Wednesday, March 01, 2006

CAFTA coverage

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) became effective between the US and El Salvador today, and trade issues are receiving a lot of coverage.

La Prensa has devoted an entire special section to CAFTA on its web site, full of rosy predictions about a growth of investment and trade in the country and pictures of Tony Saca with businessmen and US officials. Interestingly, on a page called "Sites of Interest," La Prensa links to two US government sites and one Salvadoran government site and then to the web sites of three organizations -- Oxfam, Americans for Fair Trade and which all oppose CAFTA.

El Diario de Hoy devoted more of its coverage to the massive protests yesterday against the treaty which continued today in parts of San Salvador. The paper's web site has two galleries of photos from the protests here and here.

Part of the national campaign platform of the FMLN is a plan to remove El Salvador from participating in CAFTA.

An article published on The Nation's web site titled CAFTA's Corpse Revived describes the still strong opposition to CAFTA in Central America:

Resentment extends far beyond government quarters. The United States pressed for changes to intellectual property laws that penalize poor vendors of pirated music and movies in the informal economy. The reforms represent a sharp reversal, as the Salvadoran government's attitude toward regulation had been lax. Joining more conventional opponents of CAFTA, thousands of street vendors have since staged raucous demonstrations against the constitutional changes, which threaten their already precarious livelihoods.

In January Todd Tucker, research director at Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, cited polls showing plummeting public support for the trade agreement throughout the region: 76 percent of Salvadorans believed that CAFTA would not help their country; 65 percent of Guatemalans said it would worsen conditions; 61 percent of people in the Dominican Republic opposed the deal; and 77 percent in Honduras regarded their pro-CAFTA government as corrupt.

Ongoing protests represent more than the untidy aftermath of a completed treaty negotiation. The current controversies around CAFTA implementation signal an escalating debate about the shape of corporate globalization in the Americas. CAFTA's provisions mandating the reduction of specific tariffs are clear. But some of the most dramatic implications of the agreement, like privatization, are not as well defined. In coming years they will be contested in national parliaments, in trade courts and on the streets.

One arena for the privatization fights in El Salvador will be water services. El Salvador's national water authority ANDA is corrupt, inefficient and ineffective. Rather than enact reforms, it is more likely that the government in El Salvador will look for ways to bring in private operators for local water systems. A recent article titled Private Rivers: Will Transnational Water Companies Swallow El Salvador's Water Supply? sets out the anti-privatization view.

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