Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trade agreements with Latin America

An interesting debate is brewing about whether to extend the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which is a trade preference deal that provides access to U.S. markets for certain goods from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Unless Congress acts, it will expire on December 31.

Democrats have expressed skepticism about all the pending trade deals (e.g. FTAs with Colombia and Peru). Charles Rangel has indicated that he wants more labor provisions in the ATPDEA. This is a standard criticism by Democrats, and often it is a legitimate one, as labor is routinely abused.

In this case, however, and especially with regard to Bolivia, it doesn’t make much sense. Not only do human rights organizations (like the Washington Office on Latin America) support it, but Evo Morales himself wants it extended, and is sending his Vice President to the U.S. to lobby for it.

Trade agreements should certainly be scrutinized, and not rubber stamped. But when it comes to whether an agreement will hurt the poor in Bolivia, I think Evo Morales is the expert I’ll listen to. In addition, the purpose of the agreement is to provide alternatives to growing coca. So if we criticize the military response to drugs (which I have often done) then we need to offer up something else.


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