September 29th 2006
Bush Free Trade Plan Puts Amazon up for Grabs
The Bush administration is quietly pressing for a free trade agreement with Peru that will put the Amazon rainforest - often described as one of the earth’s lungs - on the chopping block.
Because the Amazon rainforest — one of the most biologically diverse regions on earth — filters out massive amounts of the carbon dioxide that generates global warming, experts say the Bush plan will literally endanger the health of the planet.
Among other things, the rainforest provides one-quarter of the world’s oxygen. And although it comprises less than one percent of the world’s land area, the upper Amazon basin in the tropical Andes region is home to one-sixth of all the earth’s plant life.
But because the basin is also rich in timber, oil and other valuable resources, powerful multinational corporations are extracting these commodities at an increasingly destructive pace. A key example is mahogany, an endangered species central to the rainforest ecosystem. Rainforest mahogany is currently being imported into the U.S. in clear violation of international agreements.
The administration’s proposed Peru Free Trade Agreement fails to halt this illegal trade. Further, as with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Peru deal gives industries such as logging, oil and gas the right to challenge environmental and public health laws by alleging that such protections undermine their ability to make a profit.
Such investment rules accord rights to foreign companies that are considerably broader than what the Supreme Court has mandated in the U.S. And, corporations have wasted no time in capitalizing on this opening : more than 40 lawsuits have already been brought to NAFTA’s tribunals, which have repeatedly ruled in favor of the companies.
The Peru deal is now before Congress, but environmentalists understand that the current plan of the GOP leadership is to bring it up during the lame duck session after the November election, when there is likely to be less public attention. Conservation advocates remind us that every vote will count - just as it did two years ago when the Central American free trade bill passed by exactly two votes.