FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

CAFTA Deserves a Quiet Death

by MARK ENGLER

While the Bush Administration still aspires to ward off defeat, it is becoming increasingly clear that its failure to pass the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) represents the latest in a series of setbacks for its sputtering trade agenda. For working people throughout the Americas, this is cause to celebrate.

In the year since CAFTA was presented to Congress for ratification, the White House has repeatedly promised that it would safely usher through the treaty. Yet, one after another, target dates for passage have come and gone.

Unlike with Social Security privatization, the president hasn’t staged exhaustive “town hall” meetings in support of the trade deal, which would lower tariffs and create NAFTA-like rules to govern economic exchanges between the U.S., El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. Thus, many Americans haven’t heard much about the agreement.

But make no mistake: Passing CAFTA has been a significant legislative priority for the administration this year, and its inability to move it forward provides good indication that the dubious claims of “free trade” boosters have proved unconvincing.

Republican leaders have not yet called up the legislation for debate on the floor of the House for a simple reason: Supporters of CAFTA do not have the votes to pass it. Instead, a coalition of labor organizations, environmentalists, “fair trade” advocates, and health groups have persuaded sympathetic Democrats to hold firm in opposition. These legislators have been joined by conservatives whose districts are home to trade-sensitive industries like sugar and textiles, and even by the House’s typically pro-trade New Democrat Coalition, to form a bloc that would sink the agreement if given a chance.

Why has a wide range of forces allied against CAFTA? Because it’s a bad deal for people in this country and for Central Americans alike.

CAFTA’s supporters argue that it would help reduce poverty among our southern neighbors. The track record of NAFTA, however, doesn’t support their optimism. While the earlier trade accord did draw high-paying U.S. production jobs to Mexico, real wages in Mexico’s manufacturing sector actually decreased by 13.5 percent between 1994 and 2000, according to the International Monetary Fund.

One reason for this decline was the failure of NAFTA to protect workers’ rights to organize unions. In practice, the panel established by the agreement’s labor “side agreement” has failed to impose any real penalties for countries or corporations even in the most egregious cases of abuse. For its part, CAFTA weakens the labor standards put in place by the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act of 2000, which includes the CAFTA nations. The new deal holds countries accountable only to their own local labor laws, which are often less comprehensive than internationally recognized standards.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s presentation of CAFTA as a tool for exporting democracy is also highly suspect. CAFTA effectively extends NAFTA’s notorious Chapter 11, which allows companies to challenge any law that infringes on their ability to procure future profits. This provision has been used to strike down environmental and public health laws, labeling them unfair “trade barriers.” In this manner, democratically made decisions–including U.S. laws–become subject to review by the trade courts.

If CAFTA is not very democratic, it not very “free” either. Some of the main beneficiaries in the U.S. are likely to be large pharmaceutical companies. CAFTA’s intellectual property provisions would stop poorer countries in the region from producing inexpensive, generic drugs. Dr. Karim Laouabdia of the Nobel-prize-winning organization Doctors Without Borders–which has been providing generic antiretrovirals to Guatemalan AIDS patients–argues that new patent protections “could make newer medicines unaffordable.” For his group, this “means treating fewer people and, in effect, sentencing the rest to death.”

By any economic standard, such controls would signify a move toward protectionism, not “liberalization.” But since they allow drug exporters–whose lobbyists have been famously influential in recent years–to reap a windfall on their monopolized goods, the trade office hasn’t dwelt on the contradiction.

Some special interests aside, CAFTA’s importance for the Bush Administration is primarily as a stepping-stone to larger goals. The White House would like to use the agreement as a sign that a hemisphere-wide Free Trade Area of the Americas might still become a reality. This deal has been put in jeopardy by a new generation of Latin American leaders who recognize that “free market” neoliberalism, over two decades of gradual implementation, has exacerbated inequality while failing to deliver on promises of increased economic growth.

In coming weeks, President Bush will continue arm-twisting in the hopes of somehow securing a majority in Congress. A more likely outcome, however, is that Americans will never see an up-or-down vote on CAFTA–and that the deal will be allowed the quiet death it deserves.

MARK ENGLER, a writer based in New York City, is an analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus. He can be reached via the web site http://www.democracyuprising.com. Research assistance for this article provided by Jason Rowe.

 

 

 

 

MARK ENGLER is author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, April 2008). He can be reached via the web site http://www.DemocracyUprising.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
Paul J. Ramsey
What Trump’s Travel Ban Reveals About His Long-Term Educational Policy
Norman Pollack
Two Nations: Skid Rows vs. Mar-a-Lago
Michael Brenner
The Great Game: Power Politics or Free Play?
Sam Gordon
Falling Rate of Profit, What about Some Alienation?
Jack Random
Sidetracked: Trump Diaries, Week 8
Julian Vigo
The Limits of Citizenship
James Graham
French Elections: a Guide for the Perplexed
Jeff Mackler
The Extraordinary Lynne Stewart
Lee Ballinger
Chuck Berry: “Up in the Morning and Off to School!”
Binoy Kampmark
Romancing Coal: The Adani Obsession
Nyla Ali Khan
Cultural Syncretism in Kashmir
Chad Nelson
The Politics of Animal Liberation: I Can’t Quit You Gary Francione
Weekend Edition
March 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Reynolds
Israel and the A-Word
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail