About Us

  • Eyes on Trade is a blog by the staff of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW) division. GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you! GTW director Lori Wallach's initial post explains it all.

Contact

September 18, 2014

Chamber of Commerce Uses “Weird Facts” to Claim a $106 Billion Trade Deficit Isn’t There

The Chamber of Commerce is a place of magic.  For its latest trick, the corporate alliance tried to make a $106 billion trade deficit disappear.

The Chamber took to its blog last week to highlight for readers “One Weird Fact About the Trade Deficit No One Has Noticed.”  Here’s the claimed “fact”: “in 2012 — for the 20 countries with which the United States has entered into a free-trade agreement (FTA) — the trade deficit vanished.”

A disappearing U.S. trade deficit with our FTA partners?  That’s not just weird – it’s incredible.  As in, not credible. 

Want to know why “no one has noticed” this oddity?  Because it didn’t happen. 

In 2012 the U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners topped $106 billion.  That includes trade in goods and services.  (If you just count goods, the deficit was $178 billion.) 

And that mammoth FTA trade deficit is not “vanishing.”  The estimated U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners in 2013 is exactly the same: $106 billion. 

Indeed, the aggregate U.S. goods trade deficit with FTA partners has actually increased by more than $147 billion since the FTAs were implemented. In contrast, the aggregate deficit with all non-FTA countries has decreased by more than $130 billion since 2006 (the median entry date of existing FTAs).

The Chamber goes on to claim, “The United States has recorded a trade surplus in manufactured goods with its FTA partner countries for each of the past five years.”  The opposite is true.  The U.S. has run a major trade deficit in manufactured goods with its FTA partners in each of the last five years.  The average FTA manufacturing trade deficit during this period exceeded $48 billion. Last year, it topped $51 billion.

How does the Chamber claim to not see glaring FTA trade deficits?  By using some “weird facts” of its own. 

The Chamber distorts the data by counting “foreign exports” as “U.S. exports.”  Foreign exports are foreign-made goods that pass through the United States without alteration before being re-exported abroad.  Along the way, they support zero U.S. production jobs.  And yet, the Chamber includes foreign-made exports alongside U.S.-made exports as if they had the same value for U.S. workers.

Doing so dramatically deflates the size of the actual U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners.  By errantly including foreign exports, the 2012 goods trade deficit with FTA partners can be made to look less than 40 percent of its actual size ($71 billion vs. the true deficit of $178 billion).  The distortion was even worse in 2013, when the actual FTA goods trade deficit was nearly three times as large as the distorted deficit with foreign exports included ($67 billion vs. the true deficit of $180 billion). 

The graph below shows how this single data trick allows the Chamber to claim that a $106 billion FTA trade deficit has disappeared.  As the administration contemplates expanding the old deficit-ridden FTA model via the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, it seems that we should be looking at the actual evidence from past FTAs, not illusions. 

Chamber Weird Fact
A footnote on data availability: services data are not available for some FTA countries, particularly the smaller economies.  The missing data were not included in either the Chamber’s figures or those reported above.  Also, while the Chamber did not report figures for 2013 due to a claimed lack of available services data for that year, 2013 services data is actually available for all but two of the FTA partners for which 2012 data were available.  For those two countries, services data for 2013 has been extrapolated based on observed growth trends.

September 17, 2014

Pharmaceutical CEO: This Controversial Deal Will Be Great for Us…And You (Trust Us)

In an op-ed appearing in Forbes on Tuesday, the CEO of Eli Lilly, a U.S. pharmaceutical corporation, paints a glowing picture of how the proposed Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) would benefit consumers on both sides of the Atlantic – but it’s pure fantasy.

It is not surprising that Eli Lilly is cheerleading this controversial deal. This is the same pharmaceutical firm that is using the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – TAFTA’s predecessor – to challenge Canada’s legal standards for granting patents and demand $500 million in taxpayer compensation.

John Lechleiter, Lilly’s CEO, shrouds his arguments under the guise of “free trade,” while in reality Lilly’s TAFTA proposals are a plea for increased government protection for his company and expansion of the monopolistic business model upon which the multinational pharmaceutical industry relies.

This post will take on Mr. Lechleiter’s claims, one by one.

Continue reading "Pharmaceutical CEO: This Controversial Deal Will Be Great for Us…And You (Trust Us)" »

September 12, 2014

Sachs on TPP: "This is a NAFTA Treaty Writ Large"

"These are largely industry- and lobby-driven activities. They are not yet in any way proved to be in the interest of American people, and this is a matter of significant concern.  I don’t understand how something of such vast significance for billions of people could even presume to be treated in this manner." 

