Analysis: The Democracy Summit's Early Harvest
by John Kirton, University of Toronto
Quebec City, April 20, 2001


Even before it officially opens, the Quebec City "Democracy" Summit of the Americas can be declared a substantial success - both for Canadian foreign policy and for citizens of the hemisphere as a whole. For it has already reaped an early harvest in constructing a hemispheric community that puts people first, deepens democracy and opens trade in ways that lets everybody in.

Perhaps the most significant achievement is the formula it has found for building a community that puts people first. It starts by deepening democracy and respect for human rights, environmental and labour protection, poverty alleviation, and the rights of women and indigenous peoples. Only then, several years later, does it move to open trade and thus help fuel the prosperity that will finance this new social safety net. This formula of "social programs first, free trade last" is a striking contrast to how the European Community was constructed since World War II, and how Canada and the United States started with their bilateral free trade agreement in 1988. In the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, free trade came without social protections. When it was expanded to include Mexico in the 1994 NAFTA, historic environment and labour protections and programs were launched at the same time. Now, as Canada's community with its neighbours expands to embrace the entire democratic hemisphere, the Democracy Summit will ensure that the social foundation is built first. To guarantee that leaders, their peoples and the concerns of the poor continue to take precedence over the traditional preoccupation of trade ministers tempted to settle for old-style free trade agreements, the leaders at Quebec City will agree to hold a fourth Summit of the Americas, not in wealthy, largely white northern North America but in poorer Argentina in the south. They will do so in 2004, a full year before the prospective Free Trade Agreement of the Americas takes effect in 2005.

The Quebec City Summit has already done much to deepen democracy in a hemisphere where it remains a recent and often fragile principle and practice in many places. Democracy has been adopted as the primary message and unifying theme of this summit. The preparatory process has decided that all members must remain true to the democratic faith to stay in the community, and that leaders will spring into action to help prevent any backsliding should any one be tempted to revert to the old authoritarian ways. To make a downpayment on and demonstration of deeper democracy, the Canadian government as host has helped to finance the activities of civil society activists outside the Summit meeting, and invited the most active civil society leaders of the hemisphere inside for a dialogue with democratically elected ministers. During the Summit itself, the many thousands of citizens who have come to Quebec City to show they care about constructing a hemispheric community the right way, the modesty of the security precautions - relative to the norm for global summitry - and the professionalism and self-restraint of the security forces provide a powerful message to those inside and outside the hemisphere of how civil society activists and state security forces in the Americas now do and must interrelate as the new century unfolds.

Progress has also been made in the long, hard process of opening trade and investment in ways that support the social values and prosperity that the poorer members of the hemisphere badly want and need. The wealthy, mostly white citizens of northern North America have chosen not to fence themselves off in their rich, secure NAFTA enclave, but to tear down the barriers. In so doing, they will allow all the other poor democratic countries of the hemisphere to join Mexico in having equal access to the prosperous markets of the United States and Canada, and in freeing consumers in those countries to more easily access the goods, services and ideas from those further south. Canada will make a credible downpayment on this process by announcing at the Summit's end the conclusion of a bilateral agreement for open trade with Costa Rica, with good environmental protections built in. The FTAA negotiators have already agreed to take a hard look at anti-dumping and countervailing measures, so that rich North America cannot take back with the big fist of process protectionism what it gives with the other hand in tearing border barriers down. And Canada's trade minister Pierre Pettigrew, in a historic breakthrough in trade negotiations, has already talked his colleagues into releasing the draft text of the FTAA a full four years before its prospective conclusion, so people can see for themselves what is really there, learn what it means and suggest better ways to make an agreement work for the benefit of all.

Even with this early harvest, there is much more that the popularly elected leaders gathered together face to face at their Democracy Summit have the power to do. And precisely because it is a democracy summit, their citizens from civil society, both inside and outside the secure zone, have every right to ask that these leaders realize the great potential that democracy and summitry together bring.

All Contents Copyright 2000-2001 University of Toronto unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.