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The results from such free trade agreements are mixed. Central American countries have reduced trade barriers, increased trade volumes, and diversified trade, but have not seen the expected economic growth nor have they experienced a reduction of poverty. Such disappointing results from previous free trade arrangements undercut U. Additionally, the Bush administration pursued CAFTA for reasons beyond those related to economics, including security. The U. Thus, the treaty ensures the continuation of capitalist economies in a region that has drifted to the left politically.

As one author noted, the treaty could accomplish what the war in Iraq could not Barnes Congress Council on Hemispheric Affairs While the U. In speeches, President Arias seems to acknowledge the asymmetry of trade agreements, which amount to unfair terms and a lack of voluntary commitment to these terms. After the referendum codified the agreement into law, he expressed this opinion through the progressive news outlet TomPaine.

We are proud that our health and environmental policies are, by far, the best in the region, that our democracy is founded on an extensive system of family farming, that our telecommunications services are lower priced and more efficient than those of our neighbors, that we abolished all military forces 60 years ago, and that our laws forbid the trade and production of weapons and their parts. More broadly, he argues that CAFTA is for the benefit of the few, who at the time, employed strong-arm tactics and spent millions of private dollars in an attempt to bulldoze the measure through the legislative process without due process.

To these arguments he added his dismay that his rival for the presidency, Oscar Arias, refused to engage in debate about CAFTA during the election a. The United States was able to have such influence because, according to the U. The law of the jungle benefits the big beast. Trade and the Erosion of Human Rights. As a specific example, free trade can have particularly devastating consequences for agricultural producers and consumers in developing countries Mayne and LeQuesne Small- and medium-scale farmers in Mexico must set their prices below costs in order to sell their crops.

Food insecurity becomes pronounced as families farming in developing countries sell increasing shares of their crops, including those that were once used for family consumption Audley et al. Even though Mexico is importing cheap corn, this savings is not passed on to consumers Oxfam b. Because of agribusiness vertical and horizontal integration — consolidating sales of a good across markets and integrating control of the production process from raw materials to finished products — corporations can maximize profits that do not spill over into reduced consumer prices.

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Throughout the negotiations of free trade treaties and in the negotiations of the World Trade Organization, there are often scant opportunities for civic and political participation. While constituents find themselves unable to help define the terms of trade through civic and political participation, transnational corporations amass greater influence in trade negotiations Karliner and Aparicio In the context of free trade, states have exchanged the role of active policymaker for the role of passive administrator, which takes power away from citizens to define the political agenda on a local level Evans Therefore, citizens of developing countries are forced to adapt to decrees from afar as national governments in developed countries use their power to protect and promote the interests of domestically-based transnational corporations seeking to expand abroad Sethi Consulting citizens is a key component in the creation of fair trade agreements.

Citizen consultation confers legitimacy since meaningful civil society involvement can educate the public, ensure that decisions are made in the public interest, and augment public support for institutions and agreements Williams To ensure citizen involvement actually informs trade agreements, it must be allowed to contribute to all stages of the policy-making process. Spalding notes that the mere insertion of labor or environmental clauses by policymakers to an existing agreement like CAFTA would not transform the treaty into a vehicle for promoting human rights.

Civil society also brings with it a continuation of asymmetrical power arrangements. However, in spite of these limitations, including civil society in the formation of trade agreements holds four central strengths.


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First, civil society is unencumbered by responsibilities of government Prevost , yet still able to politicize trade agreements and subject them to public scrutiny — unlike when CAFTA was first negotiated and all participants were required during the first round to sign a pledge of secrecy Ricker and Stansbury Second, it provides space for the equal opportunity for voice among all political parties. Third, increased citizen participation might pressure national leaders to present their stances on trade agreements much as they do on any other domestic issue, such as taxation.

Fourth, the decision of whether to ratify or to reject a treaty would be left in the hands of voters. Although Costa Ricans did eventually vote for CAFTA, the process lacked the sustained input of civil society and left Costa Rican political elites and the United States wielding great influence over the outcome. Social workers have a stake in advocating for fair free trade agreements.

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Second, contesting free trade agreements as they are currently written and enacted is an obligation according to the ethical principle of challenging social injustice. Section 6 of the Code of Ethics outlines several specific commitments, such as the promotion of welfare at all systemic levels, the facilitation of informed social and political participation, and the shaping of just social and political institutions.

Social work professionals can contribute to robust civil society participation and the politicization of trade policy-making. Both theory and data indicate that the streams by which goods flow also facilitate the movement of people and that international migration is interwoven with the global economy Massey, Arango, Hugo, Kouaouci, Pellegrino, and Taylor NAFTA has shown that migration has risen with accelerated economic integration Oxfam a , bringing some social workers into contact with families and individuals uprooted by this trade agreement.

According to the United States Human Rights Network, social movements should aim to protect human rights, and they should be led by the people most directly offended by violations Neubeck Trade agreements are politically constructed, and, thus, they are amenable to influence by social movements. Social workers can advocate for fair trade by working together with affected people to strengthen their capacity to participate in trade policy-making in order to create fair trade agreements.

Abrahamson, Peter.

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