That's the take on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) from Jeffrey Sachs -- prominent economist, Columbia University professor, and Earth Institute director.

Prof. Sachs lambasted the proposed deals on Wednesday at a Forum on Free Trade Agreements, hosted by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. Other speakers who criticized the pacts and called for a new trade agreement model included Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, K.J. Hertz of AARP, Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Thea Lee of the AFL-CIO, and Debbie Barker of the Center for Food Safety.  

Check out this video of their incisive critiques of hte TPP and TAFTA.  Excerpts from Prof. Sachs' remarks follow. 

  

 Excerpts from Prof. Jeffrey Sachs on the TPP and TAFTA (also known as TTIP)

TRANSPARENCY: The fact that the public is not engaged means that we should worry because we do know that when things are managed in secret, as these negotiations have been, it’s the organized and powerful interests that by far dominate the proceedings. These are largely industry- and lobby-driven activities. They are not yet in any way proved to be in the interest of American people, and this is a matter of significant concern.  I don’t understand how something of such vast significance for billions of people could even presume to be treated in this manner. One could imagine that negotiations over very specific tariff rates or very specific numerical clauses in some of these chapters could be held privately. But the idea that the main text around issues as broad as investor protection, dispute settlement, taxation, financial flows, intellectual property, would be done secretly, is shocking actually to me. But we’re talking about the basic rules of the international economy for the three major regions of the world. There is no reason in the world I can see for this text not to be public, not to be publically vetted, and not to be updated over time.

WRONG TRADE AGREEMENT MODEL: [W]hen President Obama talks about TPP and TTIP being 21st century trade agreements, the starting point should be that the phenomena of globalization more generally, the extent of financial crises, the growing environmental catastrophe worldwide of climate change and loss of biodiversity, the crises of international disease (such as we now have with Ebola in West Africa) need to be not only considered as footnotes. And they’re not even that in any way. They need to be in the forefront of our international economic relations…And in that sense I can’t support either of these negotiations with what I see now. I think that they would distract us from the more important global issues. I don’t think they rise close to the standard of being 21st century trade and investment agreements, not even close. They are very much 20th century agreements which were already out of date by the time they were negotiated. This is a NAFTA treaty writ large, or this is the same negotiation that we’ve had in many other cases.

TPP AND TTIP AS INVESTEMT PROTECTION AGREEMENTS, NOT TRADE PACTS: [T]these proposed agreements are mostly investor protection agreements, rather than trade agreements. There are trade elements in them, but this is mostly about investor protection: investor protection of property rights of investors, of prerogatives of investors, of IP of investors, of the regulatory environment of investors, and so forth. Recognizing that, we have some reasons to support some of these issues, but a lot of reasons for worry, because it’s not true that everything that is in the investor’s interest is in the worker’s interest. Its’ not true that everything that’s in the investor’s interest is in the broad interest of the American people or the people in host countries where the American investment may be going, or in the same way, investment that could be coming into this country. So we’re talking about mainly investment rules. And trade, which is already quite liberalized in the straightforward trade manner, doesn’t change all that much from what we know of these treaties. These are basically not trade agreements. They are investment agreements.

INVESTOR-STATE: [T]he whole issue of investor-state dispute settlement:  to my mind, it is quite alarming that the administration seems until this day to be pushing something which more and more observers, participants, legal scholars view as out of control…And the problem with this is that it creates an extra-legal venue for arbitration that has proven in many investment treaties in recent years to be highly deleterious for basic government regulatory processes and especially around issues of health, safety, environment, and other issues. The mechanism proposed here which is already part of many bilateral treaties and some multilateral investment treaties — is giving more and more power to investors to challenge general government regulatory actions. Not breach of specific investment contracts, but general regulatory and legislative actions on the claim that those general regulatory or legislative actions are against the interests of the investors and somehow therefore violate the implicit standards or guarantees that these investors have vis-à-vis the host countries. In other words, standards of general applicability against smoking or for environmental protection, or for taxation of natural resources and so forth are now coming under challenge in these investor-state dispute arbitration panels and forcing governments — the host governments — to back down or rescind or, in the face of a lost arbitration, to cancel laws of general applicability, and therefore to lose the sovereign right to pursue national interest at the face of investor interest. …As far as I know the United States government continues to press this clause today.  I regard that alone as reason to oppose both of these treaties. If this remains in place, it is absolutely in the wrong direction. And, these clauses have proven to be increasingly dangerous and I’ve seen publicly no response to this at all. 

