FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

CAFTA Deserves a Quiet Death

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.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

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

January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Glenn Sacks
Teachers Strike Dispatch #8: New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposable Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail