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Countering Doublespeak | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Countering Doublespeak

The House of Representatives is moving toward a vote on the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement, and the spin machines of the White House and the corporate special interests - along with their amen corner in the media - are working overtime.

These are the days when the big lies get told - as we learned more than a decade ago when the Clinton White House was busy working with congressional Republicans to win support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and more recently when Congress debated establishing permanent normal trade relations with China.

To counter the Orwellian twists of facts and figures that are sure to come from the White House and its political allies, fair trade campaigners (www.citizenstrade.org and www.wiscotrader.org) have come up with a top 10 list of trade doublespeak - and the facts to counter it:

No. 10: Our trade deficit actually shows how strong the economy is.That's a lot like arguing that the more you go into debt, the richer you really are. Here's what happened with NAFTA: Our trade deficit with those countries is 12 times bigger than before the pact - it shot up from $9 billion in 1993 to $111 billion last year. A high trade deficit weakens our economy.

No. 9: CAFTA slows immigration.This same false promise was made under NAFTA, and we all witnessed the opposite result of increased immigration from Mexico. CAFTA has back-door provisions that may make U.S. immigration laws and visa requirements in violation of the agreement, and unenforceable.

No. 8: CAFTA opens a substantial market for U.S.goods.Central America has some of the poorest countries in the world, and the aggregate economy of the six CAFTA nations is minuscule. "Add up the six CAFTA economies and you get a market the size of New Haven, Conn.," points out trade analyst Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industry Council. Tonelson concludes that CAFTA is a "classic outsourcing agreement" - an arrangement in which the only significant U.S. export would be manufacturing jobs to poor, low-wage nations.

No. 7: CAFTA helps the working poor of Central America.Since NAFTA, real wages for Mexican workers have fallen. Over 1.5 million displaced Mexican subsistence farmers were turned into unemployed masses. Mexico is becoming poorer. Today, 40 percent of Central America's workers earn less than $2 a day. Their employment rights are routinely abused, and CAFTA will require these countries to merely enforce their own weak and unfair labor laws. CAFTA is about making corporations, not Central American workers, richer.

No. 6: CAFTA helps farmers.The poor of Central America will not be buying cheese from Wisconsin or corn from Iowa. Under CAFTA, barriers to agricultural imports from these countries would be removed immediately, while barriers to U.S. exports wouldn't be lifted for anywhere from 10 to 20 years - thereby crippling U.S. agricultural producers. Many state-level farm organizations publicly oppose CAFTA. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture passed a resolution against CAFTA because farm products aren't adequately protected by the agreement. CAFTA will hurt the American farmer, but funnel money to large agribusiness corporations who do business overseas.

No. 5: CAFTA is essential for national security.This desperate plea by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a last-ditch effort by a failing administration to resuscitate CAFTA using fear and divisiveness. Short of votes in Congress, with a flawed strategy, they are attempting to scare the American people into support. Nobody really thinks al-Qaida has splinter cells in Costa Rica. We won't be fooled into believing Osama bin Laden is hiding out in the Dominican Republic.

No. 4: CAFTA is a relatively small trade agreement.CAFTA is the largest trade agreement before our country since NAFTA, and a critical steppingstone toward creation of a 34-nation Free Trade Area of the Americas. It has become a national referendum on failed trade policies of the past, and the outcome will set a course for our future dealings with China. For local and state government, CAFTA would become the highest law of the land, determining rules on procurement, health care, zoning and immigration.

No. 3: CAFTA helps the American worker.Just the opposite. When companies in other countries are allowed to race to the basement, employment conditions for our American workers deteriorate. We get less pay, fewer benefits and reduced health care coverage. CAFTA is the Wal-Mart of trade deals. CEOs justify actions by the need to stay competitive and keep prices low. Big corporations then get all the breaks, and the profits, while workers' rights and wages are forsaken.

No. 2: Trade deals always pass in Congress; so will CAFTA.Right now, a majority of House members, including a significant number of Republicans, oppose CAFTA. Another sizable bloc of GOP House members is uncommitted. For CAFTA to pass, over two dozen House members will have to breakcommitments to vote against it, and every single uncommitted member will need to vote for it. That's not likely to happen, as polling shows opposition to outsourcing and CAFTA is growing. The more Americans find out about it, the less they like it.

No. 1 doublespeak: CAFTA trade policies create jobs and stimulate economic growth.It's the Big Lie. When we import more, and our trade deficit grows, we lose jobs, and export our wealth to other countries. We lost an estimated 900,000 net jobs to NAFTA. Outsourcing the American economy to other countries is a failing strategy for our future.

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