Tuesday, October 28, 2008

FTAs and immigration

Jorge Castañeda wrote an Op-Ed for the Houston Chronicle about the opposition to free trade agreements in the United States. He argues that more attention should be paid to the structure of economic deals between Latin America and Europe, which broaden the scope beyond trade. His suggestions are quite ambitious:

First, clear and explicit human rights and democracy clauses should be included, along the lines of similar clauses in the Mexican and Chilean Economic Association treaties with the EU. Second, more specific provisions on labor, the environment, gender equality and indigenous rights are needed, as well as antitrust, regulatory and judicial reform provisions, for reasons both of principle and political expediency.

Although there have been enormous improvements in most of these areas, there remains a huge agenda, particularly with regard to breaking up or regulating monopolies.

These revised agreements should include bold, enlightened provisions for infrastructure and "social-cohesion" funds, since these can make the difference between muddling through and true success.

Free-trade advocates should not view Obama's demand that these deals be revisited as a mistake, but rather as an opportunity to improve and deepen them; McCain's supporters should not see the incorporation of all of the aforementioned inclusions as "European nonsense," but rather as a way to narrow the gap between the agreements' promise and their actual results.

Improving Mexican and Central American infrastructure, education and rule of law, or improving Colombian and Peruvian drug-enforcement efforts and respect for labor laws and human rights, are all in America's interest, and free trade agreements can help rather than harm such efforts.

I agree with the notion that we should not pretend that trade is separate from other issues, as the U.S. tends to do. I also agree that the U.S. is inextricably linked to Latin America, and therefore we should pay closer attention to how we can actually achieve the goals we proclaim about trade, immigration policy, etc. which means taking a broader approach.

What Castañeda leaves out, unfortunately, is how to sell his idea to Congress. If anything, his plans would be even more unpopular than free standing FTAs because they would cost more and I can already hear the complaints from both sides of the aisle that they would give Latin Americans our hard earned money.


Justin Delacour 3:00 PM  

I also agree that the U.S. is inextricably linked to Latin America

It's a bit of a cliche, I think.

To make a case for any given "free trade" agreement, one has to provide a coherent explanation as to how the agreement is going to generally improve social and economic conditions for real people.

In the absence of any such coherent explanation, the guiding principle should be the Hippocratic principle: "First, do no harm."

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