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Free Trade Area of Americas… but not that free

So now we will see another test of George Bush’s very shaky Free Trader credentials. He rightly wants Latin America to open up its markets to mutually enriching capitalism via the Free Trade Area of Americas (FTAA) agreements… but will the USA do the same for its markets?

In order to make FTAA worthwhile, Brazil has demanded the United States open its fiercely protected sugar, steel and citrus markets to freer competition.

Analysts agree that without Brazil there will be no FTAA, and it is unclear how quickly Washington can lower key tariffs.

It amazes me how so many US Republicans who cursed every breath taken by Bill Clinton, damning him quite rightly as an unprincipled political weathervane, nevertheless just gloss over George Bush’s dismal record on liberalising world trade. Why is allowing the state to interfere in markets so as to make products such as sugar, lumber, steel and fruit more expensive to American consumers and industry just shrugged off?

The need for political support from key states, you say? Ah, I see. So you mean George Bush is just an unprincipled political weathervane, then. Gotcha.

19 comments to Free Trade Area of Americas… but not that free

  • Russ Lemley

    Perry, just what are expecting from Congressmen? Consistency?

  • scott

    Hated Clinton, but bless him for getting NAFTA passed. I look forward to the day when I can drink Coca-Cola made with real sugar instead of high-fructrose corn syrup.

  • This is a post that needed making. Opponents of Bush portray him as some sort of right-wing nut planning on world conquest. In fact he is cautious in all he does to offend no multicultural or pacifist PC instincts. He is too left-wing and consensual in his methods, not too conservative.

  • An American

    Obviously, the nature of working in a constitutional system instead of one where the majority party controlls all major branches of government and can re-write basic rules of the system (like who gets to vote in a house of the legislature) is foreign to the comprehension of Britons, but I’ll try to explain.

    Unlike in your country, the legislature and the executive act independently and party discipline is nonexistent. You’ll note, if you count, that it was the votes of anti-trade Congressmen in steel and lumber states that were necessary to get “fast track” authority approved. Without those concessions, a FTAA would be dead in the water. With fast-track authority, Bush can get a FTAA that reverses those concessions and liberalizes trade more generally as a package deal. One step back to take two steps forward.

    Furthermore, sugar and citrus have nothing to do with Bush, being programs that existed before he entered office. If he goes after them outside of an FTAA framework, he will fail. Both Florida and all the corn-producing states have an interest in high sugar prices. The only chance to eliminate them or moderate them is as part of a package-deal international trade agreement, because American farmers support free trade generally and can be induced to give up corn syrup for expanded markets.

    I’ll admit, I’m not sure wheter Bush really is committed to free trade. But *any* American president who wanted to liberalize trade would have had to make the same concessions to get fast-track authority and would run into the same obstacles on sugar and citrus. The President just doesn’t have the power of a prime minister.

  • Eric Tavenner

    Of course Bush is just an unprincipled political weathervane. After he is a Republicrat.

  • President Bush has done many good things but trade policy has been very disappointing.

  • An American: I understand the US system just fine, which is why I am very aware of its limitations and the corrupting nature of all politicised trade.

  • Peter Cuthbertson is spot-on about Bush.

    I don’t like Clinton, but he was better on trade than W has been. I don’t think Bush’s steel deal can be seen reasonably as anything other than crass political whoring — and a major blunder which demoralized his principal (and principled) supporters while encouraging opponents.

    Politically, Bush resembles Clinton without the corruption and narcissism. Indeed W is the better politician, a fact which his ideologically blinded critics are only slowly coming to realize. He is principled to a degree, but he’s no Reagan. Notice that he hasn’t fired anybody (e.g., Mineta) associated with a pro-government constituency. Reagan fired the air controllers, but Bush seems most concerned to be re-elected. He’s a mixed bag, though better than the alternative.

  • Free trade will never exist in the United States. I submit to you the phrase “Rotarian socialism”. The author of which has run blithely from my brain.

    And, free trade on a world wide basis has a big assumption at its bottom. That producers who are driven from the market by other producers have the ability or capacity or willingness to retool, retrain, and emerge as producers in a new market. A Louisiana cane farmer or a North Dakota suger beet farmer has a limited set of options after he is driven from the suger business. The dole begins to look favourable to him.

    As a generality, market forces will effect change and the end result will be lower prices and more efficiency, and the development of new products and markets. Individuals don’t operate that way. It’s in their self interest to oppose this process, I suppose. Change is painful, the familair is more comforting.

    Back to my nap, now.

  • I’d say Bush’s domestic policy (including hurting civil liberties and massive increases in governmental spending and deficits) are hardly that good either. It’s difficult to find anything good to say about him. The FTAA thing is just another example of his hatred of free trade (protections for steel and the massive farm subsidies bill being others). The man’s a loser who is every bit as unprincipled as, um, well, you have to go back a while to find an honest american president. I’ll get back to you on that one…

  • These people who are whining about “free trade” are pissing in the wind and imaging they can turn back history. Free trade belonged to capitalism’s youth, not its old age. Trying to go back is as futile as its beneficiaries the Californians who try to turn old age back into youth with their face-lifts and injections – history does not march backwards. Late capitalism does not operate on free trade but on monopoly. Those who deny it are self-serving and/or small-capitalist dreamers.

    As for the seeming contradiction between the FTAA and the farm/steel subsidies, this is no contradiction at all. Capitalism tends towards monopololy as only the most productive and usually largest firms survive. Through bankruptcies and mergers production is concentrated more and more into fewer, larger, units. By opening Latin America through the FTAA, it will be possible for the process to take place more easily on a hemispheric scale. Naturally it will not be Brazillian firms that absorb US ones, on the contrary US capital being bigger and more productive will absorb Latin American economies and further carve out the US sphere of influence.

    The peoples are not going to swallow the FTAA and are already organising against it. Already anti-FTAA presidents have been elected in Ecuador and Brazil, and in Venezuela the fascist coup against Chavez was defeated… in Colombia there’s the people’s revolutionary war. It should be remembered that capitalism’s parasitic old age of imperialism is the gateway to the proletarian revolution.

  • Chavez is far too liberal. He has let the fascists who tried to overthrow and/or kill him off the hook. He is giving them the freedom to continue plotting and even openly talk about killing him – this would not be allowed in the US if groups started plotting to kill Bush and talked about it! Venezuela is one of the very few countries of the region not to imprison opposition journalists.

    If President Chavez continues in such a “good natured” way he will go the way of Allende and fascism will win. If he carries on letting them plot, carries on letting a handful of oligarchs broadcast constant pro-coup propaganda on their private TV stations then he will end up with a bullet in the head. He must learn some toughness and ruthlessness if he is going to survive because his enemies are ruthless.

  • Oh pleeeease… ‘Late Capitalism’? We are not even close to ‘late capitalism’. Over the last 30 years we have seen an explosion in the number of small businesses to now unprecedented levels in the fairly capitalist world… cheap information technologies have accelerated this trend and hugely reduced the advantages of economies of scale and in fact exacerbated dis-economies of scale… the notion that monopoly is therefore inevitable is really quite daft. In fact, harmful monopoly is only ever possible with the support of the state as under capitalist pressures it is unsustainable.

    Sorry but economic understanding has moved waaaaaay beyond the crude Marxist model, Garry. Go read some Von Mises to see how the world really works. The tides of history are on capitalisms side.

    As for Chavez… he is the fascist!

  • Garry

    Fascism: “the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” (Dimitrov, 7th World Congress of the COMINTERN)
    Where does President Chavez come in this, with his support from the poor and the fact that the “most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital” are out to kill him? On the other hand, his leading opponents fit Dimitrov’s description closely. Fascism is the last resort of a capitalism that can no longer trick or hold down the working class through the charade of parliament and the ordinary repression of bourgeois-democratic police, courts and gaol, but must resort to open terror and wholesale brutality in an attempt to preserve itself. (Of course, our bourgeois ideologues have been beavering away for many years trying to break the link between capitalism and fascism in peoples’ minds and convince them that they are opposing systems when fascism is just a variety of capitalism. However they cannot hide the fact that finance capital backed fascism in Spain, Italy, Germany etc in order to preserve itself.)

    To call Chavez a “fascist” turns things completely on their head as his government in no way fits this description: it is democratic left-nationalist on the ill fated Arbenz model. Fascism would be Uribe in neighbouring Colombia with his paramilitary death squads, massacres and closed military zones.

    Neither fascism nor socialism can be defined in terms of state intervention. Most of the leading capitalist economies have traditionally had a large state sector. On the other hand fascism can occur with significant state intervention (eg Nazi Germany) or without (eg Chilean fascism in the past or Turkish fascism today). Unfortunately mystifying the role of the state is common both to the “libertarian” right and the social-democratic left who cannot see that a bourgeois state can intervene in a capitalist economy for the benefit of capitalism and mistake one of the surface appearances of socialism with its true essence. This is a very crude and vulgar mistake.

    That capitalism has a tendency towards monopoly cannot be seriously denied. In all the most important industries this can be seen clearly. Are the drug, oil, car, media etc companies of today smaller in size and larger in number than they were 30 years ago? Is capital less concentrated? Even the most cursory examination of the statistics or reading of some bourgeois newspapers flatly contradicts this.

