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An Action Alert from Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, February 23, 2005

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Despite the disastrous results of 10 years of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) - including the loss of over 860,000 good jobs, the displacement of 1.3 million Mexican farmers, attacks on state and local public interest laws by corporations in closed trade tribunals, an exploding U.S. trade deficit and a toxic environment from unregulated factory waste along the U.S.-Mexico border - the Bush Administration and their corporate allies are pushing for more of the same. This time, they hope to foist the failed NAFTA model on six of the poorest countries in our hemisphere through the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) which includes Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

CAFTA is just NAFTA with a "C" and would continue the race to the bottom in labor and environmental standards, forcing downward pressure on wages and contributing to union busting at home and abroad. Groups such as Human Rights Watch have urged opposition to the agreement as it does not require compliance with even the most basic internationally recognized labor rights - such as laws against child labor - and specifically fails to protect women workers against discrimination. This is of particular concern in a region like Central America, which has a history of labor violations, including the murder of trade unionists, in its maquila(sweatshop) industry. This industry is overwhelmingly made of young women workers, who are particularly vulnerable to harrassment. In most countries the average wage does not even reach $1/hour. In El Salvador, the ratio of labor enforcement inspectors to workers is one to 70,270.

But maquila workers aren't the only ones who would suffer if CAFTA is approved by the U.S. Congress. Central American countries are heavily agricultural economies, with 5.5 million people dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. In Guatemala, more than 60% of the population are small farmers and campesinos. Under NAFTA, more than a million Mexican farmers were displaced from their land by a flood of cheap corn produced by U.S. corporate agri-business giants such as Cargil and Archers Daniels Midland (ADM). These giant multinationals saw their profits more than double during the NAFTA period, while prices paid to U.S. small farmers declined causing 38,000 small U.S. farms to join the millions of Mexican farmers destroyed by free trade. CAFTA would have the same impact, displacing rural communities here and there and forcing people into desperate situations where their options are either exploitation in the maquila sector of their home countries or, more frequently, the perilous journey north to seek work in the U.S. For this reason, immigrant rights groups such as the Salvadoran American National Network (SANN) and the Confederation of Guatemalan Organizations (CONGUATE) have joined labor, environmental, consumer, indigenous rights, family farm and religious groups in both Central American and the U.S. in opposing this trade pact.

Despite this, the Bush Administration is seeking to push the agreement through Congress, although it faces heavy opposition from both Democrats and Republican Members who have seen the results of corporate-managed "free" trade. The U.S. Trade Representative's office, in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has mounted an all out push to win Congressional votes for NAFTA expansion and is currently touring the country with Ambassadors from Central America to garner support. Congress is facing pressure from the Big Business lobby who want to expand their corporate NAFTA power grab. Your Representatives need to know that their constituents don't support unfair trade that hurts workers, farmers and our communities at home and abroad.

Help block this anti-democratic, anti-development proposal. Tell your Representative to oppose the CAFTA and urge him/her to work for a just, sustainable model of regional integration. Call your Congressional Representative through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Other Resources is a collective effort to share information and stimulate cooperation against bilateral trade and investment agreements that are opening countries to the deepest forms of penetration by transnational corporations.

Public Citizen Global Trade Watch promotes democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade.”