Evelyn Pringle November 5, 2005
Among Latin Americans, polls show George W Bush to be the most unpopular American president in history. On November 3, 2005, the Argentine daily reported the results of a poll that showed 6 out of ten Argentines opposed Bush’s presence in their country.
In the same poll, 75% of those surveyed said they welcomed a visit by Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez, Bush's staunchest opponent in his up-ill battle to win passage of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
The FTAA, with the exception of Cuba, would include all Caribbean and Latin American countries. If passed, some experts predict that it will be the largest free trade agreement in history, with an expected combined GDP of over $9 trillion, and a market of more than 750 million people.
The FTAA agreement was designed to bring 34 countries into a single market but it missed its deadline for enactment on January 1, 2005. Earlier this year, 10-year drive toward passage of FTAA was derailed completely after talks broke down when Argentina, Venezuela, and Brazil made it clear that they were unwilling to accept the terms set forth by the Bush administration.
In the meantime, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was signed in August 2005, to extend the policies of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to Central American countries to include Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, with a side agreement with the Dominican Republic (DR-CAFTA).
Overall, the FTAA faces widespread opposition in Latin America and for good reason. 20 years of NAFTA's so-called economic reforms have resulted in widespread poverty, high unemployment, massive debt, and a series of other economic crises.
Bush is hoping to get the deal back on track while attending the summit, but his prospects look grim. Protests against his visit were already underway in Argentina, 3 days before he got there, with the blocking of bridges and streets in the capital of Buenos Aires, and posters bearing the slogans "Stop Bush" and "Fuera Bush," some of which were superimposed over graphic pictures of wounded children in Iraqi.
Argentine Nobel Prize winner, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, recently told a radio audience that Bush is "a torturer, violator of human rights, an assassin, a violator of United Nations resolutions, of international treaties and of the sovereignty of peoples, as has happened in Iraq."
There were even attempts to obtain a court order to bar Bush from entering the county and back in July 2005, Daniel Katz, the mayor of Mar del Plata, described Bush as the "most unpleasant guy in the world."
Same Old GOP Tactics To Pass CAFTA
"Though constituents widely opposed CAFTA, the agreement passed Congress through the use of bribery, threats, and deception," according to the article, Vote-buying and Arm-twisting, by William F Jasper on August 22, 2005.
The Senate and House set new lows for political prostitution, corruption, and betrayal, with the White House and Republican leaders openly propositioning members in the halls of Congress with billions of dollars in federal projects, along with promises of special trade concessions, Jasper maintains, "all to win passage of a misbegotten agreement that will cost America hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in foreign aid, additional waves of illegal aliens, and further entanglement in sovereignty-destroying international regulatory regimes," he wrote.
Congressman, Ron Paul (R-Texas), one of the 27 Republicans who voted against CAFTA, said the vote-buying price tag may end up being $50 billion or more. "Most of the bribery is hidden away in projects funded by the massive energy and transportation appropriation bills," he told Jasper.
The truth is, CAFTA will do nothing to improve the US economy. In an August 30, 2005 letter to the Forum, Rep Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), tells how "the economies of the CAFTA countries is smaller than that of the state of Connecticut, just two-thirds that of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The idea that we are instantly going to be sending trucks and ships full of American products – high-quality commodities and goods – to the citizens of these countries, where 40 percent of workers earn less than $2 a day, is simply a myth."
In per capita terms, "the countries range from Nicaragua with a GNI per capita of $730, which the World Bank classifies as a low-income country, to Costa Rica with per capita income of $4,280, which is classified as an upper middle income country. The rest of the countries are classified as lower middle-income countries by the World Bank," according to an August 4, 2005 CRS Report for Congress.
The economies of the countries in Central America are so poor that they cannot afford to buy a significant quantity of any product from the US. "With a combined national income of about $84 billion, the Gross National Incomes (GNI) of the countries range from $5.5 billion for Nicaragua to $23.5 billion for Guatemala," according to the CRS Report.
But then the true goal of CAFTA has never been about making money off these tiny countries. Three years ago the Bush administration admitted that the purpose of CAFTA was to instigate a drive for the passage of FTAA, in a January 16, 2002 press release upon opening of negotiations for CAFTA: "This negotiation will complement the United States’ goal of completing the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) no later than January 2005 by increasing the momentum in the hemisphere toward lowering barriers," it said.
According to, Protectionism And Free Trade, by Harley Shaiken, "the DR-CAFTA is more a pleading of special interests than a free-trade deal. It manages simultaneously to fleece the people of six poor countries and to put U.S. workers in harm's way," in Tom Paine, on May 31, 2005.
Bush Lobbies For Pharma
By now, the records of the House ethics committee confirm that the Bush administration and its puppets in Congress, do little more than provide a trolley for private gain. I for one am getting tired of watching these lobbyists doing their bidding while on the clock, in addition to tax payers having to foot the bill for all expense paid trips to foreign countries.
While pursuing these trade agreements, Bush is doing the bidding for Pharma, his party's top campaign contributor. CAFTA was clearly designed to protect the interests of large drug companies in Central America. Drug makers currently invested in Costa Rica include Abbott, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly and Bristol-Meyers Squibb. See Department of Commerce, US Commercial Service, Costa Rica Country Commercial Guide 2002.
CAFTA includes intellectual property rights for pharma, that extend the time a drug maker may keep test data secret which will result in an extension of monopolies because impoverished countries cannot afford to conduct their own clinical studies.
"For American drug companies," Harley Shaiken says, "this agreement extends the time period during which brand-name pharmaceuticals have exclusive access to markets, postponing the entry of generic drugs and thus limiting competition."
