Redefining fair trade

Chicago Tribune

By James Thindwa, Executive director, Chicago Jobs With Justice

The Tribune editorial board appears to have pulled out all stops to promote the

Central America Free Trade Agreement.

While you continue to make proclamations about CAFTA's promised benefits, you

will not acknowledge its serious flaws and risks.

A more honest assessment of CAFTA would recognize both its costs and benefits.

The question is not whether CAFTA will produce benefits but, rather, what the

costs will be and whether such costs can be mitigated through a better


The Tribune has portrayed CAFTA as a simple cure for the country's economic

ills, especially job loss in the candy manufacturing industry.

In the article "Sugar blues; As the sweetener's high price drives candymakers

from Chicago, the 5,000 idled workers face a sour job market" (Magazine, July

10), writer Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin asserts that the exodus of "longtime

candymakers from Chicago is mainly [due to] the high price of U.S.-produced


In this otherwise compelling article about the human cost of job loss, a single

paragraph reduces the rather complex relocation decisions of various companies

to one simple factor.

These decisions are, in fact, driven by many factors, chief among them payroll


If CAFTA "is small potatoes," as your editorial asserts, how can it solve such a

complex issue?

The significance of CAFTA seems to balloon when it comes to its promised

benefits but shrinks in terms of possible costs.

Where will standards for good-paying jobs and the rights of workers go?

According to the International Labor Rights Fund, CAFTA "will not serve to deter

labor rights abuses, nor will it effectively deter national governments from

downgrading their existing labor laws."

We should not sacrifice a level playing field for workers in exchange for small

increases in exports, which can be achieved in other ways.

Fair trade agreements can be arranged. CAFTA, however, offers working people

little if anything in exchange for extending the North American Free Trade

Agreement and World Trade Organization rules and restrictions that already

threaten jobs, health and environmental standards.

Both Democrats and Republicans should reject this bad deal, and instead work

with our hemispheric neighbors to forge a fair trade that delivers real

benefits to all.