Published on Friday, October 31, 2003 by the Long Island (NY) Newsday
Bush's Trade Policies Anger Latin America
by Andrew Reding
On the campaign trail, and after moving into the White House, George W. Bush promised a special relationship with Latin America. Instead, as dramatized by the forced resignation of the president of Bolivia and by the alliance forged by the presidents of Brazil and Argentina to resist Washington's one-sided trade demands, U.S. hemispheric policy is in tatters.
In a time of heightened security concern, the Bush administration has few friends left in the Western Hemisphere - our proverbial "backyard" - and it is not hard to see why. From the president on down, this government is expecting our less fortunate neighbors to make considerable economic sacrifices without any comparable concessions from the wealthiest country in the Americas.
Take trade policy. The administration is demanding guarantees of intellectual property rights from Central and South American countries as a condition for a hemispheric free-trade agreement. Given that some of the United States' most valuable exports at this point are in products of the human mind - such as software, motion pictures and music - that is a perfectly reasonable bargaining position.
Washington, however, is unwilling to open up American agriculture and industry to free competition. Brazil produces steel and orange juice at a lower cost. Likewise, the Dominican Republic grows sugar at a far lower cost.
But the Bush administration, preoccupied with the calculus of the 2004 Electoral College, cannot afford to lose Florida or the Rust Belt. In other words, domestic political considerations are making a mockery of our claim to want free trade.
The administration is demanding that other nations open their economies to U.S. products, while preserving agricultural subsidies and steel tariffs that deny those countries equitable access to our markets.
Is it any wonder that the presidents of Brazil and Argentina are banding together to resist such one-sided demands? By threatening to conclude separate agreements with an American version of the "coalition of the willing" - what U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick calls "can do" nations - the administration is fanning the flames of anti-Americanism.
The Bush drug policy is being carried out in the same one-sided manner, with similarly catastrophic consequences. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, in part because most of its population is Indian, and has been denied the sort of access to education and sanitation that is essential to modern economic development. Unable to earn a decent living by other means, Bolivians have turned to cultivation of coca for the highly lucrative U.S. cocaine market.
As it has done elsewhere in the Americas, the Bush administration demanded that Bolivia crack down on coca cultivation. In the late 1990s, coca exports were estimated at a half-billion dollars a year, fully one-fourth of the country's total earnings of hard currency. Coca crop eradication has thrown much of the population into destitution, and now into revolt. As in the case of trade, U.S. drug policy demands major sacrifices by poor countries without meaningful compensation.
The Bush "solution" is for coca farmers to switch to growing bananas and hearts of palm. But the latter yield only a tiny fraction of the income from coca cultivation and are far more expensive and difficult to grow. And no one in Washington is proposing a latter-day Marshall Plan to free the Bolivian economy from dependence on cheap agricultural commodities.
In a very real sense, the Bush hemispheric policy is an extension of its domestic policy. Just as that policy is geared to favoring the interests of the rich by cutting taxes on capital gains, dividends and inheritances, our foreign policy reflects similar interests. The bottom line? Policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer - only in this case at the international level.
When it comes time to wooing Latino voters, Bush likes to speak Spanish and make rhetorical commitments to Latin America. But his one-sided policies have alienated every significant country south of the Rio Grande, from Mexico to Argentina. It was Mexico and Chile, not France, whose votes ensured defeat of the proposed United Nations resolution backing the invasion of Iraq.
In a world already awash in anti-Americanism, antagonizing our closest neighbors is sheer folly.
Andrew Reding is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, where he directs the Project for Global Democracy and Human Rights.
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