Road Show of Central American Presidents Can't Prevent Growing Opposition to DR-CAFTA

By Oxfam

Washington, DC—DR-CAFTA is a threat to poor people in developing countries, said international agency Oxfam today, as the presidents of five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic are meeting with President Bush. The six presidents have just completed an unprecedented road show to convince US citizens and their lawmakers to support the Free Trade Agreement between their countries and the US, but opposition to the agreement is mounting.

Members of the US Congress from both sides of the aisle have been joined by non-governmental organizations, labor unions, producers groups, environmental groups, faith groups and others in the US and in Central America to campaign against DR-CAFTA. Only three Central American countries have been able to ratify the trade pact and did so amid widespread public protest with heavy military and police presence. Other countries have delayed consideration in response to mounting opposition. The trade agreement is under consideration by both the House and the Senate and is expected to come up for a vote in the US Congress before the end of the summer.

"The free trade deal being discussed today by President Bush and Central American presidents could throw millions of people in developing countries into deeper poverty," said Stephanie Weinberg, Oxfam's trade policy advisor. "Those who stand to lose the most under DR-CAFTA are the ones who are already disadvantaged in these highly unequal societies, where the majority of poor people live in rural areas, rely on income from agriculture and must pay for medicines out-of-pocket."

While the Central American presidents have made stops in Washington and other US cities to drum up support for the increasingly unpopular agreement, others from the region have also visited to urge Congress to oppose DR-CAFTA.

"DR-CAFTA poses a serious threat to farmers in my country, who won't be able to compete with highly subsidized US producers," said Victorio Valerio, president of the Dominican Republic's National Federation of Rice Producers (FENARROZ), which represents 30,000 small and medium-scale rice farmers in the country. Valerio came to Washington to express his concerns about the trade agreement.

DR-CAFTA blatantly ignores the fact that US farmers receive extensive subsidies and domestic supports, estimated to be around $18 billion this year alone. The agreement requires Central American countries to open their markets to the dumping of subsidized US rice and other commodities, which could spell economic disaster for over five million people in the region who depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

"If DR-CAFTA passes, the poor people in my village will be pushed into extreme poverty," said Fabián Saavedra, a rice farmer from Nicaragua, who joined Valerio in Washington. "We have to work together to stop this from happening."

Citizens and lawmakers throughout the region are increasingly voicing concerns over the destructive impacts of the trade deal. Costa Rica's concern over DR-CAFTA's adverse effects on that country's poor has delayed a vote on the agreement. Lawmakers in the Dominican Republic recently decided to delay consideration of DR-CAFTA after recognizing that domestic agricultural producers would need to be compensated for their losses if the agreement were to be ratified.

"DR-CAFTA is just one of a proliferation of regional free trade agreements being negotiated by the US and EU, which threaten to undermine the multilateral process at the WTO and throw millions of poor farmers in developing countries into deeper poverty," continued Weinberg. "The US should do better if it wants to promote peace, political stability, and economic security in this region that has struggled with poverty and inequality, and the resulting instability, for so long."

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