Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Can CAFTA Before it Destroys Sovereignty and Small Farms

Arnie Alpert

Peter Allgeier, the acting U.S. trade representative, says CAFTA, the proposed trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic, would double U.S. agricultural exports to the region. That has Central American farmers worried.

Like the North American Free Trade Agreement, upon which it is modeled, CAFTA would flood Central America's markets with products of U.S. agribusiness, much of which is still heavily subsidized. According to Oxfam, U.S. corn exports to Central America would increase by 10,000 percent in the first year. The region's small farmers, who make up the majority of the population, have their eyes on Mexico, where 1.7 million farmers lost their land in the first 10 years after NAFTA went into effect.

"What is at stake for the long term," says Nicaraguan economist Adolfo Acevedo, "is not just the possibility of preserving a large part of the national food production . . . but the fate of the labor force itself, and, more deeply yet, the fate of the human beings linked to this form of production."

Like their Mexican counterparts, their likely fate would be to migrate to Central American cities, where their best hope would be to get low-paid jobs in the sweatshops that have displaced good jobs in New Hampshire and other U.S. locations. Or, they may take the risk of braving vigilantes and the border patrol to migrate to the U.S.A., where more sweatshop jobs await.

CAFTA includes "investor rights" provisions that would make it possible for foreign corporations to sue for monetary damages if laws adopted at any level of government eat into their profits. Under a similar provision of NAFTA, the U.S.-based Ethyl Corp. won $13 million in damages when Canada outlawed use of MMT, a gasoline additive. As part of the settlement, Canada also overturned its ban on the chemical, which was known to be a neuro-toxin. Under CAFTA rules, such cases would not be heard in open courts, but by secretive panels of trade arbitrators. Laws and regulations to promote public health, human rights and environmental protection would all be at risk.

While CAFTA should be defeated on its own demerits, its significance is greater. It is widely seen as a template for additional agreements that would threaten U.S. jobs, strip authority from democratic governments at all levels, endanger access to essential services such as water, and continue to wreak havoc on the rural economies of poor countries.

International trade is an important element of today's integrated, global economy. But global trade agreements must allow protections for health, social justice and environmental stewardship to be placed before private gain, and they must not trump the ability of democratic governments to protect their own citizens.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert is a longtime nonviolent action trainer in New Hampshire. He blogs at inzanetimes.wordpress.com.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Because 'Publishing Is Not a Crime,' Major Newspapers Push US to Drop Assange Charges

"This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America's First Amendment and the freedom of the press," The Guardian, The New York Times, and other media outlets warned.

Jake Johnson ·


Sanders Vows to 'Stand With Rail Workers' as Republican Says Congress Will Prevent Strike

"Last year, the rail industry made a record-breaking $20 billion in profits," Sen. Bernie Sanders noted. "Meanwhile, rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days."

Jake Johnson ·


Massive Demonstration of Support for Lopez Obrador in Mexico City

AMLO was elected in 2018 and heralded as the Bernie Sanders of Mexico.

Common Dreams staff ·


Scientists Revive ‘Zombie’ Virus After 50,000 Years Trapped in Siberian Permafrost

Researchers documented 13 never-before-seen viruses that have been lying dormant, frozen in thick ice, over tens of thousands of years.

Common Dreams staff ·


'Cleaner Air Is Coming' as London Expands Vehicle Pollution Fee to Entire Metro Area

"Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to air pollution, with the greatest number of deaths in outer London boroughs," noted Mayor Sadiq Khan in announcing the expansion.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo