February 5, 2004


24 hours ago, I would not have thought it possible. But today, Venezuelanalysis.com publishes a thoughtful, sophisticated critique of FTAA.

I was really surprised, I kept waiting for the document to shoot off in some indefensible tangent, but it never does. Actually, the critique of FTAA is perfectly respectable, snafu-free, and pretty much along the lines of the Brazil-India-South Africa position in the last few rounds of WTO negotiations.

Sure, I find the anti-capitalist background music fairly annoying, but that's neither here nor there. My one real criticism is that the document doesn't do what it claims to do: it doesn't really set out an alternative development strategy. The piece tells us much more about what the government is against than what it's for. They pick out the three or four most blatantly indefensible aspects of FTAA and keep their fire closely focused on that.

That's not a bad rhetorical strategy, but what results is not really a comprehensive analysis of FTAA, much less a coherent statement of an alternative strategy. We find out at the end that they want to set up a Convergence Fund, which I'm all for, but it's clear that without a strategic vision of what such a fund should be devoted to or how it should be handled chances are that, in Venezuela at least, it would turn into just another hotbed of corruption.

Still and all, the critique is largely on the money. I've been studying these questions as part of my doctoral program, and it's clear whoever wrote this knows what s/he's talking about. Latin America has every reason to fear FTAA's phony agricultural "liberalization," and should resist it. There is an evident need to reintroduce an acknowledgment of structural asymmetries into the talks, and to bring back the principle of special and differential treatment for poor countries - a principle unwisely sacrificed during the Uruguay round. And the biopiracy concerns are very real. There is a growing consensus on these issues in the poor countries - witness the collapse of the Doha and Cancun talks - and that's great.
So, it turns out that, at least at Bancoex, there are a few people who can actually speak economics. That's encouraging. Still, it would be nice to hear more about their proposed alternative. Because the tragedy right now is that, while there's an emerging consensus around this critique of liberalization, there is nothing like a consensus on what to do instead. At times, it feels like the document just pines for a return to Import Substitution strategies of the 60s and 70s. That, I'm pretty sure, would be a disaster all over again.