May 27, 2004

Despite Timing of CAFTA Signing, Bush Administration Cannot Prevent Public Scrutiny of Failed NAFTA Model

Statement of Lori M. Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

Even if it is brought to Congress, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) likely will be dead on arrival. Polling shows that U.S. citizens making $100,000 or more think that our current trade policy has failed and oppose its extension. If there was any question about how bad this trade pact would be for jobs, the safety of our food and our futures, the administration’s plans for CAFTA’s signing say it all: Not only has the administration dispensed with the usual high-profile White House ceremony with heads of state, but this major trade pact will be signed on the Friday of a holiday weekend when Congress is in recess and when the public isn’t paying much attention.

While members of Congress are home in their districts confronting job losses, a declining tax base and other harsh realities of Bush trade policies, the administration has sought a way to satisfy its corporate funders by signing this expansion of NAFTA to five Central American nations – but doing so in a way to minimize the public fallout for policies opposed by most U.S. consumers. CAFTA is the linchpin of a trade agenda written by Bush campaign backers representing   utility companies, drug companies and Wall Street, and carried out by its servants in the Office of U.S. Trade Representative.

Instead of confronting the public anxiety over a decade of failed trade policies, the Bush administration has again turned a deaf ear to Americans by signing a bad trade agreement that is so strongly opposed that the GOP-majority House and Senate are expected to vote it down.

The Bush administration is not helping its already tarnished image abroad by signing CAFTA in the name of development. Groups including the Salvadoran American National Network (SANN), the largest national association of Central American community-based organizations, as well as hundreds of civil society, labor, environmental, indigenous, women’s, student and campesino organizations in Central America oppose the NAFTA model and have rejected CAFTA as anti-development.

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