The mandates and action plans that emerged at the 2005 Mar del Plata Summit provide convincing evidence that the summit process has shifted away from advancing free trade as the principal means of economic development to giving government an ever-expanding primary role. The mandates and action plans cover a broad range of areas, including:
- Public education. "We will strive for quality public education at all levels.... We note with satisfaction the suggestion of the Ministers of Education that our governments explore innovative forms of increasing financing for education with international financing institutions, such as debt swaps for investment in education."
- Sustainable development and the environment. "We are committed to building…[a] public policy framework for integral and sustainable development that can reduce poverty and inequality, advance human health, and protect the environment in harmony with international environmental agreementsto which we are all party, including those that address endangered and migratory species and wildlife, wetlands, desertification, ozone depleting chemicals, and climate change.
- Labor policies. "We recognize the vital contributions of Ministries of Labor to the achievement of the objectives of the Fourth Summit of the Americas…and to the promotion of decent work and policies that encourage investment and economic growth with equity. We are committed to strengthening them with the goal of ensuring that they have sufficient national budgetary and technical resources to carry out their duties in an efficient and effective manner."
- Infrastructure. International organizations commit"[t]o foster multilateral cooperation from development banks in order to identify and provide financing for national and regional infrastructure projects, in particular those designed to promote sustainable development, generate employment, and fight poverty."
- Science and technology. International organizations commit "[t]o request the appropriate multilateral organizations to strengthen technical and financial cooperation activitiesaimed at pursuing this goal and at the development of national innovation systems."
- Job creation. International organizations commit "[t]o request the ILO [International Labour Organization] to extend its technical assistance and support to countries (governments, organizations of employers, and workers)in their efforts to promote the creation of more and better jobs, especially through the strengthening and development of micro, small, and medium-sized companies."
- Agriculture. International organizations commit "[t]o request Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and ECLAC [Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean] to continue with their efforts to develop an information system for the follow-up and evaluation of the AGRO 2003–2015 Plan, and the other members of the Joint Summit Working Group to join in those efforts as a contribution to defining goals and indicators for the mandates of the Summit of the Americas."
- Foreign investment. International organizations commit "[t]o explore ways for the multilateral development banks to provide more assistance to the poorest and least creditworthy countries as performance-based grants, and expand the multilateral development banks role in catalyzing private sector investment."
Although a few documents on the Summit of the Americas Web site show some of the billions of dollars in World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank loans needed to fund a portion of the 812 mandates, no one in the many layers of bilateral and multilateral government bureaucracies seems to know the full cost of the summit mandates. No one with whom the author spoke could provide a complete record of how many—if any— summit mandates of the past 14 years have actually been fulfilled.
The goal of a hemispheric free trade zone, which would be the best guarantor of bringing prosperity, peace, and freedom to all of its inhabitants, slowly became just another item on the laundry list of objectives. They would establish "a pact for development and prosperity based on the preservation and strengthening of the community of democracies of the Americas" through 22 initiatives to "expand prosperity through economic integration and free trade; to eradicate poverty and discrimination in the Hemisphere; and to guarantee sustainable development while protecting the environment." As The Heritage Foundation reported in 2005, "In the Summit of the Americas process, some countries stacked up nearly 250 commitments between 1994 and 2001. Few states have acted on more than half of them." Meanwhile, as the mandates piled up, the FTAA negotiations ground to a halt.
Instead of pursuing the most desirable type of development by creating an FTAA, the outcome of the Quebec Summit in 2001 amply demonstrates that these alphabet soup agencies have much more complicated and sometimes counterproductive agendas. The OAS Secretary General formalized the Quebec Summit commitments in an executive order, which strengthened the responsibilities of the Office of Summit Follow-up and changed its name to the Secretariat for the Summit Process. The order also specified the secretariat's responsibility to coordinate activities concerning civil society participation in the summit process. These new duties included presiding over the Joint Summit Working Group (JSWG).
By the 2005 summit, the total number of mandates from the Summits' Plans of Action had ballooned to 812 items, and some of them endorsed onerous labor and environmental regulations and other statist programs that would burden trade and investment instead of promoting it.
MAR DEL PLATA DISASTER
By 2005, the Summit of the Americas had deteriorated into little more than a series of sessions in which a shrinking number of pro-free-trade heads of states lamented the continuing impasse on an FTAA, as the attendees reviewed the funding demands for the new programs proposed by the OAS and other multilateral organizations and NGOs.
The summit had also become an attractive target for U.S. enemies in Latin America. Aided and abetted by President of Argentina Nestor Kirchner, an unholy alliance of anti-U.S., anti-free trade, and anti-globalization groups and leaders—including Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, hard-left NGOs, and other "21st century socialists"—staged very effective countersummits and violent demonstrations at the Mar del Plata Summit. They succeeded in distracting the media and blunted what remained of the pro-trade message of the 2005 summit.
The overall political atmosphere in the Western Hemisphere will be even worse for the next summit. Flush with Venezuelan oil revenue, President Hugo Chavez has formed a group of second-tier nations into the anti-U.S. Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) to construct "socialism of the 21st century." They have nationalized natural resources (e.g., oil) and other industries and are waging a propaganda war against the United States. Given Chavez's recent behavior, ranging from denouncing President George W. Bush as Satan at the U.N. in September 2006 to his more recent rants against former Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as European "fascists," there is little reason to give him the stage for another performance—especially at the first head of state meeting for the new U.S. President.
At the 2005 summit, Venezuela and the MERCOSUR countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) broke from the pro-FTAA unanimity of earlier summits by inserting a dissenting statement into the Declaration of Mar del Plata:
Other member states maintain that the necessary conditions are not yet in place for achieving a balanced and equitable free trade agreement with effective access to markets free from subsidies and trade-distorting practices, and that takes into account the needs and sensitivities of all partners, as well as the differences in the levels of development and size of the economies.
MORE OF THE SAME
As the Summit of the Americas process struggles to stay relevant, it has become increasingly difficult to find common ground with the vocal minority of countries headed by "21st century socialists," whose goals are antithetical to the original values that drove the summit. The proposed Trinidad Summit agenda contains nothing really new or innovative. Items such as "energy security," "environmental sustainability," and "citizen security and the rule of law" have been and will continue to be looked at in other, more relevant fora.
The most that the summit can do to achieve these goals is to issue a communiqué with meaningless platitudes and unrealistic pledges, which could further encourage countries to view the summit as a glorified donor's conference for development assistance. In any case, only wealthy countries with high degrees of economic freedom and open trade regimes have the resources to protect their citizens fully and to clean the air and water. Creating an FTAA and thereby promoting economic freedom and prosperity would be the most effective way of addressing these concerns.