The US “foreign aid” budget is a convenient slush fund for American antitrust authorities looking to expand their influence abroad. In 2005 I noted that the US Agency for International Development funded a series of workshops in South America — including Hugo Chavez’s — where Federal Trade Commission officials instructed their foreign counterparts on how to build a US-style antitrust regime. These workshops are often precursors to formal “agreements” between the FTC and foreign antitrust agencies, which allow the agencies to collude outside the view of the public or any elected officials. There’s also the infamous International Competition Network, a quasi-United Nations of antitrust that appears to do little more than support taxpayer-funded junkets to pricey foreign resorts.
Now comes word that the FTC have invited their foreign friends to Washington to partake in yet another taxpayer-funded junket. This week the FTC is hosting a “Competition University” for nine Central American antitrust agencies along with representatives of several US government departments. According to the FTC, this is all part of a USAID — foreign aid — program under the Central American Free Trade Agreement to strengthen “ties between the FTC and Latin American consumer protection and competition agencies, increasing cooperation in law enforcement and policy work.”
The FTC says this workshop is necessary to address issues like consumer privacy and “cross-border” fraud, but the agenda also includes “deceptive food advertising, childhood obesity, ‘miracle’ health claims, and dietary supplements.” In other words, the FTC wants to make sure Latin American countries adopt the same type of anti-consumer, anti-free speech rules that the FTC and Food and Drug Administration employs against anyone who speaks about food or health issues without government permission. No doubt the FTC especially wants help from its foreign counterparts in censoring the Internet — cleansing it of any reference to non-FDA-approved treatments for diseases or suggesting dietary patterns that don’t conform to US government expectations.
On the one hand, I suppose it’s nice to see the US collaborating with foreign countries as opposed to lobbing cruise missiles at them, but when the purpose of these meetings is to undermine the rights of individuals in all countries, it’s hard to view this as a positive thing. The FTC is clearly using the pretext of foreign aid and international cooperation to engage in bureaucratic turf building. That benefits the FTC commissioners and staff but has no positive value for the average American. Our rights get signed away in these cooperative agreements. The FTC uses foreign endorsement of its policies — which the FTC is essentially paying for through money laundered by USAID — to justify its activities and avoid domestic scrutiny. After all, if every other member of CAFTA says Policy X is good, what business does the US Congress or US courts have questioning their validity? International opinion is clearly the most important.
This also demonstrates the flaw with so-called free trade agreements. The FTC acknowledges it is acting within the CAFTA framework. No doubt other US-run trade agreements allow similar antitrust turf-building. Yet antitrust directly undermines property rights, the foundation of genuine free trade. Even “consumer protection” laws are usually just an excuse to engage in censorship of politically unpopular speech — or worse, to impose a centralized government view of “science” on the rest of the world.