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May 11, 2007

Skinning Cats with Prison Labor

Congress Daily's Martin Vaughan reported today on a press call with U.S. trade officials who made two things very clear: First, no one should expect that the promised FTA fixes will be incorporated into the text of the agreement. To wit,

They said only that those changes will not be made through a "quote, side letter, endquote," and that they will be "legally binding." Said one official: "There are multiple ways to skin a cat ... To the extent that a side letter is not legally binding, it will not be a side letter."

When is a side letter not a side letter? Don't remember that one from my Zen koan class... I do remember this report, however, which Brandon, Alyssa and I wrote a few years ago showing how sideCat_skin_2 letters and side deals are a very, very stupid way of accomplishing any policy objectives.

Martin also reports that the lovely folks at the National Association of Manufacturers have gotten a looksie at the final language and are still not at all worried about the labor text - a bad sign if you are a LABORER of any kind.

First, according to NAM, the "deal" doesn't obligate countries to abide by the ILO core labor rights conventions themselves, only a watered down 1998 "declaration" on the conventions. Second, only federal laws apply, so (breathe easy) things like U.S. prison labor and Southern states' "right to work" laws "will not be subject to challenge." (Gee, I really hope a Peruvian state or locality doesn't pass some kind of law legalizing child labor in the state!) And to put just a little rotten icing on the rotten cake, negotiators agreed to not eliminate an FTA provision "that gives countries leeway not to enforce labor laws at their own 'discretion.'"

Is the room spinning, or did a few Democrats just sign up for something that does not sound that sweet, or that, well, Democratic?

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