On Tuesday, Bush signed CAFTA into law after almost two years of political battle. Before it completely slips off the media radar, it's worthwhile to step back and stake stock of what could be a long-term victory for progressives (and not just in the rah-rah, "we lost but we won" sense).
As many have noted, CAFTA's actual impact isn't going to be huge. Heather Hurlburt at Democracy Arsenal posted on this Tuesday:
The six CAFTA countries (Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) together make up the US's 13th-largest export market, absorbing $15 billion of US exports annually. Nice, but not exactly earth-shattering.
OK, what's the potential for growth? Their combined GDP comes in at less than half of Argentina's, one-sixth of Brazil's, and less than one-tenth of India's -- to name a few other places where we don't yet have free trade agreements. So again, let's rein in our enthusiasm.
And what about the national security argument that President Bush apparently used to peel off enough Republican doubters? Well, almost 80 percent of the region's products were already being admitted to the US under other trade preference systems.
Not to downplay the potential for big job losses -- and the damage already done to democracy from this and other corporate-written trade deals -- but CAFTA was mostly about politics, not substance. Bush needed a "win" to gain credibility and leverage, both on the international stage, where WTO agreements and trade deals for other countries are on the table, as well as to prove his ability to move legislation in Congress.
Given that this was mostly about demonstrating Bush's political muscle, CAFTA's enemic two-vote passage can be summed up as a resounding failure. Globally, Reuters noted yesterday that
The razor-thin margin of the House vote raised questions about other free trade agreements the Bush administration is negotiating, including ones with Bahrain, Thailand and the Andean countries of South America.
The House vote squeaker was also a defeat for Bush on the homefront. The defection of 27 House Republicans was a big deal, especially heavyweights Bob Ney (Ohio) and Duncan Hunter (Calif.), which forced Bush to turn the screws on more vulnerable Republicans like Charles Taylor (R-N.C.) and Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.). Hapless Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC) is in an especially embarassing position after being quoted just two days before the vote as being "flat-out, completely, horizontally opposed to CAFTA" and then voting "aye." (Wasn't the first time he's done this.)
Finally, CAFTA was useful in clarifying the stands of Democrats who have consistently voted against middle-class and working families on key economic votes. With advocates like David Sirota leading the charge, these Senate and House Democrats are finally being held to account for genuflecting to corporate interests and undermining progressive values.
It's about time.