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ALBA = real fair trade

Green Left Weekly (Australia)

ALBA = real fair trade

Chris Petersen
4 August 2007

Imagine a world where international trade was fair. Where, instead of sending troops and police overseas, the Australian government sent thousands of doctors and teachers to poor countries to provide free medical care and education to help the people there improve their lives. The Australian government is not doing this. It has sent hundreds of troops to help steal Iraq’s oil and sends police to the Solomon Islands and other places in the Pacific to guard the theft of these countries’ natural resources.

In September this year, world leaders will converge on the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Sydney. According to the people promoting the forum, APEC aims to achieve “free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2010 for developed economies and 2020 for developing economies”.

What this means in reality is that poorer countries such as Indonesia will be forced to accept products from wealthier countries at the expense of their own industry. Poor countries will be forced to remove taxes and barriers on imports from wealthier countries, while wealthy nations will maintain their own import taxes. This means that local farmers and industries are unable to compete, leading increasing numbers of them to go out of business and causing greater poverty and misery for the people of these countries.

Like other international trading organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation and the G8, APEC aims to promote the policies of free trade, which has led to increased suffering for much of the world’s population. Unelected and unaccountable heads of international corporations meet behind closed doors to discuss how best to increase their profits, at the expense of the rest of the world’s population.

This year, US president and war criminal George Bush will address the APEC summit. Protests are being organised to coincide with Bush’s visit.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the hope of a more just world is becoming a reality. In Latin America, several countries are showing that international trade does not have to be exploitative and destructive.

In 2004, the left-wing Venezuelan and Cuban governments launched an agreement called the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). The ALBA trade bloc was created as an alternative to the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas (FTAA) promoted by the government of the United States to allow further exploitation of the continent by US corporations. Since 2005, ALBA has grown in both sizeand scope. ALBA is based on close collaboration and solidarity between Latin American countries, and aims to improve the lives of their people rather than enrich the wealthy.

According to a January 30, 2004 article on the website, “One of the obstacles to confront is the deep disparity that exists in development between the countries of the hemisphere, whereby poor countries such as Haiti or Bolivia are compelled to compete with the world’s leading economic power. In order to help overcome trade disadvantages, ALBA pushes for solidarity with the economically weakest countries, with the aim of achieving a free trade area in which all of its members benefit.”

The links promoted by ALBA have included Venezuela providing oil to resource-poor Cuba in exchange for doctors to provide free medical care to poor people in Venezuela. In addition, Cuban teachers have been active in Venezuela in programs to provide education to the millions of people who have never had this opportunity before. Thousands of Venezuelans are currently in Cuba, being trained to become doctors so that they are able to return to Venezuela and help the poor. In conjunction with Venezuela, Cuba is now providing free eye surgery to thousands of poor people from across the Americas, whose flight costs are covered by Venezuela. This program provided more than 200,000 free eye operations in 2005 for those with curable blindness.

Included in the ALBA agreements was supporting a continental anti-imperialist television station (Telesur) as an alternative voice to the US, which pushes its own agenda through CNN Espanol - previously the only Latin America-wide channel. There are also plans to establish a Bank of the South among Latin American countries as a way to help develop local industries.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Cuba established a brigade to provide rapid response emergency medical assistance after disasters. The US did not accept the offer, but the brigade has been accepted with gratitude by Guatemala and Pakistan.

According to Tim Anderson from AidWatch, “Venezuela has developed ALBA agreements with Argentina and Uruguay, and is involved with ALBA-type agreements with Brazil. The nine integration and cooperation agreements signed between Venezuela and Argentina, in January-February 2005, commit the two countries to Telesur, technical cooperation over oil, health, hospitals, health sciences and social sciences, and to exchanging ship-building facilities for oil preferences. New agreements that Cuba and Venezuela have made with Bolivia appear mainly as forms of aid, to help Bolivia with health and education, along with supplies of fuel (200,000 barrels per month) and technical assistance to develop its own oil and gas reserves. At a later stage, (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez says, Bolivia can provide in exchange its soy products and meat.”

There is also the possibility of constructing centres for medical research to develop low cost medicines, given Cuban advances in creating vaccines and drugs.

An example of ALBA’s success is the fact that it has now come to rival the unfair free trade agreements put forward by the US. In early 2007, Bush toured Latin America in an attempt to promote free trade agreements between the US and Latin American countries. However, after visiting several countries, he had little to show for it. By comparison, Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez was able to expand ALBA agreements. As Chavez says, Latin America needs integration, but not the type of integration suggested by neoliberal globalisation. It must be “liberating integration, not integration through neo-colonialism and neo-dependency .”

After the early success of ALBA, it has been extended to other countries in Latin America, such as Bolivia and Nicaragua.

At the APEC protests in September, while APEC leaders discuss new ways to exploit poor countries and increase profits for rich countries, we should demand our own ALBA-style agreement for the Asia Pacific as a way to build a world based on justice and equality.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #720 8 August 2007.

 source: Green Left