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  • 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.

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June 30, 2007

Unsafe food in China show results of pressure to keep costs low

This week, the New York Times reported that China closed 180 plants in a food safety crackdown...

After weeks of insisting that food here is largely safe, regulators in China said Tuesday that they had recently closed 180 food plants and that inspectors had uncovered more than 23,000 food safety violations. The nationwide crackdown, which began in December, also found that many small food makers were using industrial chemicals, dyes and other illegal ingredients in making a range of food products, everything from candy to seafood. Regulators said 33,000 law enforcement officials combed the nation and turned up illegal food making dens, counterfeit bottled water, fake soy sauce, banned food additives and illegal meat processing plants. "These are not isolated cases," Han Yi, director of the administration's quality control and inspection department told the state-run media.

If this so-called "crackdown," which appears to be a thinly veiled PR stunt rather than a real effort to deal with the consequences of the enormous pressures to keep costs low - coming at the expense of our food safety - closed down so many shops, just imagine how many shut downs we would have with REAL and ENFORCEABLE food safety rules. It is important to note that this is NOT a "Chinese" problem, but a global problem manifesting itself today in China, and in many other countries where we simply hear less about it because the volume of imports in the U.S. is not as great.

June 29, 2007

Lori Wallach on Bill Moyers tonight!

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GTW's director, Lori Wallach, will be on Bill Moyers Journal tonight, discussing the May 10 "deal" and the impacts it will have on workers, consumers, the environment and more. Check your local PBS listings to tune in!

June 28, 2007

Long Overdue, Fast Track Finally Passes into History

Millions of Those Harmed by Fast Track-Enabled “Trade” Deals Celebrate

OBITUARIES: Fast Track 1974-1995/2002-2007

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After a brief, damaging existence, Fast Track was pronounced dead on June 30, 2007.

The demise of Fast Track allowed the U.S. Founding Fathers to stop rolling in their graves over Fast Track's trampling of constitutional checks and balances. As well, victims of Fast Track-enabled trade agreements welcomed the news, given the anomalous procedure's record of damage despite having been locked up and out of commission for blocks of time since its inception.

In April 1973, America first saw the faint glimmer in Father Nixon's eye that was to become Fast Track when the Nixon administration - always eager to seize power from the legislative branch - dropped the initial Fast Track legislation. The young Fast Track - the product of a broken and abusive home - had an unusually long gestation period, taking over a year and a half to be unleashed by President Ford, who signed the first Fast Track bill into law. Fast Track teethed on federalism and checks and balances, shredding basic tenets of our democracy.

Continue reading "Long Overdue, Fast Track Finally Passes into History" »

On NAFTA, Hillary called a pickpocket, leader of band of child criminals, and good at avoiding responsibility or the consequences of her actions

The South Africa wire services ran a story that termed Hillary an artful dodger for her responses to questions at a forum by AFSCME and other labor groups:

Slick Hillary? Former President Bill Clinton earned the nickname "Slick Willy" for his mastery in the political arts of ducking and dodging. He had a knack for convincing people on both sides of an issue that he agreed with them. His wife may not be as smooth, but Sen Hillary Rodham Clinton is doing a passable impression of the ever-parsing former president. Would she pardon Scooter Libby? No comment. Would she nominate a union leader to be secretary of labour? Maybe. Would she repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement? Can't say. .. Shortly after Rep Dennis Kucinich vowed to repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement, Clinton was asked if she would move to scuttle it. She dodged. "Like anything," Clinton said, "NAFTA had some positives, but unfortunately had a lot of downsides."

According to Wikipedia:

The Artful Dodger is a character in the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. The Dodger (whose real name is Jack Dawkins) is a pickpocket, and so-called by his skill and cunning in that respect. As a result he has become the leader of the gang of child criminals, trained by the elderly Fagin... The nickname "Artful Dodger" is still commonly used to refer to someone who is good at avoiding responsibility or the consequences of his or her actions. "Artful Dodger" is also Cockney rhyming slang for "lodger".

