Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) wrote that he opposes the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in part because it does not allow workers in signatory nations to strike or form unions [op-ed, July 11]. But free trade is about removing barriers, not about imposing ideologies on others.

Furthermore, he ignores the agricultural benefits.

Agriculture is the common denominator that nearly all nations share. By removing barriers to free agricultural trade, all countries can have access to markets. When farmers in developing countries can sell more of their products, their incomes -- and economies -- improve. When countries buy agricultural commodities at a lower price, consumers benefit.

CAFTA is a win-win for all. Our farmers win because tariffs on our commodities would essentially disappear. The Central American nations and the Dominican Republic benefit by obtaining our products at a lower price.

CAFTA would require nations to enforce their own labor laws. From that perspective, it is the strongest trade agreement we have ever negotiated. I suspect Mr. Levin's interest in expanded laborers' rights is designed to impress labor unions, which believe falsely that trade agreements cost American jobs. At least with CAFTA, we can expect that the shirts we wear will be made with U.S. cotton.


Des Moines

The writer, an Iowa farmer and a past president of the American Farm Bureau, is chairman of Truth About Trade and Technology.


Sander Levin is right. Far too many Dominicans and Central Americans live in poverty. But how can we look at rampant poverty in our back yard and condemn our neighbors to remain in these conditions? As the World Bank reported, the Central American Free Trade Agreement is key to increasing their living standards and expanding their economies.

My colleague from Michigan is concerned about labor rights in the region, yet he says that CAFTA "sanctions the status quo." The opposite is true. Denying these countries tools to create jobs and develop the resources to implement strong labor protections would, in fact, sanction the status quo. I suspect Mr. Levin understood this principle when he voted for the U.S.-Morocco free-trade agreement last year. Morocco has struggled with high poverty levels and a lack of adequate resources to fully enforce labor protections. Yet bipartisan majorities in the House and in the Senate demonstrated that economic liberalization was key to improving these conditions and passed the agreement.

CAFTA is at a critical juncture. Violence and oppression are in the past, but those of us who well remember Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega do not take lightly his fierce campaign to defeat this agreement and to reject the fragile economic freedoms that democracy has introduced in the region. We can abandon our friends to poverty, dictatorship and the Ortega vision for the future. Or we can help them to grow, prosper and improve their standard of living.


U.S. Representative (R-Calif.)


The writer is chairman of the House Committee on Rules.