All Around the Neighborhood

A quick look at our amigos from Toronto to Tierra del Fuego

Canada

Cautiously, cautiously (this is Canada, after all), the second-richest nation in the proposed FTAA is pushing for its passage. Although far smaller than the U.S. economy, Canada's is similar in structure -- diversified, service-oriented, technologically advanced. Meaning that better protection for intellectual property rights and the opening of service markets to allow telecommunications, information, financial, and other such industries easier access to the 33 other FTAA markets is good for Canada. But this is Canada, so it has also taken the lead in promoting openness in the negotiations, encouraging debate, holding nationwide forums, and helping create the Civil Society Committee. All of which is no surprise coming from a country that boasts one of the lowest poverty rates in the world. Our northern neighbor is in no great rush to lose too many jobs or see its social-service net collapse, hence the Canuck rallying cry: "Moderation!"

•Civil Strife Index

Oh, Canada ... glorious and free -- of crime, terrorism, unrest.

•Life Expectancy 79 years

•Reefer Quality Index***

•Literacy Rate 97%

•Foreign Debt Index

Canada is quite truly debt-free -- regardless of what the Québecois think they're entitled to.

•Trade Power Index *****

•Poverty Rate 18%

•Corruption Index *

Safe cities, majestic mountains, good skiing, and little corruption -- what's not to like?

Caribbean

Twelve Caribbean countries have been involved in FTAA negotiations: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago. They've been trying hard to make their voices heard, particularly on matters of agricultural tariffs and incentives for small, developing economies. The problem: When reps from the Bahamas or Trinidad and Tobago sit down at the negotiating table with the U.S., Canada, and large South American economies like Brazil and Argentina, "it's like ants and fleas sitting down with elephants," as the Caribbean Tourism Organization's secretary general put it recently. Adoption of the FTAA would radically change the economic structure of a country like the Bahamas, for instance, where customs duties on imports -- which would be eliminated under the current FTAA draft -- account for 70 percent of the nation's revenue and where no formal laws regarding foreign trade exist at present. Trade ministers from the Caribbean have cited the European Union's inclusion of regional development funds for Spain, Portugal, and Ireland as an example of the kind of help they'll need to keep the FTAA from sinking their tiny economies. No such provisions exist in the current FTAA draft, and it remains to be seen whether the Caribbean countries have the negotiating power to make it happen.

•Civil Strife Index *

Aside from Jamaica having a scary crime rate and a bloodthirsty police force, the rest of the region takes pains to keep visitors and banks safe, which is all that counts for our FTAA people.

•Reefer Quality Index*****

Irie, mon.

•Foreign Debt Index $9 billion

The Caribbean islands are small-time players, even pawns in international politics -- as the discontinuation of preferential trade agreements with the EU proves. The FTAA will only increase their monkey-in-the-middle status as their ability to repay debts relies on their ability to trade.

•Trade Power Index *

•Corruption Index ****

Bribery at the lower levels of government plagues the Caribbean, but even more damaging is the uncontrolled misappropriation of public funds in a part of the world where services are rare and greatly needed.

Central America

Yankee capitalists hope traditionally cash-starved Central American countries Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador will help them establish a blueprint for the FTAA. Earlier this year the four nations agreed to negotiate -- along with Costa Rica, their prosperous and peaceful neighbor to the south -- a free-trade pact with the U.S. known as CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, with NAFTA serving as the template. Negotiations are expected to conclude this coming January. (Panama, long a U.S. whipping boy, has been excluded from CAFTA. So has tiny Belize, presumably because U.S. trade officials can't find it on a map.) Certainly the Central American countries are no strangers to the advantages and disadvantages of trade with the United States, for years having provided cheap manufacturing labor -- mainly in textiles -- to U.S. companies. Despite decades of rampant poverty, institutionalized government corruption, and bloody internal conflicts, the region's 36 million people account for nearly $20 billion in annual trade with the United States.

•Civil Strife Index***

High crime rates and increasing instability owing to drug trafficking portend an ominous future.

•Life Expectancy 67 years

•Reefer Quality Index***

•Literacy Rate 72%

•Foreign Debt Index $12 billion

Still struggling from the destruction of Hurricane Mitch, these countries are dumping nearly half of their budgets into servicing debt, which appears to be an endless cyclone itself.

•Trade Power Index *

•Poverty Rate64%

•Corruption Index ****

Inefficient bureaucracies make a back-door approach necessary in countries where bribery is a way of life.

Chile

Why can't every country be like Chile? United States trade reps have designated this nation of 15 million as a "model" economy. Augusto Pinochet's brutal dictatorship permanently shut down radical labor and silenced indigenous malcontents. The transition to democracy in the early Nineties ushered in meteoric economic growth of more than 25 percent per year. By now the growth has slowed to a more modest three or four percent, but this small and well-managed economy -- running mostly on copper, grapes, and wood pulp -- remains free-trade friendly. Local and foreign companies are taxed at the same rate, and very relaxed investment laws allow foreigners to take their earnings back to their home countries without much hassle. There were a few tense moments early this year when Chile refused to back the U.S. war in Iraq, but the old friends kissed and made up with a bilateral trade agreement this past June (signed here at Miami's own Vizcaya) that the United States hopes will serve as a building block for the FTAA. That agreement has Brazilians crying foul. Chile is a member of the South American common market known as Mercosur, which is pushing its own FTAA agenda to counter U.S. influence. That leaves Chile in the very delicate position of trying to please two powerful trading partners.

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