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Providing a critical account of the collapse of the FTAA negotiations and alterations to power relations in the Americas, this book argues that the collapse was rooted in a "crisis of authority" prompted by growing opposition in the Americas to US leadership and the neo-liberal reforms that had been promoted by Washington since the 1980s.



Theoretical Framework



The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) represented one of the most ambitious regional governance projects of the post-Cold War era. It was ambitious not only in terms of the geographical scope of the zone that would have been established, one that spanned the entire Western Hemisphere, but more important, in terms of the variation in the characteristics of the different participating countries. Specifically, the FTAA encompassed some the world’s most developed economies as well as some of its poorest, underdeveloped economies. For example, in 2005, the year the FTAA negotiations collapsed, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in millions of the combined states of South America, the Caribbean, and Central America amounted to US$2,698,103, while the GDP of the United States alone amounted to US$12,665,857.1 These differences were limited to not only objective criteria such as GDP but also significant subjective ones, such as historical experience and identity. Therefore, the negotiation of the FTAA was made up of a group of unlikely, dissimilar, and, in some cases, distant participants.

Marcel Nelson

Chapter 1. Gramsci, Hegemony, and Global Governance

This chapter will develop a theoretical framework from which one can begin to conceptualize how developments at local or national scales can have real consequences on the institutional materiality of global governance institutions. This will be done by working through Gramsci’s concepts as well as reviewing the neo-Gramscian school of international relations theory. In so doing, this chapter will seek to resolve some important theoretical difficulties that have plagued attempts to apply Gramsci’s core concepts to a historical context that is very different from his own, with the emergence of global governance institutions accompanied by the expansion and deepening of capitalist social relations. One of the major contradictions surrounding the contemporary application of Gramsci’s concepts is the salience of the concepts of civil society and the state at geographical scales, situated beyond the national one. Specifically, there is controversy whether one can apply the concept of civil society to contemporary contexts without reference to a state. More to the point, authors such as Randall Germain and Michael Kenny questioned whether neo-Gramscian theory could speak of a global civil society in the absence of an equivalent global state while remaining faithful to the overall thrust of Gramsci’s work.1

Marcel Nelson

The Evolution of the FTAA Negotiations


Chapter 2. The FTAA Negotiations

Context and History

This chapter will provide a history of the negotiations with a particular focus on the evolution of the growing crisis of authority in the Americas. Tracing the history of the negotiations will enable an analysis of what took place during the decade in which the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was negotiated in view of Gramsci’s concepts of conjunctural and organic movements with respect to developments at the negotiation table and in relation to the broader context of the social relations of the hemisphere. This will thus provide a measure for the innumerable developments that took place throughout the negotiations, which is a task made all the more difficult by the complex and multileveled institutional infrastructure of the negotiations. This chapter will, therefore, contextualize these events by putting them in relation to the evolving social relations of the hemisphere and the specific institutional contexts in which they took place. What emerges is a portrait of the FTAA characterized by conflict and cooperation, consensus and disagreement amid fluid social relations and institutions. In the end, the growing crisis of authority regarding US leadership based, in large part, on neoliberal policies in the hemisphere coalesced the fluidity of positions into two irreconcilable camps that brought the negotiations to an unsuccessful end.

Marcel Nelson

Case Studies


Chapter 3. Venezuela and the Evolution of the FTAA

This book’s central argument is that the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was initiated not only as a potential agreement to further liberalize and integrate the Western Hemisphere under the leadership of the American state but that it also became a space where that project came to be challenged. The first challenge came from the cautious attitude exhibited by Brazil in the early stages of the negotiations, which became much more robust in the wake of the 2002 election of Luiz Inácio (Lula) da Silva. Importantly, the second challenge came from Venezuela and was much more radical in its tone in a way that pierced the consensus that pervaded the inner track of the of the FTAA negotiations.

Marcel Nelson

Chapter 4. Brazil and the FTAA Negotiations

Brazil may not have been as radical as Venezuela in its disposition toward the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), but its structural strength in the hemisphere meant that it nonetheless had a determining role in shaping the negotiations and their eventual collapse. At the beginning of the FTAA negotiations in 1994 and during the preparations for the Miami Summit of the Americas, Brazil displayed an attitude of caution toward the negotiations. This caution did not imply a wholesale rejection of the agreement’s underlying neoliberal ideology, nor did it imply a rejection of the FTAA itself; rather, Brazil sought to obtain what it perceived to be the best terms for its economy and to slow down the negotiations in order to ensure that its economy could catch up to North America’s in terms of competitiveness before adhering to a hemispheric free trade agreement (FTA). It was the 1999 exchange crisis that represented a turning point in Brazil’s attitude toward the FTAA, as it prompted a crisis of authority that forced a rearticulation of the national hegemonic bloc based on the integration of economic interests that opposed the potential agreement.

Marcel Nelson

Regionalism after the FTAA


Chapter 5. Regionalism in the Americas after the FTAA

The rupture of the Americas into two camps, one centered on the United States and the other centered on the on Southern Common Market (Mercado Común del Sur—MERCOSUR), at the Mar del Plata Summit of the Americas in 2005 persists to this day. Notably, this rupture has been framed in terms of two different visions of economic development in terms of a new phase of “post-neoliberal” development in Latin America and/or conflicting leadership ambitions for the hemisphere between the United States and Brazil.1 The dominant explanation for this division has centered on the general disenchantment with the neoliberal policies that predominated in the hemisphere during the 1990s. This discontentment with neoliberalism contributed to a leftist electoral wave throughout Latin America that put in place leaders who opposed a hegemonic American presence in the hemisphere.2 Broadly, the rise and fall of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the rise of South American regional integration schemes, such as the Union of South American Nations (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas—UNASUR) and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Allianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América—ALBA), has been conceptualized as part of a hemispheric Polanyian “double-movement” against neoliberalism.

Marcel Nelson


The history of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations demonstrates the importance of putting agency in relation to structure when examining multilateral negotiations as well as shifts within global governance structures. With respect to structure, the asymmetries that characterized the economic relationships between the FTAA’s participants played no small part in shaping the evolution of the negotiations. For example, for Caribbean countries, the smaller sizes of their economies not only shaped their demand for differentiated treatment and compensatory mechanisms but also shaped their ability to participate in the negotiations, given the important limits on their institutional capacities. In terms of agency, the diplomatic tactics and skills of certain countries, particularly Brazil, played an important role in shaping both the structure and content of the FTAA negotiations. However, examined in isolation from one another, structure and agency only reveal part of the FTAA’s story. A focus on structural factors neglects the importance of the consensus that was in place at the beginning of the negotiations and cannot address the shifts in positions that took place during the negotiation of the agreement. An emphasis on agency disregards the manner in which social and political contexts shaped the positions and strategies employed by state actors during the negotiations.

Marcel Nelson


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