June 25, 2001
End Trade Sanctions that Hurt Texas Farmers
Last week the Texas state legislature adopted a resolution calling for an end to U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. Lawmakers emphasized the failure of sanctions to remove Castro from power, and the unwillingness of other nations to respect the embargo. One Representative stated: "We have a lot of rice and agricultural products, as well as high-tech products, that would be much cheaper for Cuba to purchase from Texas. All that could come through the ports of Houston and Corpus Christi." I wholeheartedly support this resolution, and I have introduced similar federal legislation in past years to lift all trade, travel, and telecommunications restrictions with Cuba. I only wish Congress understood the simple wisdom expressed in Austin, so that we could end the harmful and ineffective trade sanctions that serve no national purpose.
I oppose economic sanctions for two very simple reasons. First, they don't work as effective foreign policy. Time after time, from Cuba to China to Iraq, we have failed to unseat despotic leaders by refusing to trade with the people of those nations. If anything, the anti-American sentiment aroused by sanctions often strengthens the popularity of such leaders, who use America as a convenient scapegoat to divert attention from their own tyranny. History clearly shows that free and open trade does far more to liberalize oppressive governments than trade wars. Economic freedom and political freedom are inextricably linked- when people get a taste of goods and information from abroad, they are less likely to tolerate a closed society at home. So while sanctions may serve our patriotic fervor, they mostly harm innocent citizens and do nothing to displace the governments we claim as enemies.
Second, sanctions simply hurt American industries, particularly agriculture. Every market we close to our nation's farmers is a market exploited by foreign farmers. China, Russia, the middle east, North Korea, and Cuba all represent huge markets for our farm products, yet many in Congress favor current or proposed trade restrictions that prevent our farmers from selling to the billions of people in these areas. The department of Agriculture estimates that Iraq alone represents a $1 billion market for American farm goods. Given our status as one of the world's largest agricultural producers, why would we ever choose to restrict our exports? The only beneficiaries of our sanctions policies are our foreign competitors.
Still, support for sanctions continues in Congress. The House International Relations committee last week considered legislation that will extend existing economic sanctions against Iran and Libya for another 5 years. While I certainly oppose this legislation, I did agree with the President that we should at least limit the time period to 2 years, so that Congress could reassess the policy sooner. I introduced an amendment to this effect, but the majority of committee members voted to continue "punishing" Iran and Libya for 5 years; presumably some members would agree to maintain sanctions indefinitely. Interestingly, the bill focuses on preventing oil exploration and development in the region, even when new sources of oil are sorely needed to reduce prices at the pump for American consumers.
I certainly understand the emotional feelings many Americans have toward nations such as Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Cuba. Yet we must not let our emotions overwhelm our judgment in foreign policy matters, because ultimately human lives are at stake. For example, 10 years of trade sanctions against Iraq, not to mention aggressive air patrols and even bombings, have not ended Saddam Hussein's rule. If anything, the political situation has worsened, while the threat to Kuwait remains. The sanctions have, however, created suffering due to critical shortages of food and medicine among the mostly poor inhabitants of Iraq. So while the economic benefits of trade are an important argument against sanctions, we must also consider the humanitarian argument. Our sanctions policies undermine America's position as a humane nation, bolstering the common criticism that we are a bully with no respect for people outside our borders. Economic common sense, self-interested foreign policy goals, and humanitarian ideals all point to the same conclusion: Congress should work to end economic sanctions against all nations immediately.