In regard to the Sept. 22 editorial in support of free trade with 27 nations of the Caribbean and Central America, I question why the United States has to offer trade concessions to these nations as a bloc instead of on a case-by-case basis.

For example, I would support eliminating tariffs on apparel imported from Costa Rica, a nation where democracy flourishes and workers are paid a living wage. Costa Rica has been put in an unfair position because of the NAFTA agreement with Mexico.

In countries such as Honduras and El Salvador, however, women are paid below-subsistence wages of 60 cents an hour to work 11-hour, six-day weeks, locked in factories with armed guards, subject to physical and verbal abuse. This is not a situation that U.S. trade benefits should help support. The cost "advantage" these countries have created by allowing sweatshop factories far outweighs the 5 percent savings they would gain from the elimination of this tariff. Exports from these nations are skyrocketing already.

Let Congress give trade privileges to countries that support democracy and a decent wage for their workers. And at the same time, let Congress keep the door open to offer this incentive to other nations once they protect their workers' right to a fair living.

Foreign economic pressure forced beneficial change in South Africa, where apartheid discriminated against black workers. America can use this same moral and economic power to bring about change in Central America and the Caribbean on a nation-by-nation basis.


New York