For the past two decades, inter-American relations have been dominated by a variety of vigorous debates over trade policy. In A New Trade Policy for the United States, a collection of six brief, sharp essays, Arana (a Nicaraguan) and González (a Costa Rican) separately reflect on the U.S.- Central American Free Trade Agreement. Despite their evident enthusiasm for the treaty, these two leading trade negotiators reveal some lingering resentment of the disruptive role played by aggressive U.S. interest groups and their congressional allies. Similarly, the Mexican academic Studer rips into U.S. labor organizations for pushing so hard to include labor standards in trade accords, only to ignore the institutions the accords created. From the perspective of Latin American countries, it is time to move beyond litigious sanctions regimes and build trade capacity, address the disruptive societal effects related to trade, and strengthen domestic safety nets. Arguably, the Obama administration has been doing just these things, albeit piecemeal, by supporting technical community colleges, promoting universal health care, and extending unemployment insurance.
Von Bülow, a Brazilian sociologist, surveyed 123 civil-society organizations in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and the United States that have opposed various free-trade agreements. Her concerns are mainly theoretical, but her findings nevertheless hold important implications for inter-American relations. She did not uncover a new world of transnational civil-society organizations pursuing global welfare; on the contrary, the groups she studied were driven primarily by the domestic agendas of their home countries. Von Bülow also finds that the transnational movements withered as the official trade negotiations concluded or collapsed. Yet these intermittent social networks lie in wait for the next great trade debate; ambitious government officials would do well to consider their latent powers when designing new trade agendas.
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