Friday, January 15, 2010

Problems with the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)

Despite the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) a year ago, the Tico Times in Costa Rica reports that the United States is refusing to lower trade barriers to imported sugar, because Costa Rica has not yet changed its copyright laws to implement a controversial provision that protects U.S. intellectual proprty rights (see also boingboing).

In principle, export oriented economic development is one of the most promising strategies for a small country seeking to overcome long-term poverty. In practice, the United States and other rich countries have been making it difficult for pro-trade advocates to explain the merit of this strategy to their compatriots.

In return for offering to lower our own barriers to trade, it seems fair for the United States to ask small poor countries to lower their own barriers to trade in a comparable way. That is the quid pro quo that makes trade agreements work. However, I can see why people in Central America would object to onerous observance of U.S. copyright provisions. Free flowing information seems like one of the most sensible ways to give countries that are currently poor a chance to learn the technologies that made the developed countries rich. That type of learning makes the whole world better off, and increases the whole world's chances of a peaceful, sustainable, and prosperous future.

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