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

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail