Free Trade Miami

The Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, a proposal to eliminate trade barriers throughout the entire Western Hemisphere, will be the subject of negotiation, debate, and protest in Miami over the next week as demonstrators, briefcase-bearing bureaucrats, and lots of cops descend on downtown. Law enforcement, in fact, has spent weeks preparing for the worst while hoping for the best, all with an eye toward making Miami look stable enough to house the FTAA secretariat.

You may be wondering what it all means for you. The implications are threefold.

As a trade pact, the FTAA could alter the financial (and ultimately the political and social) fabric of the Western Hemisphere. But the likelihood is not great that the 34 participating countries will reach agreement on all issues, in large part because the FTAA talks are shaping up as a battle between the hemisphere's haves and have-nots. The haves say they can share the wealth if trade barriers are eliminated; the have-nots fear being consumed by America's massive economy, losing first dibs on their own natural resources, and being left with all the low-end factory jobs the U.S. can farm out. You can read about the FTAA countries (plus blackballed Cuba) in our section called "All Around the Neighborhood." Free trade itself -- the good, the bad, and the incomprehensible -- is examined in a series of four articles beginning with "Is It Free Trade or Fair Trade?"

Should Miami be chosen as the site for the permanent FTAA headquarters, or secretariat, thousands of jobs could be created (some wild-eyed optimists say tens of thousands of jobs) and a boatload of foreign officials will make Miami their home. Whether that would further Miami's reputation as the capital of Latin America, or simply make the city a touchstone for endless protests remains to be seen. In any case, several hundred thousand civic boosters have been toiling away in hopes of bringing the secretariat to Miami. Perhaps they should consult our "Top Ten Reasons" that Miami and the FTAA is a match made in heaven.

Most immediately, the trade summit will clog downtown's arteries like a bad medianoche habit. Even under the best conditions, Miami isn't always easy to navigate, so we've provided some useful tips for the residents, police, protesters, and trade delegates who'll be getting up close and personal in the days ahead. And of course we haven't forgotten our colleagues in the press, whom we're certain would rather spend more time on South Beach and less time analyzing agricultural subsidies.

This guide to the FTAA is a humble contribution, admittedly no match for the unmitigated fear that has driven Miami's city fathers to criminalize water balloons and embrace a police chief whose idea of crowd control is preemptive detention. But in the spirit of hemispheric harmony, we welcome one and all to the party. $

Click here for Derf's take on the FTAA.


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