Panama, Free Trade and Bush’s Push for Allies in the Americas

On July 11th, Panama‘s National Assembly approved a free trade agreement with the US by a margin of 58 to 3. Proponents of the move say the agreement will help Panama grow as an exporter of goods to the US. Farmers and unions denounced the Assembly’s decision, explaining that Panamanian producers can’t compete with those in the US. Enrique Athanasiadis of the National Agriculture Organization said "This accord is a disaster for products and it benefits the oligarchy." Hundreds of activists convened outside government offices to protest.

Analysts see the recent push for US trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama and South Korea as a growing part of US President Bush’s current agenda. One senior official in the Bush administration said, "The pro-trade community sees these four agreements as a united set and believe it’s important to pass them all. The ongoing effort is continuing to build and will ratchet up efforts toward building bipartisan majorities this fall."

The National Journal writes that “[Bush] administration officials are careful not to mention Venezuela or left-wing president Hugo Chavez, but they are clearly concerned about his moves toward nationalizing industries and his use of charisma and oil money to spread his message in the region.”