Time for a trade moratorium

There’s still time to stop the passage of four trade agreements (FTAs) being considered by the U.S. Congress, agreements which contain NAFTA and CAFTA’s failed provisions. Those two trade pacts have resulted in job loss, the destruction of rural communities through cheap agriculture imports, and the closure of small and medium businesses. At the same time, NAFTA and CAFTA have undermined the ability of governments in the global south to create development policies that favor local job creation and protect the environment.

A group of civil society organizations, led by Global Exchange and the Alliance for Responsible Trade, have proposed a trade moratorium when no new agreements would be ratified; instead, it would be a time to study the real effects of past trade agreements in order to change to more inclusive and mutually beneficial policies.

The trade promotion authority, or “Fast Track,” which gave the president authority to negotiate agreements that the Congress could approve or disapprove, but not change, expired on July 1, 2007. Before the law expired, the Bush administration signed four agreements with Peru, Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. Each of these must be ratified by Congress in coming months.

These types of trade agreements have not brought the positive changes their advocates promised. Congress should consider the proposed trade moratorium and take advantage of the expiration of Fast Track as a time to hold a series of hearings on the effects of past trade agreements on the U.S. and other signing countries. Current trade policy has been dominated by corporate interests and primarily benefits them. Hearings on trade agreements should call on representatives from a variety of sectors including citizens of co-signing countries. Congress should then work to construct a new trade model that is more inclusive of larger parts of society.

Some members of Congress argue that if the U.S. does not ratify the three agreements with Latin American countries, it will drive those countries into the hands of other regional powers, but this argument shows a key misunderstanding of why so many Latin American countries have moved away from the U.S. and elected progressive governments in the past decade: today’s trade agreements are very similar to the policies recommended by the IMF and other international lenders since the early 1980s. By looking at real growth rates in Latin America, it is clear what a devastating failure these policies have been. From 1960-1980, real per capita GDP in Latin America grew 82 percent; from 1980-2000, with the implementation of IMF policies, growth shrunk to only nine percent. From 2000 to 2005, slower growth continued with only one percent growth in five years.

It was the dismal failure of these policies that drove populations throughout Latin America to vote for change and for candidates, like Evo Morales in Bolivia, who spoke out against these policies. By ratifying these FTAs, Congress will only deepen and prolong these same policies that have proven to be destructive for significant parts of signing countries’ populations.

Faith in action:
In May, Congress made a deal with the administration for some minor changes to trade policy. The administration is trying to pass this off as a major improvement yet almost nothing changed. (See NewsNotes, July-August 2007.) Consider signing the “Call for a Moratorium on Trade Agreements” which is found on the Maryknoll
Global Concerns website, www.maryknollogc.org, under “Economic Justice/Trade and Investment.”