Peter Allgeier, the acting U.S. trade representative, says CAFTA, the proposed
trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic, would double
U.S. agricultural exports to the region. That has Central American farmers worried.
Like the North American Free Trade Agreement, upon which it is modeled, CAFTA
would flood Central America's markets with products of U.S. agribusiness, much
of which is still heavily subsidized. According to Oxfam, U.S. corn exports to
Central America would increase by 10,000 percent in the first year. The region's
small farmers, who make up the majority of the population, have their eyes on
Mexico, where 1.7 million farmers lost their land in the first 10 years after
NAFTA went into effect.
"What is at stake for the long term," says Nicaraguan economist Adolfo
Acevedo, "is not just the possibility of preserving a large part of the
national food production . . . but the fate of the labor force itself, and,
more deeply yet, the fate of the human beings linked to this form of production."
Like their Mexican counterparts, their likely fate would be to migrate to Central
American cities, where their best hope would be to get low-paid jobs in the
sweatshops that have displaced good jobs in New Hampshire and other U.S. locations.
Or, they may take the risk of braving vigilantes and the border patrol to migrate
to the U.S.A., where more sweatshop jobs await.
CAFTA includes "investor rights" provisions that would make it possible
for foreign corporations to sue for monetary damages if laws adopted at any
level of government eat into their profits. Under a similar provision of NAFTA,
the U.S.-based Ethyl Corp. won $13 million in damages when Canada outlawed use
of MMT, a gasoline additive. As part of the settlement, Canada also overturned
its ban on the chemical, which was known to be a neuro-toxin. Under CAFTA rules,
such cases would not be heard in open courts, but by secretive panels of trade
arbitrators. Laws and regulations to promote public health, human rights and
environmental protection would all be at risk.
While CAFTA should be defeated on its own demerits, its significance is greater.
It is widely seen as a template for additional agreements that would threaten
U.S. jobs, strip authority from democratic governments at all levels, endanger
access to essential services such as water, and continue to wreak havoc on the
rural economies of poor countries.
International trade is an important element of today's integrated, global economy.
But global trade agreements must allow protections for health, social justice
and environmental stewardship to be placed before private gain, and they must
not trump the ability of democratic governments to protect their own citizens.
Arnie Alpert, New Hampshire coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee,
an international social justice organization, recently returned from his eighth
trip to Central America.
© 2005 Union Leader
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