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Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Phony Free-Trade Agreement

The Phony Free-Trade Agreement


APRIL 9, 2008


The White House wants a quick vote in favor of a “U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement,” saying it will help U.S. business, bolster the anti-communist government of Colombia, and deal a setback to the anti-American ruler of Venezuela. The name has been changed from the “U.S. Colombia Free-Trade Agreement.” Whatever they call it, however, a trade agreement isn’t necessary to accomplish any of these worthwhile objectives. In fact, it is a major distraction. We shouldn’t be pretending that we can fight Colombia’s communist drug-dealing terrorists, or Hugo Chavez, with trade agreements.

Like so many issues, the dispute has become a case of partisan politics. Congressional Democrats want to delay a vote or defeat the agreement outright. What has been lacking from the media, especially the conservative media, is a coherent analysis of how flawed this agreement really is, and how the Bush Administration is giving a bad name to “free trade.” This Colombia agreement, for example, has 18 pages devoted to caring for the environment through new institutions and arrangements.

You don’t have to read past the preamble to see that it puts the U.S. further down the road of sovereignty-destroying “hemispheric integration.” This agreement also urges pursuit of the “Free Trade of the Americas,” described as an effort to unite the economies of the Americas into a single free-trade area. This is free trade at the expense of sovereign nation-states. Many people forget that our national government originally raised its revenue through tariffs and didn’t have a federal income tax. Tariffs, imposts and duties are tools that a nation-state uses to protect industries critical to the economy and national defense. We seem to have lost sight of that.

While Congressional Democrats, reacting to labor union pressure, are balking at passing the agreement, prominent Democrats such as Bill Clinton are backing it.
It has been reported that Clinton has made a lot of money giving speeches on behalf of a Colombia-based group pushing the pact. But the agreement also incorporates his globalist mind-set. Clinton forced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through Congress as an agreement, when he realized
that he couldn’t get the two-thirds he needed in the Senate to pass it as a treaty.

Tragically, Bush, the Republican, is with them. Bush has obviously embraced veteran Democratic Party foreign policy specialist Robert Pastor’s vision of a “North American Community” evolving from NAFTA. Pastor served as one of Clinton’s advisers.

In this context, as Bush promotes the Colombia agreement, he is preparing to host the next “North American Summit” in New Orleans on April 21 and April 22. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says it will “review the progress and give direction to the Security and Prosperity Partnership,” which was launched by Bush and the leaders of Mexico and Canada in 2005. The SPP, which has never been authorized or approved by Congress, is a secretive arrangement to integrate the laws and regulations of the three countries.

On the matter of Colombia, as much as we may want to help its government in its battle with narco-terrorists, passing a trade agreement doesn’t accomplish anything. At best, it can be seen as an offer of political support to the government there.

In a speech, President Bush let the cat out of the bag, saying that the Colombia agreement has “economic potential” but “even greater national security importance because of Colombia’s strategic location.” So this is the real purpose of the agreement. It is to politically help an ally. But there are better and other ways to support the Colombian government politically. One is to provide more military aid to intensify the war on the drug traffickers and their allies.

Like so many of his initiatives that have demoralized or divided conservatives, the “free trade” approach has become completely distorted. The concept of “free
trade” has been transformed into elaborate and lengthy agreements between nations that do far more than just eliminate tariffs. They build international
institutions of a governmental nature that manage trade relations between states. They are beyond the reach of the people and Congress. They place decision-making in the hands of international bureaucrats.

This Colombia agreement is no exception. It states that “The Parties recognize that it is inappropriate to encourage trade or investment by weakening or reducing the protections afforded in their respective environmental laws” and sets up a “Free Trade Commission” and “Environmental Affairs Council” to handle disputes.

Going beyond this, the Colombia agreement declares that “The Parties recognize that the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) provides that a person or organization residing or established in the territory of the United States may file a submission under that agreement with the Secretariat of the NAAEC Commission for Environmental Cooperation asserting that the United States is failing to effectively enforce its environmental laws.” The NAAEC is the environmental side agreement to NAFTA.

If the U.S. is ever going to get a handle on its illegal immigration problem, it will have to abandon this fanatical devotion to the free movement of people and goods across borders. It’s one thing to favor the lowering or elimination of tariffs, but “hemispheric integration” implies much more. It suggests a political merger
of some kind. The U.S. needs less, not more, of this kind of integration with other countries. We need to restore U.S. sovereignty.

Promoting true free trade between nations is relatively straightforward and easy to accomplish. “The vast majority of Colombian products pay no tariffs to enter U.S. markets,” the White House says. On the other hand, it says that “U.S. industrial and consumer goods exported to Colombia face tariffs of up to 35 percent, with much higher tariffs on many agricultural products.” The problem, quite clearly, is Colombia’s high taxes on U.S. goods. If Colombia wants to buy more U.S.
products, it should reduce or eliminate those taxes. It’s as simple as that. We don’t need an elaborate agreement on hemispheric integration or environmental
cooperation to accomplish that.

It also doesn’t do any good for Colombia’s vice president, Francisco Santos, to threaten to cancel its military cooperation with the United States if the pact goes down. Such a course would be national suicide for Colombia. It would also, of course, lead to more exports from Colombia of dangerous drugs that destroy our people, most of them children.

Once this political circus over the Colombia agreement is over, Bush should come back to Congress with a proposal for more military aid to Colombia. Then let’s see if the Democrats want to vote that down.

Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism and can be contacted at cliff.kincaid@aim.org.

Note: If free trade agreements were so useful in the struggle against drug cartels, then what happened in Mexico?

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