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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
The Americas summit's legacy
Teargas and police during protests at the summit
Teargas and police during protests at the summit
By BBC News Online's David Schepp in Quebec City

Call it Seattle all over again.

For better or for worse, what many will remember most about the recent Summit of the Americas in Quebec City are the protests and the tear gas.

Even world leaders could not escape it.

One of their main concerns is that free trade will allow huge multinationals to have more say than the people in the way the region is governed

With the barrier fence in such close proximity to the meeting hall (a mere 50 yards in some places), dignitaries at times had to endure the same burning in the nostrils and tearing of the eyes as did protesters.

Some have called the erection of the chain link and cement barrier a suspension of democracy in Canada.

Huge population

Limiting access to world leaders, they argue, is tantamount to not having a voice and, therefore, not government of the people and for the people at all.

But despite the protests, the leaders of 33 nations agreed to establish a deadline of 2005 for establishing a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Protesters climb a chain link fence
The protesters argue that free trade hurts the poor
It would encompass nearly all the countries of North and South America, with a combined population of 800 million.

This huge population produce goods and services totalling $11.4 trillion - bigger than the European Union.

But whatever the arguments put forward about the economic benefits of such a move, the Quebec meeting clearly showed there are a number of people vehemently opposed to its creation.

Homogenisation fears

One of their main concerns is that free trade will allow huge multinationals to have more say than the people in the way the region is governed.

They also believe it may lead to the mass homogenisation of cultures, threatening diversity.

Protesters walk through Quebec City
Nearly 30,000 campaigners marched through the streets
Opponents also doubt the sincerity of leaders to promote the causes listed in the Quebec Declaration, which calls for improvements in health care and education and the reduction of the number of poor, among other things.

For their part world leaders have called the meeting a success.

The adoption of a democracy clause, they say, means that military dictatorships and other forms of non-elected governments will not enjoy the benefits of free trade if they do come to power.

Seattle Part III?

The declaration calls the cessation of democracy an "insurmountable obstacle" for a country to participate in any future summits.

Opponents argue that the so-called democracy clause too narrowly defines the types of governments that will be permitted to engage in free trade.

What it all means is that both supporters and opponents of free trade have a long way to go to bridge the very wide gaps that divide them.

And in four short years, Argentina will play host to the next Summit of the Americas.

The question for organisers there is, will it be Seattle Part III?

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22 Apr 01 | Business
Text of Quebec agreement
22 Apr 01 | Business
Free trade, deeper democracy
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