April 14, 2005

CCTJ Holds Fair Trade Event

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Cuban music set the tone at the carnival organized by the Cornell Coalition for Trade Justice (CCTJ) in the Memorial Room of the Straight yesterday afternoon. The event was planned in an effort to raise campus and community awareness of trade justice issues, and to oppose the passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

“Trade justice is an ongoing effort,” said Tina Lax ’05, president of CCTJ, as club members threw rice-filled balloons, danced around the room and perused the informational tables. The carnival sought to mobilize public support for a more equitable system of global trade, and served as a venue to circulate petitions.

“Hopefully [the event] will get people to sign these really important petitions so that the government will start noticing that people do care about fair trade,” said club member Nina Fixell ’07 as she looked over the petitions.

Next to the table of laptops set up for students to e-mail representatives to encourage them to stand against CAFTA when voting time rolls around this May, clever games were set up to encapsulate the vision of the carnival.

A game named “Dump your Friends,” in which participants basically dump rice on their friends, was a “spectacle to show what’s happening in a lot of poor countries, that is, agricultural dumping,” Lax said.

Agricultural dumping, Lax explained, is when “subsidized U.S. big company goods such as corn [are] dumped in places like Mexico for cheaper prices so that the Mexicans buy cheaper U.S. corn instead of Mexican corn.”

Though seemingly good for the economy, it is actually an “unfair policy between industrialized and developing countries, reinforcing poverty instead of lifting it,” Lax said.

Ben Adler ’06, a student who drifted into the carnival said about CAFTA and other unfair trade policies, “I think it’s a completely unsound economic system. It doesn’t fall into basic supply and demand and just artificially inflates the price.”

CAFTA is a free trade agreement that promotes trade liberalization between the United States and five Central American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. It is modeled after the older North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which involves the United States, Mexico and Canada. Its effects thus far are controversial, with some saying that it has brought economic growth and rising standards for the three countries, while others, like StopCAFTA.org say that NAFTA has been “a disaster for small farmers and working people with hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, family farms foreclose, and public interest laws overturned or challenged.”

The Center for Trade Policies Studies website highlights CAFTA, including supporters that argue that CAFTA would reduce trade barriers between the involved countries and raise living standards in neighboring countries where the United States has a strong foreign policy interest. The supporters counter opposing views saying that CAFTA would “consolidate the economic, social, and political progress achieved in a region that was in turmoil in the 1980s but has now turned to democracy.”

The Bush administration has made it clear that the completion of CAFTA is crucial in the advancement of Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), another free trade agreement that would encompass a total of 34 economies. The issues regarding FTAA are similar to those of CAFTA.

The small-scale carnival was an effort of CCTJ to bring awareness of such trade policies and to encourage Cornellians to join the fight against CAFTA. By bringing in popular a cappella group Cayuga’s Waiters and offering an enlightening and entertaining time, CCTJ expanded on previous club actions, which include educational forums regarding the trade agreements and a crafts fair advocating fair trade.

“Workers are faceless, nameless. We disconnect commodities from the people who’ve created them,” Lax said.

So CCTJ and its efforts, like yesterday’s carnival, aim to repair that disconnection in order to mobilize Cornell students to understand and then take action on trade justice.

Archived article by Anita Oh
Sun Contributor