    Yet still all sorts of hired academics and pimps for the bourgeoisie who fill universities etc are more and more frantically trying to deny this, wittering on about “free trade” and other nonsense. In contrast to Marx’s “crude” method, these classical economists do not lay bare the way in which capitalism works. Rather they are the crude and vulgar economists who don’t do anything more than explain things at the level of appearances (a latter day version of the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, therefore the Sun must revolve around the Earth) or worse still mystify things and provide an ideological justification for attacks on the working class (eg wage increases cause inflation, therefore wages should be cut). They could never explain crisis, profits etc. This is not new, they have been at it for at least 200 years, Von Mises et al are merely continuing where Malthus, Smith etc left off.

    True, within the superstructure of monopoly capitalism (note: capitalism in which there is a tendency towards monopoly, a tendency towards the concentration of capital, and in which this has already developed strongly; not necessarily there only being one firm of each type) there are many niches for small companies and petty production etc. But these are precisely that: niches in the structure and no more evidence of early free trade capitalism than allotments or people selling their own craft goods to passing tourists at Camden Lock are of the existence of feudalism in Britain.

    However, even here the iron laws of capital cannot be escaped and we have seen the bankruptcies and concentration of capital in this field too. The “dotcom” bubble has been an example of this.

    This is certainly late capitalism: Marx was studying capitalism in its youth and already by the outbreak of the First Imperialist War it had entered its highest and last stage, imperialism. It had already by the outbreak of war overcome national boundaries, swept away or incorporated into itself the more primitive forms of production of Asia, Africa etc, divided up the world into spheres of influence and set about redividing it by world war.

    It had already entered its “parasitic and decaying” stage with crash, great depression, fascism and world war. This is certainly the last stage because history does not march backwards. How long it will last no-one knows but this is certainly the last stage.

    Why must this last stage be a historic system of production and its destruction be inevitable?

    A) Because it tends towards overproduction relative to what can be produced profitably, and therefore suffers recurring and intensifying crises. Capitalism, which has revolutionised production, becomes a fetter to its further development and this is shown by the fact the crisis occurs because too much not too little is produced.

    B) In its creation of the proletariat as a class worldwide it has created its own gravediggers as the proletariat is driven to rebellion by the intolerable conditions of life under capitalism.

    Of course, the capitalist is less likely to be convinced than a Jehovah’s Witness on the doorstep of an atheist, but his reflexes will not be impaired. Hence fascism, the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital, hence the attempts to kill Chavez and crush the Venezuelan people with open terror (massacres in football stadiums, mass imprisonment, execution and forced disappearances a la Pinochet if they are successful), the attempts to crush the risen Colombian people with the classic fascist methods of massacre and forced disappearance, assassination of those engaged in legal trade union, community and human rights work etc. And in the imperialist nations there is the growing tendency of the social-democratic parties like the British Labour Party towards social-fascism (social-democracy in name, fascism in deed) with their persecution and expulsion of foreigners, working hand in glove with fascism overseas such as Labour with Turkish fascism, banning of left organisations and so on.

  • Snide

    That is hilarious, Garry! You give the COMMUNIST definition of what fascism is and then ask a libertarian like Perry, who already pointed out in his linked article that socialists of all stripes try to pretend the Nazi Party (i.e. self described National SOCIALISTS) were in fact capitalists, to just accept your premise and debate you? Gimme a break. You have clearly read ‘Capital’ by the idiotic Engels, perhaps you need to read ‘Mine Kampf’ as well before making such hilarious statements as to how fascists see capitalism… much the way all the so called ‘left’ does in fact.

    Hearing communists argue about what fascists are is like listening to two members of off-shoot religions argue over who has the best invisible imaginary friend called God.

    Your great screed would have been incoherent in the 1930’s… in 2002 it is utterly ludicrous. Who is this ‘working class’ you talk of? The triumph of capitalism has been so complete that even factory workers like my father describe themselves as ‘middle class’ now. The standard of living of working stiffs like me are now higher than the guy who owned the factory my father worked in 40 years ago.

    Snap out of it Garry, the world you describe bears no relation to reality. It is libertarians who see through your posturing and see you leftists and the statist conservatives you claim are so different to you both for what you are: just different sides of the same statist coin.

    Capitalism has already destroyed you clowns by turning your fictional proletariat into a vast bourgeois majority of MacDonalds eating, car driving, holiday-overseas-taking, increasingly healthy and long living CAPITALISTS. You are already dead and buried and your words muffled by 6 feet of earth… now as a cheap Internet connection and a search engine increases INDIVIDUAL knowledge more effectively that collective state education factories, it is time for us TRUE capitalists to do to the conservative statists what we did to you buffoons.