August 28, 2014

TPP: Limiting the U.S. Government’s Ability to Control Rising Drug Costs

This is the third post in a three-part series on how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could increase medicine prices in the United States.  Click here for the first post's introduction to the problem, and here for the second post's outline of new rights that the TPP would give to Big Pharma. 

A leaked draft TPP annex with the Orwellian title “Transparency and Procedural Fairness for Healthcare Technologies” would set broad limits on governments’ prerogatives to negotiate or mandate lower drug prices, including for taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ and military health programs. Pushed by U.S. negotiators, these proposed TPP rules would conflict with existing and proposed policies to reduce healthcare costs for seniors, military families and the poor.

Rolling back medicine cost savings for U.S. veterans:

The U.S. government uses automatic price reductions to secure lower drug costs for U.S. veterans who benefit from health programs administered by VA. U.S. law allows VA to access drug prices at 24 percent below average market prices, and requires drug companies to offer these reduced prices for VA-administered programs as a condition for their medicines being included in other government health programs.

However, this cost-saving mechanism could run afoul of the proposed TPP annex, which requires government drug reimbursements to be based on “competitive, market-derived prices,” or on a system that “appropriately recognizes[] the value” of the drugs. The government-mandated price-setting system for VA programs would be subject to challenge as not being “competitive” and “market-derived.” VA-secured prices that fall significantly below the prices of patented drugs also could be challenged under the TPP as not “appropriately recognizing” drugs’ value. These TPP provisions, if enacted, could expose the U.S. government to challenges before international tribunals for not rolling back policies that cut healthcare costs for veterans and taxpayers.

Threatening policies that make medicines more affordable for the poor:

U.S. federal and state governments currently use several methods to tamp down the prices of drugs provided to low-income families through Medicaid. For example, the U.S. federal government requires drug corporations, as a condition for having their drugs covered by Medicaid, to sign discount agreements that oblige the firms to provide the state and federal governments with rebates to lower the cost of the drugs. These rebates have resulted in a 45 percent reduction in Medicaid spending for brand-name drugs.

State governments can further cut costs by, for example, negotiating lower prices with drug companies in return for placing their medicines on a Preferred Drug List (PDL) – a list of medicines that the state’s Medicaid program will cover without requiring prior authorization from a doctor. States have calculated substantial cost savings from usage of PDLs: New York saved an estimated $381 million in one recent year, while Texas saved an estimated $115 million and Utah saved an estimated $434 million.

Such Medicaid cost containment measures could be challenged under the TPP. Leveraging the government’s buying power to set prices could be attacked as not being “market-derived” or as “appropriately recognizing” the value of patented drugs. Some argue that the TPP provisions would primarily target federal policies, while Medicaid is administered by state governments. But even if limited to federal policies, the pact’s proposed terms directly contradict Medicaid’s federal cost control efforts, such as requiring drug firms to sign discount agreements. And state-level tools like PDLs could still be challenged under the TPP as part of a program created and controlled by the federal government.

Challenging Obamacare cost reductions for seniors:

Before implementation of the landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, seniors faced a gap in Medicare drug coverage. After passing a given threshold of drug costs, Medicare beneficiaries went from having to pay 25 percent of a drug’s cost to having to pay 100 percent out of pocket, until reaching a second threshold at which Medicare again covered most costs. Closing this “doughnut hole” was a key objective of the Affordable Care Act, which required drug manufacturers to offer a 50 percent drug price discount to Medicare beneficiaries within the coverage gap if they wanted their drugs to continue being covered under Medicare. As a result of this discount and a gradual increase in Medicare coverage, Medicare beneficiaries within the coverage gap were only responsible for 47.5 percent of brand-name drug costs in 2013 and will be responsible for only 25 percent by 2020.

But under the TPP, the requirement for drug companies to halve the price of their drugs within the coverage gap could be challenged for neither reflecting “competitive market-derived” prices nor “appropriately recognizing[] the value” of patented drugs. The Obama administration’s TPP healthcare annex thus threatens the cost savings that the administration’s own signature health law has provided to seniors.

Chilling future reforms that could further reduce healthcare costs for retirees:

Governments in countries ranging from New Zealand to Japan have kept healthcare costs in check by leveraging the government’s large purchasing power for taxpayer-funded public health programs to negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceutical corporations. In contrast, for Medicare, which covers more than 50 million Americans, the U.S. government is barred by law from directly negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical corporations.

