Ecuador Says No to a Trade Agreement with the US

For almost two weeks, thousands of Indians in Ecuador have held massive and sustained protests against a proposed trade agreement with the United States, which if passed will be packaged together with agreements already signed between the United States and Colombia and Peru into an Andean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), extending the failed NAFTA model to South America.

The people of Ecuador don’t want it. They know that under NAFTA, 1.3 million Mexican peasant farmers lost their livelihoods, hunger rates jumped, and desperate migration increased. But instead of listening to the protesters’ call for a referendum on the trade pact, the government has declared a state of emergency, lifting constitutional rights to public assembly, setting curfews, and giving the police and military broad powers to “deal” with the protesters. Disgusted by the government’s aggressive handling of the protesters, which has left 7 wounded and 16 detained, Ecuador’s interior minister recently resigned.

The indigenous people of Ecuador, which make up about a third of the overall population, have another reason to be concerned. The proposed trade agreement would grant broad rights to foreign investors, even allowing them to attack regulatory and other government actions before closed, extra-judicial tribunals if they can be considered a “barrier to trade.” Such “investor-state” cases filed under NAFTA already total billions of dollars in compensation demands. In Ecuador, indigenous communities have the right to previous consultation and participation in the exploration and extraction of natural resources. It remains to be seen whether the investor rights in AFTA would trump these indigenous concerns, and at what cost.

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October 20, 2018

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