    Hasta la vista baby

  • Garry

    Capital by ENGELS? This is almost as funny as the quiz contestant who was asked which book Salman Rushdie received a fatwa for and replied ‘The wind in the willows’.
    The Communist Manifesto by Mao Zedong was also an excellent book… How about Guerrilla Warfare by Joseph Stalin?

    Snide is so middle class or labour aristocratic he/she can’t tell the difference between a capitalist and a proletarian. In this bizarre world fascism is not only a variety of socialism but someone who who eats in MacDonalds is now automatically a capitalist!

    So much for the scientific classification of people according to whether they sell their labour as a commodity!

    You are so bourgeois you wouldn’t know proletarian if it hit you over the head, wouldn’t see it in a London Job Centre or kebab shop, or an Istanbul shantytown or a Filippino sweatshop!

    Now as for the fascists, do you dare deny that the capitalist class flocked to the fascist parties in Spain, Italy, Germany etc? Did they flock to the Communist Party? No. Did they flock to the Hayekite libertarians? Even today we have actions from people seeking compensation from companies that funded, supported and made enormous profits in Nazi-fascist Germany.
    Anyone serious knows that an individual or party cannot be judged by what they think of or call themselves (no doubt Hitler thought he was a very good man); it is only through their deeds that they can be judged. And fascism’s deeds of persecution of the communists and working class and its increase in the rate of exploitation is what counts. If fascism was a form of socialism why is it fanatically opposed to communism?

    Was Chilean fascism a form of socialism? And what about Turkish fascism, is that now a form of socialism that Britain and the USA are trying to get admitted to the EU?

    There can be no other correct definition of fascism than the COMINTERN’s as all those other bourgeois definitions seek to break the link between capitalism and fascism and obscure the fact that bourgeois democracy becomes fascism when capitalism can no longer rule in the old way.

    It is only by analysing the inner essense of things that their true character can be discovered. If you remain tied to the level of appearances then it is possible to confuse all sorts of different and opposite things.

    If we define water as a colourless transparent liquid then logically white spirit must be a form of water and therefore drinkable.

    If we define fascism as a system where the major parts of the economy are in private hands but are directed by the state, then not only must Chavez be a fascist but the USA of the 1930s and Britain of the 40s-70s must have been fascist.

    And unless you are someone who calls black white and white black, which you must be, this is obviously ridiculous.

    Not only that, but the finance capitalist himself knows fascism is not a form of socialism! I think this is the most important evidence. Only the middle class and petit-bourgeois elements (for whose benefit the “socialist” in Hitler’s party’s name was intended) could be confused on an issue like this.

  • Garry


    Do you dare say that the fascist government of Turkey, which serves the bourgeoisie and imperialism and has sold everything from the hospitals to the fire brigade, is socialist?

    Do you dare say that Carlos Castaño’s fascist AUC, created and financed by the big land-owners and bourgeoisie to massacre thousands of Colombian peasants and workers, to massacre everyone who stands in the way of profit including hundreds of trade unionists and anyone suspected of supporting the people’s liberation war, is socialist?

    This is enough to show you as a shameless fabricator, someone who is not afraid to call black white and white black. Not even the bourgeois media dares to tell such a brazen lie!

    I am quite prepared to accept that fascism is a form of socialism brought in by the bourgeoisie in order to preserve itself and its profits, just like I’ll accept a triangle defined as a square with three sides!


    SAMIZDATA EDITORS NOTE: Large section hereafter deleted.

    Feel free to get your own blog. Ours is private property and is not here for you to put great long ludicrous press releases by collectivists you like who are fighting collectivists you don’t like.

    Make your point succinctly or it will just get deleted.

  • Garry

    Or perhaps the bourgeois media is socialist too in this strange world?

    That good old socialist paper the Times is always reliable, though the Mail and Telegraph offer solid Marxist-Leninist analysis.

    Perhaps this is why these Hayekites are forced to style their mouthpiece after the illicit counter-revolutionary propaganda that was circulated in the former USSR?

  • Well Garry, although ‘Snide’ is a little confused, he is correct about the fact there is no ‘working class majority’ in the First World anymore. The Class War is over and your side not only lost but is actually disappearing… becoming us, in fact.

    Certainly I for one have no problem describing many aspects of the US and UK political economy as ‘fascist’ because fascism is indeed what Hayek pointed out it was back in the 1940’s… re-branded socialism. It is state control not nominal ownership that actually matters. But I would no more try to convince you of the truth of that than argue with a ‘flat earth theorist’ that the world is infact round.

    Anti-statists like us, the real capitalists, see you all for what you are. We can offer a coherent alternative to the violence based state centred negation of civil society that both left and right offer… the battle has moved on, Garry. Feel free to stay in your particular ideological trench but do not expect anyone here to care much because unlike the gradualist modern socialists, you are no threat to us in this post-Soviet world.