Many policymakers, healthcare professionals and even President Obama have called for changes to this law so that the government could ask drug companies to provide lower prices in exchange for getting subsidized access to millions of Medicare recipients. Other reform proposals, including legislation now pending, would have the federal government set maximum prices for drugs covered by Medicare (as it does for health programs provided to veterans) or require that drug companies provide drug rebates (similar to the rebates required under Medicaid). Indeed, the White House itself has proposed requiring drug companies to pay Medicaid-like rebates to providers for treating low-income Medicare beneficiaries. The administration estimates this would deliver $117 billion in savings over 10 years.

However, the TPP presents an obstacle to these proposals to control soaring Medicare costs. All of the above-mentioned policies involve direct government intervention in price setting, conflicting with the TPP requirement for market-derived prices, and inviting challenges for failing to “appropriately recognize” the value of patented drugs. 

Undermining drug discounts for underserved communities:

Under a program known as 340B, the U.S. federal government enables nongovernmental health centers – including migrant health centers, homeless health centers, children’s hospitals and family planning centers – to offer their diverse constituencies more affordable drugs. The federal government requires pharmaceutical firms to offer discounted drug prices to 340B-covered health centers via rebates, as a condition for having their drugs covered by Medicaid.

As a federally-run program that mandates below-market prices, the program could be challenged as a violation of the proposed TPP rules requiring drug prices to be market-derived or to reflect the value of patented drugs. In addition, the leaked TPP annex would require the U.S. government to allow pharmaceutical corporations to appeal drug pricing decisions such as the rebate amounts set under the 340B program, though they have very limited appeal rights for such decisions under U.S. domestic law. The TPP would thus give pharmaceutical corporations a new means of challenging 340B policies that reduce drug prices for underserved populations. 

August 26, 2014

TPP: Expansive Rights for Big Pharma, Expensive Medicines for U.S. Consumers

This is the second in a three-part series on how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could increase medicine prices in the United States.  Click here for the first post's introduction to the problem. 

Leaked draft intellectual property texts for the TPP reveal broad monopoly protections for pharmaceutical corporations, which elevate the costs of medicines and medical procedures. Inserting these sweeping corporate privileges into the pact would undermine U.S. efforts to make healthcare more affordable.

Some of the leaked TPP monopoly protections for Big Pharma could require scrapping the Obama administration proposal to save more than $4 billion on biologic medicines. Biologics – the latest generation of drugs to combat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases – are exceptionally expensive, costing approximately 22 times more than conventional medicines.

Under U.S. law, pharmaceutical corporations enjoy monopoly protections for biologic drugs, even in the absence of a patent, for a 12-year period of “exclusivity.” During these 12 years, the Food and Drug Administration is prohibited from approving more affordable versions of the drugs, inflating the cost of these life-saving medicines as pharmaceutical firms accrue monopoly profits.

To lower the exorbitant prices and the resulting burden on programs like Medicare and Medicaid, the Obama administration’s 2015 budget would reduce the exclusivity period for biologics from 12 to seven years. The administration estimates this would save taxpayers more than $4.2 billion over the next decade just for federal programs.

However, at the request of Big Pharma, U.S. trade negotiators are demanding the 12-year exclusivity requirement for biologics in the TPP. This would lock into place pharmaceutical firms’ lengthy monopolies here at home. That is, Obama administration negotiators would effectively scrap the administration’s own proposal to save billions in unnecessary healthcare costs and lock in rules that would forbid future presidents or Congresses from doing so.

Investor Privileges: Empowering Big Pharma to Directly Attack U.S. Health Policies

Another TPP text - the leaked draft investment chapter - reveals that the deal would grant foreign firms the power to skirt domestic courts, drag the U.S. government before extrajudicial tribunals, and directly challenge patent laws and medicine cost containment policies as violations of their new TPP foreign investor “rights.”

The tribunals, comprised of three private attorneys, would be authorized to order unlimited taxpayer compensation for domestic policies perceived as undermining pharmaceutical corporations’ “expected future profits.” Effectively, this system would elevate individual pharmaceutical firms to the same status as the countries that may sign the TPP, empowering such firms to privately enforce the public agreement.

Such extreme “investor-state” rules have been included in past U.S. “free trade” agreements, forcing taxpayers to pay firms more than $430 million for toxics bans, land-use rules, water and timber policies and more. Just under U.S. pacts, more than $38 billion is pending in corporate claims against patent policies, pollution cleanup requirements, climate and energy laws, and other public interest polices.

This includes a $500 million claim that U.S. pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly launched in 2013 against Canada’s legal standard for granting patents. The firm is demanding compensation because Canadian courts enforcing Canadian patent law ruled that two of Eli Lilly’s medicines failed to meet the Canadian standard to obtain a patent, which requires demonstrating a drug’s promised utility. This is the first attempt by a patent-holding pharmaceutical firm to use the extraordinary investor privileges provided by U.S. “trade” agreements as a tool to push for greater monopoly patent protections.

