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Green groups hold counter-conferences

by Archives March 12, 2003

Trade experts and concerned citizens will be questioning environmental practices of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) at two McGill conferences next week.

The first, entitled “Greening the FTAA?,” is a Environmental Law McGill (ELM) co-operative and will feature over 30 speakers from all sides of the FTAA debate,ranging from Edda Rossi, director of trade for the Chilean government, to anti-FTAA advocate and NDP leader Jack Layton.

As the question mark suggests, the meeting is to debate whether or not the FTAA can be environmentally responsible.

“We don’t know if its possible to green the FTAA, but that’s no reason not to discount the discussion of: What would you do if you wanted to green the FTAA?

These two discussions have to coincide,” Will Amos, director of the conference emphasized.

According to Amos, the conference will be the perfect arena for such a discussion. “There is a total lack of dialogue between those entities that would promote free trade [government, corporate sector], and those in civil society who are demonstrating [against the FTAA]. We are trying to create that venue where there is no room for anything but constructive debate,” he added

Negating the possibility of a “green” FTAA, the Solidarity Network to Stop the FTAA (SNSF) decided to plan an alternative meet, where anti-FTAA activists could discuss the potential environmental impacts of the FTAA. The conference, titled “Greenwashing the FTAA,” was created from what SNSF saw as a need for more representation of peoples affected by these impacts.

“People who are affected [by free trade] should have more input into the process [of FTAA discussions],” stated Eric Squire, coordinator of the Greenwashing conference.

Featuring activists such as Wanusa Pereira dos Santos, a representative from Latin America’s Landless Workers Movement, the panel will discuss such issues as the social implications of free trade, as well as the incompatibility of environmental concerns and the FTAA.

“They [the environment and the FTAA] are two irreconcilable concepts. The FTAA is not something that is going to provide environmental stewardship,” Squire stressed.

Geneva Guerin, political science major and founder of the Sustainable Campus Project at Concordia, agrees with the incompatibility of international trade and ecology, but still sees the benefit of the debate to be presented at the ELM conference.

“I don’t think that legislation within the context of an international frame work [of the FTAA] is going to help environmental protection. But they [ELM members] are taking a different approach [to free trade discussion], because they are the people who are going to be trying to implement [environmental] legislation that does work,” she stated. Clearly, both conferences offer an excellent opportunity to learn about the FTAA, something that people of all political beliefs can agree on.

“If you can do it [attend both conferences] this is your week to get really educated [on the FTAA] and compare perspectives,” Amos advised.

Guerin, who will herself be attending both, agreed. “They [the conferences] complement each other. The SNSF conference has a more emotional approach [to free trade discussion], while the ELM conference takes a more rational approach. Ideally people should go to both and make up their own minds.”

To attend the Greening the FTAA conference at McGill on March 17 to 18, you must register on the website, www.law.mcgill.ca/elmftaaconference. It costs $20 for students. The “Greenwashing the FTAA” takes place at 6:30 p.m. , March 19 in the Leacock building at McGill. Entry is free, donations are appreciated.

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