If you were to look at a newspaper twenty years ago and read
the headlines describing Central America, you would have
read about communist insurrections, civil wars, and instability. Popular perception would have one
believe the regions largest growth industries probably consisted of arms dealing
and mercenary services.
Things have change.
When we talk about Central America, today, we are
talking about nascent democracies.
Through hard work and struggle the governments of Central
America strive to provide the stability and market economies that
promote prosperity for their citizens.
Credit needs to be given for the incredible amount of progress the region
has made in roughly twenty years.
These are countries that are working to trade goods over there borders,
not guns. They want to replace the
chaos of the pass with the commerce of the future.
To foster the roots of democracy and free markets, the
passed unilateral trade preference acts like the Caribbean Basin Initiative and
its successors throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. These one way preference agreements gave
duty free access to Central American goods, services, and agricultural
products. By opening the
U.S. market to
these goods, Central American’s began to see benefits and began developing free
market economies. To further their
development, they approached their neighbor, the
and asked for a free trade agreement.
An FTA would cement the benefits of the unilateral preferences and push
needed reforms to further growth and stability. Knowing the political difficulties they
would have to face internally to incorporate the high environmental, labor, and
intellectual property rights standards the
demand, the six democratically elected leaders of the CAFTA countries agreed to
and completed negotiations of a state of the art free trade agreement. They saw, and see, this agreement as a
way to make fundamental reforms in their countries. They want to insure workers rights,
improve conditions for their citizens, and continue the path of democracy.
I admit that it is highly unusual to talk about the “Foreign
Policy” ramifications of a free trade agreement in this column, but in the case
of CAFTA, it is essential. Many
arguments against CAFTA are masks for not wanting trade with poor
countries. These countries may be
relatively poor today, but then again the
relatively poor when compared to most Western European countries in the
18th century. If the
pursue opening up developing markets, American businesses suffer. The competition for clients in the
developing world is intense. It is
the government’s responsibility to help to provide the best atmosphere for
to compete and win. CAFTA does just
It is important that the
not turn its back on its neighbors.
The CAFTA countries stand with us in the fight on terrorism. They are
working to build vibrant economies so their populations have jobs at home and do
not wish to illegally immigrate to the north to find work. It is in our best interest to support
these democracies and pass CAFTA.
More information on CAFTA,
U.S. small business trade
policy and other items on the trade agenda can be found at www.ustr.gov.