The TPP would vastly expand the investor-state threat to U.S. public health policies, given the thousands of corporations based in TPP countries that would be newly empowered to launch cases against U.S. laws on behalf of any of their more than 14,000 U.S. subsidiaries

Stay tuned for post #3 on yet another way that the TPP could limit the U.S. government's ability to control rising drug costs. 

August 21, 2014

TPP: The “Trade” Deal that Could Inflate Your Healthcare Bill

Much has been said about how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) threatens to raise medicine prices in TPP developing countries, thanks to the deal's proposed expansion of monopoly protections for pharmaceutical corporations.  

Less has been said about the proposed TPP rules that could increase medicine prices in the United States.  

Americans pay far more for healthcare than people in any other developed country, even though U.S. life expectancy falls below the average for developed countries. A major contributor to our bloated healthcare costs is the high prices for medicines in the United States. According to the Government Accountability Office, U.S. drug prices increased more than 70 percent faster than prices for other healthcare goods and services over 2006-2010. As a result, millions of Americans cannot afford the medicines they need to live healthy lives.

Soaring drug prices also drive up the amount that taxpayers must pay to fund public health programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and programs covering the U.S. military and veterans. Indeed, rising healthcare costs are the number one contributor to the U.S. government’s projected long-term budget deficits.

To try to combat the twin problems of unaffordable healthcare and unsustainable deficits, U.S. federal and state governments already use several tools to tamp down the cost of drugs – for Medicare, Medicaid and for military healthcare under TRICARE and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Many more such cost containment policies have been proposed.

Yet, the TPP threatens to chill such proposals and even roll back existing policies to rein in exorbitant medicine prices. Leaked draft TPP texts – an intellectual property chapter, investment chapter and healthcare annex – contain expansive rules that would constrain the ability of the U.S. government to reduce medicine prices. Getting these terms into the TPP was a key objective of large U.S. pharmaceutical corporations that stand to reap monopoly profits from expansive patent terms and restrictions on government cost containment efforts. This incentive may explain why pharmaceutical corporations have lobbied Congress for the TPP more than any other industry.

The TPP’s threats to the affordability of U.S. healthcare have spurred major groups that have not traditionally taken part in trade policy debates to warn against the TPP’s provisions. For example, AARP – representing more than 37 million Americans over the age of 50 – joined unions and consumer groups in a November 2013 letter to President Obama to express “deep concern” that texts proposed for the TPP would “limit[] the ability of states and the federal government to moderate escalating prescription drug, biologic drug and medical device costs in public programs.” The groups concluded that the TPP could “undermine[] access to affordable health care for millions in the United States and around the world.”

Stay tuned for post #2 on specific TPP threats to affordable U.S. healthcare: Expansive Rights for Big Pharma, Expensive Medicines for Consumers.

August 12, 2014

Advocacy = Results: Proposal to Disguise Offshoring Shelved after Groundswell of Opposition

Can one person make a difference?  Hard to say.  But apparently 26,000 of them can. 

About a month ago we warned of an administration proposal to reclassify U.S. corporations that offshore their manufacturing as “factoryless goods” manufacturers.  Calling Apple a “manufacturer” – though its iPhones are made in Foxconn factories in China – defies common sense.  But why does it matter? 

Because it would mask the erosion of U.S. manufacturing incentivized by offshoring-friendly policies, including a raft of unfair trade deals.  The Orwellian proposal would undermine efforts to replace more-of-the-same policies with a fair trade model. 

Under the proposal, reported U.S. “manufacturing” jobs and wages would balloon overnight, as brand managers and programmers would suddenly be counted as “manufacturing” workers.  The broad reclassification initiative would also deceptively deflate the large U.S. manufacturing trade deficit.  U.S. imports of made-in-China iPhones would not be tallied as manufactured goods imports but as imports of Foxconn's “services,” while iPhones exported from China to, say, Europe would actually be rebranded as “U.S.” manufacturing exports.  

During an official period to comment on the proposal, Public Citizen, many labor groups, and other allies invited people to send their two cents to the administration.  The response was overwhelming. 

In short order, about 26,000 people filed comments in opposition to the “factoryless goods” proposal.  The last time the administration tried to implement this proposal, they received 10 comments.

This past Friday, the administration responded.  This announcement appeared in the Federal Register:

“Given these initial research results and the large number of public comments submitted on the topic of FGPs [Factoryless Goods Producers], OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] here announces that the FGP recommendation will not be implemented in 2017.” 

