Friday, July 29, 2005

CAFTA--Was it worth it?

Last night I got a rather exuberant email from Chicago outlining for anti-CAFTA activists all the reasons they should be proud of their work. Unusual for a group who lost a vote by such a small margin, and who one otherwise might expect to be demoralized.

But reading today's Wall Street Journal, indeed there may be substance to their glee. If the page one story in today's WSJ is on the mark, for example, and the "CAFTA vote clouds prospects for other trade deals," then the Bush administration should be worried.
...the trade fight has also become increasingly partisan for its own sake, with Democrats voting as much to gain approval from domestic interests and labor groups as out of principled objections to the details of an agreement.

That clouds prospects for future trade deals, especially if the Republican margin shrinks in the 2006 elections. The all-important fast-track authority -- which gives the U.S. president the power to negotiate trade deals that Congress either accepts or rejects without amendment -- is up for renewal in 2007.

...For Latin American governments mulling their own free-trade pacts with the U.S., the Cafta cliffhanger raised an unsettling question: If the tiny, ardently pro-U.S. economies of Central America can barely get a deal, what can we expect? That may make Latin leaders less willing to expend political capital at home to win approval for trade deals that grant greater access for U.S. goods. While individual countries like Panama will continue to seek bilateral pacts with the U.S., the Bush administration's already troubled plan for a Free Trade Area of the Americas faces an increasingly uncertain future.
Elsewhere in their paper (another two news stories, and one editorial bemoaning the Democratic posture), reporters note the US' declining influence in the region, CAFTA notwithstanding:
Washington's reluctant approval of a deal that was widely seen in Latin America as tilted in the U.S.'s favor is likely to aggravate the decline of U.S. influence in the region, which feels it has an uneven relationship with the world's sole superpower.
Finally, the Journal continues it's excellent coverage of Republican "arm-twisting" (yes, a phrase they do use) to get the oh-so-slim CAFTA victory.

Time will tell whether it was worth it to the Bush administration to elevate CAFTA to such a primordial place on its policy agenda. To read the reporters of the WSJ, one would think they already have an opinion about that.

Update: Reading through a round of friendly bloggers (something I have little time for of late), I see that Boz comes up with another interesting unintended consequence of a CAFTA victory (something he supports, albeit with reservations). I noted yesterday that Central American elites will be held accountable for any failure (likely, in my opinion) of CAFTA to produce lots of new jobs. Boz sees gold for Chavez as well:
The bad news for bill's supporters is, in the short term (1-3 years) the passage of CAFTA may actually benefit Chavez. CAFTA becomes Chavez's whipping boy, a gringo economic policy he can point to when development doesn't come immediately or some people lose out in the new free trade deal. Chavez doesn't care whether it's true or not. The Venezuelan regime is a master of public relations and they will find a way to turn CAFTA against us in the media. This isn't an argument against CAFTA, but it is something to be prepared for.

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