CAFTA - TPA in Action
CAFTA - TPA in Action
Date: Thursday, February 27, 2003 2:20 PM
H-1B and JOB DESTRUCTION NEWSLETTER
Last year Congress gave Bush Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to make
NAFTA like agreements. Here comes one of them - CAFTA. Expect many more
of them. This article didn't mention the fact that CAFTA will probably
have a provision for visa similar to the TN visa. Perhaps it will be
called a TC visa, but I prefer to call all TPA related visas the BN
visa (bad news).
Here is an excerpt from my website at:
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), is available to
Canadian and Mexican nationals who are engaged in activities at a
professional level. The TN visa is similar to the H-1B specialty
occupation visa, except that there is no statutory limitation on the
term of stay, and it generally covers a broader range of job
categories. It is approved instantly with no review process for
Canadians but required an LCA for Mexicans. TN status is granted to
only 5,500 Mexican professionals each year but this will change in 2004
when all restrictions on the TN visa expire.
Free Trade vs. Democracy
by MARK ENGLER
In early January, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick met with
foreign ministers from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and
Nicaragua to launch official negotiations for the Central American Free
Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a treaty that would expand NAFTA-style trade
barrier reductions to Central America. The first bargaining session for
CAFTA convened in San Josi, Costa Rica on January 27.
Zoellick and other White House representatives would like us to believe
that their efforts to open markets throughout the hemisphere will serve
to "strengthen democracy" abroad. Riding the wave of patriotic
sentiment, they see themselves as "Trading in Freedom."
There's only one problem with the rhetoric: CAFTA provides a perfect
example of a "free trade" agreement that actually undermines democratic
The White House asserts that CAFTA will commit Central American nations
to "even greater openness and transparency." Ironically, the
negotiations for the trade deal themselves are anything but
transparent. Despite demands from watchdog groups, draft texts of the
CAFTA proposal have not been made available to the public in Central
America or in the United States, stifling open discussion and debate.
The undemocratic nature of the CAFTA negotiations obscures more
substantive problems. "Free trade" advocates are keeping their
negotiating positions secret because they have plenty to hide. If
implemented, CAFTA will erode key democratic norms such as workers'
rights and the ability to legislate environmental protections.
Bush Administration officials claim that market reforms would produce
"improved working conditions." The labor records of the maquiladora
factories in existing free-trade zones in Central America, however,
suggest otherwise. In the Guatemalan context, Human Right Watch issued
a report earlier this year saying that "efforts to form labor unions in
the maquila sector have met with devastating resistance from the
industry as a whole and, at best, government negligence. Unionization
efforts have been countered with mass dismissals, intimidation,
indiscriminate retaliation against all workers, and plant closings."
Since CAFTA threatens to weaken the labor standards mandated by the
Clinton-era Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and the Caribbean
Basin Trade Partnership Act, it will only encourage efforts by factory
owners to thwart the freedom of association and the right to form a
union. That's why CAFTA is opposed not only by the AFL-CIO, but also by
a wide range of Central American labor organizations. Democratically
instituted environmental safeguards are also endangered by CAFTA.
Previous trade provisions, such as NAFTA's Chapter 11, grant
corporations the right to sue governments for environmental protections
-- and any laws -- that cut into their future profits, on the grounds
these constitute unfair trade barriers. In 1998 the Ethyl Corporation
sued Canada for its public health ban on MMT, a fuel additive. Canada
chose to overturn its environmental provision and pay a $13 million to
Ethyl, rather than risk $251 million in damages. The State of
California came under similar attack for its ban on MTBE, a documented
water pollutant that poses risks to human and animal health.
Will CAFTA expand the reach of NAFTA's Chapter 11 provision? Probably.
But since the negotiations are secret, we won't know for sure until the
Worse yet, when the agreement comes up for a vote, our legislators will
not be able to use amendments to strike out such offensive planks. Last
July President Bush pushed "Fast Track" trade negotiating authority
through the House over the objection of 212 Representatives. The bill
requires Congress to accept or reject trade policies wholesale. As
Congressman Sandy Levin (D-Michigan) explains, this leaves "a minimal,
meaningless and last minute role for Congress at a time when trade
policy is increasingly intertwined with all areas of domestic policy."
In another calculated rush, trade ministers want to finish CAFTA
negotiations by December 2003, before new elections in Central America
that might produce leaders opposed to the pact. One key concern is El
Salvador, where pre-CAFTA moves to privatize public services -- like
health care and basic utilities -- have widely discredited the current
right-wing regime. Should Salvadorans elect an opposition President in
March 2004, the White House would like to have the new government
locked in to the same trade policies endorsed by the ousted leaders.
So much for freedom. The truth is, CAFTA won't promote democracy. And
democracy may be the best hope left for sinking CAFTA.
Mark Engler, a commentator for Foreign Policy in Focus, has previously
worked with the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San
Josi, Costa Rica. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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