If you submitted a comment, congratulations.  According to the administration, your voice of reason contributed to a chorus that helped convince the administration to rethink the wisdom of categorizing firms that do not manufacture anything as U.S. manufacturers.  Advocacy, as it turns out, can work. 

Please place your hand above your back and pat vigorously.  But don’t break out the champagne glasses.

Thanks to the groundswell of public opposition (and the contributions of some clear-minded naysayers within the administration), the “factoryless goods” proposal has been shelved.  But it has not been dustbinned. 

OMB makes clear that the “factoryless goods” fantasy will likely emerge again, albeit in a different form:

“Without the deadline imposed by the 2017 NAICS revisions, the relevant statistical agencies will now have the opportunity to complete the additional research, testing, and evaluation needed to determine the feasibility of developing methods for the consistent identification and classification of FGPs that are accurate and reliable. This process will also be informed by questions raised in public comments. Results of this research, testing, and evaluation could lead to a different FGP proposal for consideration or implementation.

As "factoryless goods" proponents regroup and decide what to do next, we will remain vigilant.  Future bouts of pressure will likely be needed to keep our data, and the policymaking that it informs, free of distortion.  As we push to change our trade policies, we will need to keep pushing against efforts to simply change our numbers. 

But for now, kudos.  

August 01, 2014

Central America Crisis Belies CAFTA’s Empty Promises

 

“…[the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is] the best immigration, anti-gang, and anti-drug policy at our disposal…”

--Representative Tom Davis, July 27, 2005 – one day before Congress passed CAFTA

“Something must be happening that children and their mothers are now leaving for the United States in busloads…People are saying, ‘There’s no future here.’”

--Miriam Miranda, Honduran human rights leader and recent kidnapping survivor, July 30, 2014

 

Nine years ago this week, the polemical Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was passed by the House of Representatives…in the dead of night…by a single vote.  

CAFTA proponents promised the deal would reduce gang and drug-related violence in Central America, boost economic development, and diminish the factors pushing Central Americans to migrate to the United States. 

Such promises already sounded hollow when they were voiced in 2005.  Today, as thousands of Central American children leave their homes and risk their lives to try to make it to the United States, CAFTA’s promises have proven tragically empty.  

When trying to secure passage for CAFTA’s expansion of the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) model to five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic, the Bush administration and corporate lobbyists could not rely on the standard promises of job creation and deficit reduction that had proven false under NAFTA.  Instead, they launched a barrage of political arm-twisting and horse-trading to convince members of Congress to vote against the anti-CAFTA opinions of their constituents.  

Many CAFTA backers also resorted to selling the deal as a pathway to peace and prosperity for Central America.  Here is Representative Tom Davis (R-Va.) speaking on the House floor in favor of CAFTA on July 27, 2005:

“…we need to understand that CAFTA is more than just a trade pact. It's a signal of U.S. commitment to democracy and prosperity for our neighbors. And it's the best immigration, anti-gang, and anti-drug policy at our disposal…Want to fight the ever-more-violent MS-13 gang activity originating in El Salvador but prospering in Northern Virginia? Pass CAFTA …Want to begin to ebb the growing flow of illegal immigrants from Central America? Pass CAFTA.

One day later, Congress passed CAFTA.

Nine years later, gang and drug-related violence in Central America has reached record highs and the “growing flow” of immigrants from Central America has surged.

On Wednesday, Miriam Miranda, coordinator of the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak to congressional staff about the rampant violence and unrelenting poverty in her home country and its neighbors. Miriam spoke not only of the skyrocketing homicides and widespread gang and paramilitary control in Honduras, but the economic instability undergirding such violence.

The issue is not theoretical for Miriam – just two weeks ago she survived an attempted kidnapping by armed men.

I asked Miriam what she would say, if given the opportunity, to the members of Congress who had promised CAFTA would spur development and reduce violence and migration pressures in Central America. She responded:

“It’s more than evident with what has happened in the last eight to nine months – this massive exit from Central America – that these policies that they have implemented are completely mistaken. They don’t respond to our needs…We have to question this model of development – development for whom?” 

Not only did CAFTA fail to stem violence and migration from Central America as Rep. Davis and other proponents promised. The deal appears to have actually contributed to the economic instability feeding the region’s increase in violence and forced migration.

That’s the conclusion reached by the 67 members of Congress’ Progressive Caucus, who included CAFTA in their recent summary of the root causes of the refugee crisis occurring along the U.S.-Mexico border: “free trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) have led to the displacement of workers and subsequent migration from these countries.”

