Most Minnesotans traveling to Miami can spend their time soaking up the sun and enjoying the warm weather.
But eight University students traveling to the south Florida vacation destination later this month said they are not going for pleasure but business.
The students, members of Students United for a Democratic and Sustainable Society, are going to protest outside the final negotiations for the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
The trade agreement would expand free trade among most countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Ty Moore, organizer for the Socialist Alternative student group, said the agreement could increase tuition and have other harmful effects on students.
“The (agreement) would outlaw public monopolies on educational institutions, which means that the ‘U’ of ‘M’ could be opened up to privatization, rises in tuition costs and lower-quality education,” Moore said.
Leaders and trade negotiators from 34 countries will be a part of the negotiations Nov. 20 and 21.
Protesting will begin Nov. 15, and the students will arrive Nov. 17.
Matt Bowlby, a Students United for a Democratic and Sustainable Society member going to the protests, said his group is trying to build a national coalition of young people who “will have no future with the (trade association).”
“When we are all down in Miami, it is about showing our presence and that there is a large percent of America that is standing up against what the (association) stands for,” Bowlby said.
Despite their opposition, Associate U.S. Trade Representative Richard Mills said the agreement would benefit students.
“It is really a win-win situation for everyone,” Mills said.
He said the agreement would expand markets for U.S. companies and allow U.S. consumers to buy more products. He said both of these effects would be good for students.
But Larry Weiss, director of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition, said he expects higher education to suffer from the trade agreement.
Weiss said if the free trade association rules are applied to the University, the institution would be required to sign contracts for services with companies offering the lowest bids.
Mills said his organization is trying to prevent the trade agreement from including higher education institutions.
If the University is completely privatized, profits – not the students’ best interests – would drive decision-making, Bowlby said.
“There will be long-term effects on guys like you and me,” he said.
Mills said the agreement is unlikely to privatize education.
Weiss said the agreement would also challenge the University’s current code of conduct, which states that University apparel cannot be made in sweatshops. He said under trade association rules, the policy would be considered a trade barrier.
“The agreement would not let universities consider labor conditions in their purchasing conditions,” Weiss said.
Mills said such concerns are unfounded.
“Absolutely nothing in the agreement would or even could overrule anti-sweatshop regulations,” Mills said.
University political science professor Ronald Krebs said
students are concerned about the agreement because it is a controversial topic. He said the debate boils down to values, which is why people feel so strongly about opposing or promoting it.
“It becomes a question of Ö do you prize economic growth or the distribution of economic wealth?” Krebs said.
He added that people are sensitive to free trade agreements because the gains of free trade are not as immediately clear as the losses.
Negotiations for the Free Trade Area of Americas began in 1994 and are expected to be completed by 2005, when it will be presented to Congress. The meetings are part of the final phase of negotiations.
Students United for a Democratic and Sustainable Society is also organizing an on-campus rally Nov. 19 to protest the agreement.