"The Bush Administration's trade negotiators have repeatedly pressured the developing countries to forgo their rights ... and to adopt intellectual property standards that impede access to essential medications," says a report by Rep Henry Waxman, (D-CA).
"For Central Americans, the cost of drugs will soar, straining budgets and gutting health care," Shaiken writes, "The result may be a death sentence for many." Four of the 6 Latin American countries with the highest rate of HIV are in Central America. Hundreds of thousands of HIV patients could die as a direct result of CAFTA.
"In effect, the President's trade representatives have elevated the protection of pharmaceutical patents above the pressing health needs of developing countries," according to, Big Pharma's Free Ride, in Salon Magazine on August 12, 2005
War On The Supplement Industry
The dietary supplement industry has become a real threat to pharma as the number of people who stay healthy grows as a result of taking dietary supplements. In response to the threat, pharma has launched an undeclared all-out--global-war against the supplement industry.
The industry has already paid huge fines for illegal conduct aimed at supplement makers. Over the years, the US Department of Justice has brought actions against industry giants, Hoffman La Roche, Merck and others, for conspiring to fix prices of raw materials used to manufacture supplements, in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
In the case of LaRoche, the company was fined a record setting $540,000,000 for price fixing by creating a false shortage of raw materials for vitamin B3, in order to increase sales of their anti-cholesterol drugs.
Considering the fine, it does not require much of an imagination to recognize the financial motives behind the war. The customer base that pharma is after is enormous. Recent polls show that 60 to 70% of North Americans now use complementary medicines and dietary supplements.
In addition to those already discussed above, another gift to pharma is buried in the language of CAFTA in Section 6, which requires that all member countries form a Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) committee for the purpose of insuring ongoing harmonization under the terms of the SPS Agreement in the WTO, according to the July 2, 2005, Urgent Alert Health Freedom Is Being Threatened, by Paul Anthony Tayler.
The World Trade Organization's SPS Agreement reads in part: "To harmonize sanitary and phytosanitary measures on as wide a basis as possible, Members shall base their food safety measures on international standards, guidelines or recommendations."
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is the international body charged with setting global food standards. It holds an annual gathering of delegates in Europe each year, many of them trans-national pharmaceutical corporations, who are primarily focused on increasing their market share, by pushing their desired and arbitrary regulatory "standards" into a global standard and forcing it onto the smaller local supplement industry, all in the name of "international regulatory excellence," according to Eve Hillary in "Codex - The Sickness Indu$try's Last Stand, April 23, 2005.
The Codex subcommittee that specifically deals with supplements is the Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses, which meets in Bonn, Germany each November. This committee establishes guidelines to govern international trade in supplements. In essence, it has the authority to decide whether or not consumers can have vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, in what dosage, and who will be permitted to manufacture and sell the products.
Under CAFTA, the US government must not only harmonize federal laws, it must also force state and local governments to conform their laws with the standards. Many believe there is a real danger that guidelines for supplements could be forced on the US because if it refuses to harmonize, the WTO can apply pressure by withdrawing trade privileges and imposing trade sanctions.
Such sanctions could amount to billions of dollars in tariffs that the WTO could authorize nations to levee on US exports, and not just supplement exports. This sanction would make US goods grossly overpriced and hard to sell. Under such pressure, Congress would likely adopt the anti-supplement regulations. It has already given in on past WTO disputes, to avoid crippling trade sanctions. See Dietary Supplements Under Imminent Threat, James South M.A, January 26, 2005.
A Major Battle At Home And Abroad
Convincing Latin American countries to adopt the FTAA, may be the least of the administration's worries. Considering how much political capital was waged on passing CAFTA, an even greater battle lies ahead in trying to get Congress to pass a plan that would encompass the entire Western Hemisphere.
One need only consider what has occurred in the this country since NAFTA, to recognize the uphill battle Bush is facing. The year before NAFTA was adopted, the US trade deficit with its partners was $9 billion. Last year the deficit hit $111 billion, over ten times what it was before NAFTA.
The Economic Policy Institute determined that the trade deficit has cost US workers nearly 900,000 jobs, and job opportunities, through 2002, and the deficit has grown higher since then. Robert Scott, "The High Price of 'Free Trade," Briefing Paper, November 2003.
And life after NAFTA is even worse for our partners. NAFTA promised to raise living standards in Mexico and reduce the flow of illegal immigrants to the US. But in fact, the opposite has happened. Real wages in Mexico today are actually lower than when NAFTA began, the poverty rate is higher, and illegal immigration to the US has soared.
More than a million small farmers have lost their land to floods of agricultural imports and are forced to seek work in factories along the border or in the US, Economist Mark Levinson told the Senate Finance Committee, on April 13, 2005.
Our trade relationship with Canada is not looking that great either. Ottawa, Washington's oldest and largest free trade partner, is close to giving up hope of reaching a fair settlement of its softwood lumber dispute with the US, according to the September 12, 2005, Toronto Star.
Canadian negotiators are refusing to return to the table, to indicate to the world, the ineffectiveness of trying to negotiate with the Bush administration. "The American position is absolutely untenable," said Prime Minister Paul Martin. "We've got to step up with retaliation, in my view," Industry Minister David Emerson told the Star.
The latest flare-up occurred in August 2005, when a final-appeal panel "ruled that the U.S. had no right to impose a 27 per cent levy on Canadian lumber imports. U.S. Trade Representative, Rob Portman, said the US government disagreed with the decision and would disregard it, according to the Star.
"Canadians shook their heads in disbelief," the paper wrote, while "the rest of the world, Latin America in particular, got a vicarious taste of free trade with the US."
It appears that a trade relationship with the US is no longer a sought after prize. According to the Star, "a growing number of countries regard it as a dubious asset."