How has CAFTA led to displacement and migration?  Under CAFTA, family farmers in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have been inundated with subsidized agricultural imports – mainly grains – from U.S. agribusinesses. Agricultural imports from the United States in those three CAFTA countries have risen 78 percent since the deal went into effect. 

While agricultural exports to Central America represent a small slice of U.S. agricultural corporations’ business, they present a large threat to the livelihoods of small-scale Central American farmers who cannot compete with highly subsidized and mechanized U.S. firms. When Mexico experienced a similar surge in agricultural imports under NAFTA, more than 2 million Mexican farmers and agricultural workers lost their livelihoods and migration to the United States doubled.  

In the lead-up to CAFTA, development groups like Oxfam warned of such displacement, stating that when considering the impacts on Central American rice production alone, CAFTA threatened the livelihoods of up to 1.5 million people in the region.  Central American immigrant advocacy groups like CARECEN, CONGUATE, and SANN also raised such concerns early in the CAFTA negotiating process, but were ignored by the Bush administration.

Certainly the economic instability and violence plaguing Central America, and the resulting surge in migration to the United States, cannot be pegged on CAFTA alone. The causes of the crisis are manifold, and many have been amply discussed.  But though CAFTA did not singlehandedly spark this fire, it appears to have contributed to the kindling.

And clearly, CAFTA has utterly failed to deliver on the far-fetched promises used by Rep. Davis and other proponents to sell the controversial deal to a skeptical Congress back in 2005.  I wish Representative Davis, and all those who voted for CAFTA, would have been there on Wednesday to hear Miriam’s words.  

I wish the same for the members of the Obama administration who are now pushing to expand the NAFTA/CAFTA trade model across the Pacific under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  As with CAFTA, some are trying to sell that deal with rosy promises that it will spur development in TPP countries. 

In the words of Miriam, development for whom?  

July 22, 2014

Administration Flooded with 26,000 Comments Opposing Proposal to Disguise Offshoring of U.S. Manufacturing

Broad Reclassification Plan Would Count iPhones Made in China as U.S. Exports; Data Tricks Would Artificially Inflate U.S. Manufacturing Jobs, Deflate Manufacturing Trade Deficits

More than 26,000 people nationwide have submitted comments opposing Obama administration proposals that would severely distort U.S. job and trade data by reclassifying U.S. corporations that offshore American jobs as “factoryless goods” manufacturers. Under a broad data reclassification plan, much of the value of U.S. brand-name goods assembled by foreign workers and imported here for sale would no longer be counted as imported goods, but rather as manufacturing “services” imports. This would deceptively deflate the U.S. manufacturing trade deficit.

The “factoryless goods” proposal, designed by the administration’s Economic Classification Policy Committee (ECPC), also would, overnight, falsely increase the reported number of U.S. manufacturing jobs as white-collar employees in firms like Apple – now rebranded as “factoryless goods producers” – would suddenly be counted as “manufacturing” workers. This shift also would create a false increase in U.S. manufacturing wages and output.

“The only reason you would classify an iPhone made in China as a U.S. export is to hide the size of our massive trade deficit,” said James P. Hoffa, Teamsters general president.

“To revive American manufacturing jobs and production, we need to change our policies, not cook the data,” said Brad Markell, executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council. “We need to reform the trade policies that have incentivized offshoring and resulted in decades of trade deficits and millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs offshored, not cover up the evidence that our current trade policy is not working.”

One element of the proposed economic data reclassification plan would rebrand U.S. imports of goods manufactured abroad, such as Apple’s iPhone (which is assembled in China by a firm called Foxconn) as “services” imports rather than imports of manufactured goods. And if Foxconn exported iPhones to other countries, the proposed reclassifications would count the iPhones manufactured in China as U.S. manufactured goods exports, further belying the real U.S. manufacturing trade deficit. 

The economic data reclassification initiative, if implemented, could further undermine efforts to bolster U.S. manufacturing by producing a fabricated reduction of the U.S. manufacturing trade deficit.

“These Orwellian data rebranding proposals would hide the damage wrought by past trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement, greasing the way for more-of-the-same, job-killing, deficit-boosting trade deals,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The comments submitted by concerned individuals include:

  • “Reclassifying jobs that have been and continue to be shipped overseas under the euphemism ‘factoryless goods’ is an insult to the citizens of the United States who want real manufacturing jobs, and know that the TPP and other NAFTA-style trade deals are not in our best interest.” – Susan Marie Frontczak, Boulder, Colorado
  • “Put the tricks aside. It's time to address the bad trade policies that have led to incentivized offshoring, rather than play with rebranding.” – Merill Cole, Macomb, Illinois
  • “NAFTA and GATT were a really bad idea ... TPP is worse ... and ECPC as a cover-up for unfair trade policies is just ridiculous. Bring manufacturing back to the US and stop this unfair trading with other countries.” – Aaron McGee, Madison, Wisconsin

This month, 14 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman, demanding that he immediately begin to provide Congress with accurate U.S. trade data. The letter followed an admission by USTR staff that the agency was providing Congress with uncorrected raw data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. That data includes “re-exports,” which are goods produced in foreign countries that pass through the United States without alteration before being sold abroad.

