Monday, August 23, 2004

Shh! Don't tell the "liberal" bloggers (Yglesias, Drum, etc.).
An emotional battle is brewing in the Latino community over whether a proposed free trade agreement with five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic will bring greater prosperity or despair to the immigrants who have settled in the U.S. and the relatives they've left behind. . . .

. . . many prominent Latino organizations � including the League of United Latin American Citizens; the Salvadoran American National Network, and the Central American Resource Center � oppose CAFTA. They have argued that it would hasten the outsourcing of U.S. jobs and encourage the exploitation of poor Central American workers and the environment.
The great red herring of CAFTA, the AGOA and similar deals is always textiles. The right-wing conventional wisdom is that such free trade pacts will allow small underdeveloped parts of the world such as Central America and sub-Saharan Africa to move up the ladder of development by sewing our clothes for us. Note that these regions won't be growing the raw materials or processing them into fabric (at any significant level) or shipping them or branding them or retailing them. They will simply be sewing them. This isn't the red herring, however.

The real red herring is the claim that free trade in textiles will help pull the poorest of the poor out of poverty. As Robert Wade suggests in the June issue of New Political Economy, China has already captured most of the gains to be had for the South from the global diffusion of low-tech manufacturing processes. CAFTA will simply move what is left of the US textile industry to Central America where many Central American immigrants already work. Public Citizen estimates half of the jobs lost due to NAFTA from only the most narrow method of counting -- that done by the US Department of Labor through their Trade Adjustment Assistance program -- were jobs of Latinos.

Gabriel may be a recent immigrant with little formal education, but he knows a lot more about free trade than most Ph.D.s:
Gabriel, who entered the country illegally and asked that his last name not be used, said the real beneficiaries of NAFTA were large Mexican and U.S. companies.

"If it were true that NAFTA was good for Mexico, we wouldn't be here," said the young man, who left his daughter with her grandmother in Cancun. "It just created more for those who already have more."


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