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Bush's Free Trade

President Bush claims he is for free trade. He went to the Summit in Argentina to sell a free trade zone for all America from Canada to Argentina. He encountered hostility from Argentineans and skepticism from the leaders of the major Latin American countries. The Summit was a shambles. Why? Because these leaders do not trust Bush. They believe that the free trade he sells will bring lots of money to American multinationals and almost nothing to the poverty stricken farmers in their lands. Bush’s free trade talk is merely propaganda.

In Argentina, Chavez, the leader of Venezuela, teased Bush mercilessly. This is the main point made by most news items on the subject. It's wrong. Sure, Chavez hates Bush. But free trade, as pushed by Bush, will not help South Americans where they need it most: agricultural products. Joining Venezuela in opposing Bush were the leaders of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay; these countries represent over half the economy of Latin America.

In the streets of Argentina there were raucous demonstrations that turned violent at times. I can't blame Argentineans. In the past they had gotten loans from the IMF and followed the advice they got religiously. What was the result? In 2002, they had 20% unemployment and 40% were below the poverty level. They rioted. They are still impoverished. What do they want? They want to sell agricultural products.

After leaving Argentina, Bush went to Brazil, where he said:

"Our goal is to promote opportunity for people throughout the Americas, whether they live in Minnesota or Brazil, and the way to do this is by expanding free and fair trade."

When Bush met with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the latter told him that the big problem in the free trade negotiations is the U.S. agricultural subsidies program. To which Bush responded that the U.S. will elminate agricultural subsidies in 15 years

"so long as we get the same treatment from trading partners such as Europe."

Now, if you were a Latin American negotiator, would you go for this? Agricultural products are the mainstay of your economy. And here you are being told to acept American products right away and to wait 15 years before you may be able to sell agricultural products to U.S. Maybe. It depends on how Europe feels about this. You'd be insane to agree to this.

Bush says he is for free trade. By that he means, free for multinationals, but at an inordinate cost for poor agricultural countries. If Bush were really for free trade, he would go this week to Congress and recommend the elimination of agricultural subsidies. This would telegraph to the world that when we say free trade we mean that it is free trade for ALL participants.

If Bush does this I will be happy to proclaim him a free and fair trader.

Posted by Paul Siegel at November 7, 2005 6:24 PM