Each month, the U.S. International Trade Commission provides corrected trade data that removes the foreign re-exports, but USTR has chosen not to use this data. By using the uncorrected data, the USTR can misleadingly appear to make more than half the $177 billion 2013 NAFTA goods trade deficit “disappear.” The USTR does this by, for instance, counting goods that are imported from China, that are not altered in the United States and that are then “re-exported” to Mexico as “U.S. exports” to Mexico.

Congress’ demand for accurate trade data from the USTR and the administration’s distortionary data reclassification proposals come as administration officials seek support for two controversial trade and investment pacts now under negotiation: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). The administration’s push to obtain Fast Track authority for those pacts has met strong opposition from both parties in Congress and from more than 60 percent of the U.S. voting public. 

July 10, 2014

Civil Society Organizations Oppose U.S.-EU ‘Trade’ Pact Proposals That Would Undermine Chemical Safety Protections

111 Consumer, Health, Environmental, Labor Groups Warn Trade Ministers About TTIP Proposals That Would Endanger Public Health

In a letter today, a broad array of major U.S. and European chemical safety, health, environmental, labor, consumer and other organizations expressed strong opposition to proposed rules for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that could chill or roll back robust chemical safety standards on both sides of the Atlantic. 

The letter was sent to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and EU Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht, in advance of the sixth round of TTIP negotiations, which are to begin in Brussels next week.

“EU and U.S. trade policy should not be geared toward advancing the chemical industry’s agenda at the expense of public health and the environment – but that appears to be exactly what is currently underway with TTIP,” the letter states. “The presence of toxic chemicals in our food, our homes, our workplaces, and our bodies is a threat to present and future generations, with staggering cost for society and individuals.”  

“U.S. and EU negotiators appear to have bought the chemical corporations’ argument that this so-called ‘trade’ deal should go well beyond trade and target our safeguards from toxic chemicals as ‘barriers to trade,’ which could continue public exposure to hazardous substances in unsafe workplaces, toxic lakes and rivers, and tainted food and toys” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and one of the letter’s signatories. “If the U.S. and EU governments want to have any hope of stemming the controversy surrounding this proposed pact, they must reverse course and keep our chemical safety protections out of their closed-door “trade” negotiations.” 

At next week’s TTIP negotiations, draft text will be presented for the first time for several of the proposed pact’s chapters that could directly undermine strong chemical safety rules. The texts will be kept secret from the public during negotiations, but the rules that would be established would be binding on the United States and EU member nations, with trade sanctions or cash fines ordered against domestic policies that do not comply with TTIP rules.

The letter highlights specific TTIP proposals that the U.S. and EU governments and industry interests have put forward that could chill U.S. efforts to strengthen chemical regulations while weakening tighter EU chemical protections. This includes a U.S. proposal for regulatory coherence that could “thwart the timely promulgation of important regulations” and an EU Regulatory Cooperation Council proposal that would require regulators to calculate “chemical regulations’ costs to transatlantic trade, not the benefits of such protective laws for society.” 

The letter also rejects a controversial proposal – opposed by U.S. state legislators, some EU member states and a transpartisan array of U.S. and EU civil society groups – to include “investor-state dispute settlement” terms in the TTIP. Already inclusion of such terms in other pacts has empowered corporations to circumvent domestic courts and directly challenge controls for the use of hazardous substances, pollution cleanup requirements and other chemical protections before extrajudicial tribunals authorized to order unlimited taxpayer compensation for violations of broad foreign investor “rights.” Such extraordinary provisions, according to the letter, “would force the public and their representatives to decide between compensating corporate polluters for lost profits due to stronger laws, or continuing to bear the health, economic and social burdens of pollution.”

The letter concludes by criticizing the negotiations’ lack of transparency: “In a deal where fundamental changes to sub-national, national and regional policies and lawmaking processes are being proposed and negotiated, the non-disclosure of TTIP negotiating positions or texts is inexcusable and inconsistent with the principles of a modern democracy.” 

Recent Posts

Subscribe