Bush Backs Bad Trade Deal

Feb. 26—Just days after his top economic adviser said outsourcing jobs was good for the economy, President George W. Bush gave U.S. workers another slap in the face by saying he will sign another bad trade deal: the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which could come up for a vote in Congress this spring.

Union members, political and religious leaders, farmers, students and environmental and human rights activists are mobilizing to stop CAFTA, which, if approved, would eliminate tariffs between the United States and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. It would worsen the disastrous job loss and environmental damage caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since NAFTA passed 10 years ago, growing trade deficits have cost nearly 900,000 U.S. jobs, according to the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute. Meanwhile, real wages in Mexico have fallen, while the number of people in poverty has grown by some 7 million.

Under the Fast Track trade authorization rules, Bush must inform Congress 90 days prior to signing any trade agreement. Bush officially notified Congress on Feb. 20 that he intends to sign CAFTA, which means the lawmakers could take up the treaty as early as late May.

CAFTA: A Step Toward Passage of FTAA
CAFTA, which does not include meaningful protections for workers’ right to form a union, safe work conditions or environmental protections, is another step toward passage of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and other bilateral and regional agreements, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says. “This is yet another job-destroying free trade agreement that will undermine workers’ rights here and in Central America,” he says. “Clearly, this administration has no interest in creating new rules for the global economy which work for working people.”

CAFTA is the first bilateral or regional agreement the Bush administration has negotiated since fierce opposition from workers in North and South America and their community allies stymied trade ministers last year from advancing the FTAA, which would create the world’s largest free trade zone by implementing new investor protections and eliminating most tariffs between the United States and every country in the Western Hemisphere, except Cuba.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has said he opposes the Bush administration’s CAFTA and would not sign any free trade agreement that does not include protections for workers and the environment.

A report released late last year illustrates the need for strong labor guarantees in CAFTA. In its December report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) found El Salvador’s labor laws fail to protect workers’ right to form a union and that the government ignores the nation’s existing labor laws and sometimes encourages employers to violate them.

“Employers in El Salvador know that if they violate workers’ rights, there is little or no consequence and the government might even help them carry out these abuses,” says Carol Pier, HRW’s labor rights and trade researcher. “CAFTA must include strong tools to prevent this, but the current proposal falls far short.”
Deliberate Indifference: El Salvador’s Failure to Protect Workers’ Rights, says employers sometimes fail to pay overtime, deny mandatory bonuses and vacation payments and pocket workers’ social security contributions, preventing employees from receiving free public health care.

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