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'Free trade' and failure in Haiti

June 8, 2011 - Mike Maneval
The Nation, in an investigative piece the magazine released early and will re-release on a cooperative basis with Haiti Liberte soon, alleges the State Department pressured the government of Haiti to reverse or weaken an effort to raise the island nation’s minimum wage to 61 cents an hour. Ryan Chittum of Columbia Journalism Review previewed the Nation’s story on its brief early release and says WikiLeaks cables indicate the U.S. ambassador to Haiti began to apply pressure after manufacturing contractors for American companies began to complain about the added expenses of a 61-cent-an-hour minimum wage and insinuating the may relocate production to nations with lower labor costs.

While this is another example of failure by President Barack Obama’s administration, it also reflects the failure of “free trade” policies.

Since the early 1990s, Haiti, at the urging of the American government, has gradually accepted the “free trade” agenda. The advocates of the agenda claimed it would improve opportunities in countries like Haiti and lift these nations' peoples out of poverty, while also benefitting Americans with cheaper consumer goods. Perhaps the “free trade” movement fully settled into being a near-hegemonic presence in American policy in 1998, when permanent normal trade relations were extended to China. In the case of despotic states like China, "free trade," its advocates argued, would motivate resistance to oppression and weaken the institutions that preserve tyranny.

Now in 2011, China is no more free and Haiti is no less poor – and Haiti now is trapped by the threat that manufacturing will flee if higher earnings for work ever are realized and median incomes were to rise. The nation that has seen the most change under “free trade” is the U.S., where a decade of stagnant earnings by most of the American workforce - as documented in February by David Frum, editor of political website, who observed that "the typical American worker took home less pay in 2007 than in the year 2000" and "take-home pay stagnated even before the financial crisis and recession" - was capped by skyrocketing and still stagnant joblessness.


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