Remember when the John Birch Society was as extreme right wing as you could get? While they’re still seeing conspiracies behind the bush (obvious double entendre), today they seem positively sane compared to the rabid neo-cons now in charge. They at least stand for our constitutional democracy, and are fighting the drift toward plutocracy.

This old right is today worked up about Bush-Cheney trade policies designed to increase profits for the special few at the expense of the rest of us. They’re taking aim at CAFTA (the Central American Free Trade Agreement), upon which our members of Congress will soon vote.

The Birch Society’s beef is about the erosion of sovereignty. In New American magazine’s April 18 issue, William Grigg writes that CAFTA is driven by “politically connected corporate interests who stand to profit from outsourcing production to low-wage nations … CAFTA would trigger another flood of imports and another hemorrhage of industrial jobs … Most importantly the agreement would undermine our nation’s ability to control its economic destiny.”

Imagine my surprise finding myself agreeing with the John Birch Society.

Bill McNally of Windham, member of the Nashua Birch Society chapter, has been leading the charge for HCR 8, which has passed the New Hampshire House. That resolution calls on Congress to “place a moratorium on new free trade agreements” and “ensure that such agreements … are in the best interests of the citizens of New Hampshire and the United States.” It’s now the state Senate’s turn to pass this resolution.

So who in New Hampshire is in favor of CAFTA? The politically well-connected David Carney, in a recent Union Leader column, claims that CAFTA would increase New Hampshire exports to Central America. Would that it were so. The truth is precisely the opposite.

Proponents claim CAFTA will help citizens of developing nations have more money to buy more American goods. Again, I wish it were so.

Thousands have taken to the streets in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to oppose CAFTA. The fact is the six nations taken together have a tiny consumer economy, but they do have a huge pool of low-wage labor. President Bush and CAFTA supporters know this. That’s precisely the point.

CAFTA aims to lock in a low standard of living as a means to attract corporate investment in factories producing goods, not for any internal market, but purely for cheap exports to the United States. The people most affected by CAFTA have seen the results of previous “free trade” agreements (NAFTA in Mexico). They know all too well what happens to their buying power: zilch.

CAFTA is a one-way street. Food producers of the six nations of the region would gain immediate access to the U.S. food market, while American producers would have to wait years, or perhaps decades, to gain reciprocal access. American agriculture, already suffering, would be hit hard by this act. I remember when New Hampshire had farms.

CAFTA locks in artificial competitive advantages for low-wage foreign food producers who would remain largely free from environmental and working standards regulation.

There’s agriculture and there’s the manufacturing sector. New Hampshire has lost well over 15,000 manufacturing jobs just since the Bush team took power. If you like outsourcing, you’ll love CAFTA. Central Americans making 60 cents an hour must look mighty attractive to Bush’s core constituency.

Sorry Mr. Carney, but the reality is CAFTA would greatly boost imports as it weakens American exports. Not, in my opinion, a good idea.

In these next weeks, we can expect to see millions poured into the pro-CAFTA lobbying effort by the interests that stand to gain so much from it.

Of course, the AFL-CIO opposes CAFTA. They know the score, as do the citizens of Central America. And the Birch Society for that matter. With each day, CAFTA’s political support in Washington shrinks. Now let’s see who Bass and Bradley, Gregg and Sununu work for.

Burt Cohen, a former state senator, now hosts a Portsmouth radio talk show.

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