central America. The idea of an association agreement between both regions was first proposed during the Euro-Latin America and Caribbean summit in 2004.  However, negations did not formally start until 2007, just after the signing of CAFTA.  By calling it an Association Agreement and talking up political dialogue and cooperation elements the parties are subtly trying to hide the fact that this is really a new free trade agreement between the European Union and Central America. In fact the two regions had long standing agreements on political dialogue and cooperation even before the 2004 summit. The respective legislatures of the involved countries are still required to ratify the agreement and there is pressure for them to do so quickly so that the implementation process can be started early next year. Many groups in both the European Union and El Salvador have opposed the ratification of the Association Agreement. Campesinos, environmental, unions, representatives of rural organized communities, and other social movement groups came together in El Salvador to oppose the agreement.  They have demonstrated their opposition to the agreement by marching to the Radisson Hotel in San Salvador where government officials held the negotiations behind closed doors. In a press conference outside the hotel, leaders of the Central American social movement warned that the agreement will further enrich multinational corporations at the expense of Central American workers and farmers who are already negatively impacted by CAFTA.  Lorena Martinez, President of CRIPDES remarked, "Before talking about free trade, these negotiations must first consider human development, treatment of the environment, real agricultural development and the International Labor Organization agreement about labor rights and unions. We can't be talking about political dialogue when there are violations of human rights in the Central American Region."  The FMLN, has maintained a firm position against the Association Agreement.  Lourdes Palacios an FMLN legislative deputy stated, “The big corporations and the transnational ones will be the ones to benefit with this free trade agreement and the people hurt by this agreement will be the poor and the excluded.”  It remains to be seen whether the FMLN can garner enough support from the other parties in the Legislative assembly to defeat this new free trade agreement when it comes up for ratification in the Legislative Assembly.

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