Happy Fifth Birthday, CAFTA!

By August 2, 2010Policy Experts, Trade

The Central-American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, was signed into law five years ago today, August 2, 2005, (later expanded to include the Dominican Republic to become CAFTA-DR). Facing vicious opposition from labor, the anti-trade Global Trade Watch, and others, the agreement had passed Congress by just two votes. Opponents vilified the agreement, predicting it would hurt American manufacturing.

Global Trade Watch’s Lori Wallach, for instance, called CAFTA a “catastrophe”, “a moldering corpse waiting to be buried,” and confidently predicted U.S. deficits and job losses. The U.S. International Trade Commission, the National Association of Manufacturers and other responsible organizations, on the other hand, predicted the agreement would spur U.S. exports and result in significantly stronger growth.

The record shows how wrong Wallach and other trade detractors were. As is clearly shown in the inserted graph, far from greater deficits, the CAFTA-DR agreement has changed deficits to surpluses. In the years prior to CAFTA, American manufacturers ran deficits with the CAFTA countries averaging $1.1 billion a year. After CAFTA went into effect, those deficits quickly turned to surpluses that have averaged $3.5 billion a year.

The improvement in the trade balance with CAFTA-DR occurred because the dollar value of U.S. manufactured goods exports grew faster than imports. In the years prior to the agreement, U.S. manufactured goods exports to the region grew less than 5 percent a year. In the years immediately after the agreement, they soared almost 14 percent a year.  And even after the global trade collapse in 2009, manufactured goods exports to CAFTA-DR so far this year have boomed 30 percent, much faster than the 22 percent increase of U.S manufactured goods globally.

It is time for Lori Wallach to stop talking about a “failed CAFTA trade policy.”  The only thing that is failing here is her rhetoric.

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