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June 07, 2005

Free Trade, Slave Labor

The Washington Post has a profoundly wrongheaded op-ed on CAFTA today.  It's written by Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Paul L.E. Grieco and attempts to argue that we should support the agreement because free trade, over the last century or so, has been hugely good for America.

Sigh.

Folks aren't opposing CAFTA because they question the merits of free trade.  Actually, never mind, that's not quite right.  But nevertheless, the critical mass of opposition is only emerging because free traders are joining with protectionists to oppose the bill.  And why are we doing this?  It's not because we've seen the light on tariffs or some such thing, but because the bill is a brutal attempt to destroy labor standards in Central America. 

Indeed, the past century that the op-ed so lauds has seen an ever-advancing regime of worker's rights here in America.  In some ways it's made us less competitive, but it's also boosted our producticity, made our populace healthier and happier, freed up innovation, empowered workers to change industries, and generally offered up a variety of GDP-enhancing side effects.  CAFTA is a step in the opposite direction and, more galling, it needn't be.  There's no reason a free trade agreement can't have labor standards, no reason it needs to make the importation and production of generic AIDS drugs harder, no reason that it needs to take a Hobbesian view of free trade that rejects the progress American workers have made over the last century.  So here's a deal: you fix CAFTA and all us liberal free traders will rush back to your side to sing the praises of globalization.  Until then, don't talk to us about history, it just makes you look self-serving.

June 7, 2005 in Economics | Permalink

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Comments

I can understand why you might want labor standards codified in a trade agreement, although I disagree on the merits of that issue.

However, if you think that trade in general is good for both sides, as I presume that you do, what is your justification for the claim that the bill would 'destroy labor standards in Central America'? I can see that it might not directly improve the labor standards, but what would make them worse?

I don't believe their is any provision in CAFTA that says a country involved must destroy it's unions and enact slavery.

I personally believe that as a natural result of more trade increasing wealth in these countries the people will get better labor protections and wide quality of life improvements across the board. These things are, to an extent, luxeries and as these nations are able to afford them, they will demand them. Asking them to provide these luxeries before, instead of after, they achieve economic success seems to be designed to keep them from ever reaching that success to me.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Jun 7, 2005 3:23:47 PM

The issue is it codifies existing standards. By saying current laws must be enforced and not demanding any sort of improvement, it legitimizes the current regime and ends all pretense that advances must be made if these countries want to be recognized in the global economy.

Posted by: Ezra | Jun 7, 2005 3:52:02 PM

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