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Over sixty civil society organizations call for greater transparency and public participation in President Bush's Central American Free Trade Area negotiations

April 9, 2003

The Honorable George Bush
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

Tomorrow you will be meeting with the Presidents of Central America to discuss a Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that you have stated will bring prosperity to the region. As organizations that have closely followed Central America through its recent history of civil wars, reconstruction, and a succession of natural disasters, we share a strong hope for democratic, equitable and sustainable development in the region. In this spirit, we would like to raise serious concerns related to civil society participation and transparency in the CAFTA negotiation process.

The negotiations have been conducted with limited participation on the part of civil society representatives, outside of the business sector. The U.S. Agency for International Development is planning public hearings regarding the advantages and disadvantages of CAFTA in each country but in our view, this does not constitute meaningful participation in the negotiating process. The Central American governments made some advances in transparency and civil-society participation in the reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Mitch and in the elaboration of the Poverty Reduction Strategies in Nicaragua and Honduras. The current CAFTA negotiations, however, represent a major step backwards. There are seven months before the target date for finalizing the text of the agreement, yet no meaningful process for civil society input in Central America has been established. Further, meaningful participation has been frustrated by the failure to make the negotiating text available to the public (unlike the two drafts of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which were partially published on the official FTAA website in July 2001 and November 2002).

Effective mechanisms for broad and representative civil-society participation that includes workers, women, and indigenous and ethnic groups in both the United States and Central America should be established and implemented before negotiations move forward. For this to happen, the timeline of the negotiations must be extended. We are very concerned to learn, for instance, that the language on labor issues will be put on the table in May without input from labor unions in Central America. The negotiating of this language should be postponed along with the overall deadline.

Many of the undersigned also have concerns relating to the substantive issues in the CAFTA negotiations, namely agriculture and sustainable development, guaranteeing worker rights, investment rules, protecting traditional knowledge and access to medicines, and safeguarding essential public services. What we have learned so far about the negotiations indicates that important rights in these areas may be threatened, and we view this situation with grave concern.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you further and look forward to learning about the steps you will take to extend the CAFTA deadline, and guarantee greater transparency and civil society participation in the negotiation process. Thank you for your attention to these important issues.


  1. Agricultural Missions, Inc.

  2. American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations

  3. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

  4. American Federation of Teachers

  5. Boston Global Action Network FTAA Task Force

  6. The Campaign for Labor Rights

  7. CARECEN, Los Angeles

  8. Center of Concern

  9. The Center for International Environmental Law

  10. Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health

  11. Central Conference of American Rabbis

  12. Centro Presente, Incorporated

  13. Church of the Brethren Washington Office

  14. Citizens Trade Campaign

  15. Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador

  16. Communication Workers of America

  17. Community Alliance for Global Justice, Seattle

  18. Concern America

  19. Council on Hemispheric Affairs

  20. Congressional Hunger Center

  21. The Development Gap

  22. Episcopal Relief and Development

  23. Fundación Salvadoreña de Florida

  24. Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, USA

  25. Guatemalan Unity Information Agency

  26. International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers

  27. International Brotherhood of Teamsters

  28. International Environmental Policy and Development

  29. International Labor Rights Fund

  30. Katalysis Partnership, Incorporated

  31. Latin America and the Caribbean Non-violence International

  32. League of United Latin American Citizens

  33. Labor Council for Latin American Advancement

  34. Marin Interfaith Task Force on Central America

  35. Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

  36. Mennonite Central Committee, U.S. Washington Office

  37. Mexico Solidarity Network

  38. National Family Farm Coalition

  39. Nicaragua Center for Global Action

  40. Nicaragua Network

  41. Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala

  42. Oblates Justice and Peace Office

  43. Organización Hondureña Integrada Francisco Morázan

  44. Oxfam America

  45. PACE

  46. Public Citizen

  47. Quest for Peace/Quixote Center

  48. Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico

  49. Resource Center of the Americas


  51. Salvadoran American National Network

  52. Share Foundation, Washington D.C.

  53. Sierra Club

  54. Sweatshop Watch, Oakland, California

  55. Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees

  56. United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America

  57. United Food and Commercial Workers

  58. United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

  59. United Steel Workers of America

  60. U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project

  61. Voices on the Border

  62. Washington Office on Latin America

  63. Witness for Peace

  64. World Vision

Cc: The Honorable Abel Pacheco, President of the Republic of Costa Rica
The Honorable Francisco Flores, President of the Republic of El Salvador
The Honorable Alfonso Portillo, President of the Republic of Guatemala
The Honorable Ricardo Maduro, President of the Republic of Honduras
The Honorable Enrique Bolaños, President of the Republic of Nicaragua
Alberto Trejos, Minister of Foreign Trade, Republic of Costa Rica
Miguel Ernesto Lacayo, Minister of Economy, Republic of El Salvador
Patricia Ramírez Ceberg, Minister of Economy, Republic of Guatemala
Norman García, Minister of Industry and Trade, Republic of Honduras
Mario Arana Sevilla, Minister of Industry and Trade, Republic of Nicaragua
Enrique Iglesias, President of the Inter-American Development Bank
Robert Zoellick, United States Trade Representative

For more information, please contact Marcos Orellana.


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