Free trade agreements get some Democratic support

Finally, some Democrats have come out strongly in favor of the pending Latin American trade agreements. Though don’t give them too much credit for courage — they’re all “former” Members of Congress and the Senate as well as “former” Cabinet members and other high officials.

In their open letter to Congress, which appeared in the Latin Business Chronicle yesterday, the Democrats pointed to some economic benefits of the pending free trade agreements with Peru, Panama, and Colombia, but stressed the geopolitical benefits of closer ties with allies in Latin America:

Not since the end of the Cold War has U.S. influence in the region been so tenuous or our interests so clearly at stake. The Summit of the Americas agenda, agreed by consensus at the instigation of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, has frayed. Anti-U.S. populism is loud and getting louder. Venezuela’s leader, emboldened by high energy prices, is aggressively promoting an alternative vision for Latin America and the Caribbean. Divisions among our neighbors are deepening with serious implications for the United States. Even Castro may be back in the game.

Within this new reality, the United States Congress faces a decision of historic consequence: whether, by standing with those in Latin America who have stood with us, to build the economy and create jobs by opening markets. Along with comprehensive immigration reform, increased development assistance, and renewed support for Plan Colombia, there is nothing more important for U.S. national and economic security interests in the region than passing trade agreements with nations whose leaders have made politically-courageous efforts to link their economies to ours.

The Peru and the Panama agreements look like they have some support from current policymakers — the Peru FTA got a strong vote in the Senate Finance Committee last week, but the Colombia agreement still has its detractors, despite President Uribe’s staunch efforts to battle crime and corruption.

Here’s who signed the open letter:

Former Members of the Congress and Senate
James Bacchus, Michael Barnes, Don Bonker, Tony Coelho, Cal Dooley, Sam Gibbons, Bob Graham, Bill Hughes, Bennett Johnston, Harry Johnston, Jim Jones, Buddy MacKay, Sam Nunn, Leon Panetta

Former Cabinet Officials, Ambassadors, and Foreign and Trade Policy Advisors
Anne Alonzo, Bruce Babbitt, Harriet Babbitt, Rand Beers, Sandy Berger, Henry Cisneros, Nelson Cunningham, Stuart Eizenstat, Eric Farnsworth, Richard Feinberg, Gordon Giffin, Marc Ginsberg, Dan Glickman, Ed Gresser, Anthony Harrington, Chuck Manatt, David Marchick, Will Marshall, Mack McLarty, Robert Pastor, Peter Romero, David Rothkopf, Chris Sabatini, Ronald Scheman, Donna Shalala, Ira Shapiro, Maurice Sonnenberg, Alexander Watson, Jonathan Winer