Free Trade Follies (CAFTA Edition)


Yesterday, the Senate passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which lowers trade barriers between the U.S. and six basically puny Central American nations, by a 54-45 margin (go here for a roll-call vote). No need, for now, to get into an argument whether CAFTA represents truly free trade (it doesn't), but it does represent freer trade, which is a good thing for everyone involved (read this for why; and this too).

In order to get that vote, reports the Washington Times, President Bush had to make a number of last-minute concessions, including once again sucking up to Big Sugar and promising to protect American producers of nature's sweetener that trade with the likes of the Dominican Republic will never, ever eat into their profits.

The House Way and Means Committee has passed CAFTA 25-16, but it's still not quite clear whether the bill will pass the full House when it comes up for a vote, probably some time after July 11.

CAFTA is mostly symbolic–not just of free trade per se, but of whether Bush can get anything done in a second term. Here's hoping he can, at least in this instance–and not just for the poor of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. It'll also be good, though in a small way, for U.S. consumers, too. Like NAFTA, it will likely build on trends already in place with small but positive effects.

Sobering thought of the day: The much-bigger and more-important North American Free Trade Agreement passed the Senate 61-38 in 1994.

Question of the day: In the decade since NAFTA's passage, what has happened to make free trade less politically viable? Or, as suggested above, perhaps this has nothing to do with free trade and more to do with domestic politics?

Whole Times story here.