Wednesday, November 30, 2005

From the Free Press:

WITH less than six months before the second annual North America Summit Hemispheria meets in Winnipeg, students from the University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg and concerned community members are already gearing up to take action.

"Trade issues have broad impacts on all folks in Canada and all folks in North America," says Kate Sjoberg, president of the University of Winnipeg Students Association.

The Hemispheria Action Group was formed last summer by student union members of both universities. Since then, the group has been working to develop their website, and link with other local, national and international groups concerned with trade talks that will strengthen the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Last week, the action group held their first community meeting at the University of Winnipeg. It was their first community event to try and make the public more aware of the effects of strengthening free trade. The group plans to hold similar events each month leading up to the summit.

Troy Stozek, who is pursuing a masters degree in geography at the U of M, says that because the meeting involves government officials, but not presidents or prime ministers, the summit may not even fall on the public's radar. However, Stozek and the action group say that what the public isn't hearing about free trade is how it can have a negative impact on Canada's bargaining power with the U.S. Stozek points to the recent softwood lumber disputes as proof, and says the trade agreement gives too much money and power to the private sector.

"I don't think people are making that link," he says. "We don't have as much trade clout as we'd like to think."

According to Sjoberg, the action group's main goal is to raise public awareness about the effects such a broad trade agreement can have. She says it's important to examine issues like trading a natural resource like water with the U.S. and Mexico, or the negative effects developing land for hydro power can have.

Sjoberg says the action group hasn't ruled out holding protests and rallies against the summit, and says the growing number of group members will decide their action plan in the coming months.

"It really starts to treat people and consider people as consumers rather than citizens," she says of the trade agreement.

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