Deal would favor select few from USA Today

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By Sherrod Brown
A prediction.

If the House of Representatives passes the Central American Free Trade Agreement, it will take place in the middle of the night, the normal 15-minute roll call will be extended to about three hours so that House leaders can twist arms, and the legislation will pass by one or two votes.

CAFTA supporters say the agreement will increase our exports. What they haven't said is the combined purchasing power of the CAFTA nations is equivalent to that of Columbus, Ohio. Or that an average Nicaraguan worker earns about $2,300 a year.

This agreement wouldn't allow workers in Central America to buy prime beef from Nebraska, or cars made in Ohio, or software from Seattle. These countries wouldn't be competing to buy our products, they'd be competing to make them.

When I was first elected to Congress in 1992, our trade deficit — the amount by which our imports exceed our exports — was $38 billion. Last year — after a decade of the North American Free Trade Agreement, China's Permanent Normal Trade Relations and a host of other trade agreements — our trade deficit has ballooned to $618 billion. More important, we have lost three million manufacturing jobs in the last five years.

Now congressional leaders and the president want to do more of the same. CAFTA, as other trade agreements, was negotiated by a select few for a select few. It builds in strong protections for U.S. pharmaceutical companies, but does nothing for American or Central American workers. It protects Hollywood films, but not the environment.

That's why the opposition to CAFTA is so wide and deep — Republicans and Democrats; small manufacturers and labor unions; family farmers and environmentalists; Roman Catholic bishops in Central America and Jewish, Lutheran and Presbyterian leaders in our country.

There is a better way. Trade policy should benefit also workers and small business, not only our largest corporations. Our trade agreement should protect the environment and food safety. Labor standards should be adopted to respect American workers and lift up workers in poor countries.

When the world's poorest people can buy American products, not just make them, then we will know that our trade policies are finally working.

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