This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
With Republicans winning big in the midterm elections, the debate over so-called “free trade” agreements could again take center stage in Washington.
President Barack Obama has been angling for “fast track” authority that would enable him to push the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP—a massive trade agreement between the United States and a host of Pacific Rim countries—through Congress with limited debate and no opportunity for amendments.
From the outset, the politicians who support the agreement have overplayed its benefits and underplayed its costs. They seldom note, for example, that the pact would allow corporations to sue governments whose regulations threaten their profits in cases brought before secretive and unaccountable foreign tribunals.
So let’s look closely at the real impact that trade agreements have on people and the environment.
A prime example is the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, or DR-CAFTA. Brokered by the George W. Bush administration and a handful of hemispheric allies, the pact has had a devastating effect on poverty, dislocation and environmental contamination in the region.
And perhaps even worse, it’s diminished the ability of Central American countries to protect their citizens from corporate abuse.
In 2004 and 2005, hundreds of thousands of protesters filled Central America’s streets.
They warned of the unemployment, poverty, hunger, pollution, diminished national sovereignty and other problems that could result if DR-CAFTA were approved. But despite popular pressure, the agreement was ratified in seven countries—including Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and the United States.