To be fair, Hillary has come out with a statement against the NAFTA expansion to South Korea, although not to Peru, Panama and Colombia. For some more on the situation, check out these pieces by Ralph Nader and Hillary's previous primary challenger Jonathan Tasini (who reminds us that " People who criticize Sen. Clinton need to recognize when she has taken the right position.")

U.S. Social Forum this weekend, chock full of fair trade events

For our readers in the Atlanta region, come on out this week to the U.S. Social Forum, where there will be tons of fair trade workshops, including some facilitated by Global Trade Watch's own David Edeli. Click here for the full list of trade workshops.

Also, read a statement from fair trade activists participating in the Forum calling for a new direction on trade policy after the jump.

Continue reading "U.S. Social Forum this weekend, chock full of fair trade events" »

June 27, 2007

Latino groups call for opposition to anti-Latino, Deathstar-ed deals

This from across the wires...

Members of Congress, Latino Civil Rights and Immigrant Groups Say NAFTA-Style Trade Pacts Fail Latinos in the U.S. and Abroad

Latino Organizations United in Opposition to NAFTA-expansions to Peru, Panama and Colombia; Call on Congress to Chart a New Course on Trade

Washington, DC — As the fight over immigration heats up in Washington, U.S. Congress must oppose proposed NAFTA expansion agreements with Peru, Panama and Colombia that are expected to increase pressure on millions of small farmers in those countries to attempt desperate migration to the United States, said Latino civil rights leaders and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in a press conference today.

Major Latino organizations including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC) and the Dolores Huerta Foundation today sent a letter to the U.S. Congress reiterating their opposition to the proposed trade agreements after the recent release of freshly re-negotiated texts of the agreements failed to address the key concerns of the Latino community in the United States and abroad.   

“It is unbelievable that in the middle of a contentious debate on immigration, Congress is being asked to pass trade agreements that are certain to increase the pressure on impoverished small farmers in Latin America to attempt to come to the United States,” said Brent Wilkes, the Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights membership organization. “We wrote repeatedly to the U.S. Congress requesting that the agricultural provisions in the agreement be fixed, and we are disappointed that the new text released this week for the FTAs doesn’t fix them.”

The agricultural rules included in the Peru, Colombian and Panama agreements mirror closely the agricultural rules from NAFTA that resulted in over 1.3 million lost jobs in Mexico’s rural sector.  Undocumented migration from Mexico to the United States has more than doubled since NAFTA was enacted in no small part due to failed trade policies.  In the case of the Peru, Colombia and Panama agreements, these same agricultural provisions will foreseeably result in the displacement of large numbers of peasant farmers — increasing hunger, social unrest, and desperate migration at a minimum; and according to a report of the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture, will lead to an increase in drug cultivation and violence. 

“We are calling on members of Congress today to realize that in order to fix the immigration problem of the United States, we need to look at the root cause.  If we don’t fix the failed NAFTA model of free trade, we’ll be fighting over immigration again and again,” said Gabriela Lemus, Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

UPDATE: Mark Drajem from Bloomberg reports on the pending Peru, Panama and Colombia FTAs:

Under the current fast-track treatment, Congress must accept or reject a trade agreement without change. Still, even with the changes worked out between the White House and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel of New York, supporters from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce don't expect a majority of Democrats to support either of those agreements.

The accords were dealt a blow today as the largest U.S. Latino groups wrote members of Congress opposing them, arguing that a flood of subsidized U.S. agriculture exports would push farmers in those countries off the land.

"This deal would continue to generate economic inequality and a deterioration of social standards both at home and abroad, and continue to make migration to the United States the only option for many working families in Latin America,'' the League of United Latin American Citizens and other Latino groups wrote in their letter.

 

CAFTA member Honduras slashes minimum wage... in order to compete with low-wage Nicaragua

The National Labor Committee has posted an action alert that shows just how much CAFTA has not lifted all boats, but to the contrary is creating pressures to capsize the whole working class flotilla:

First it was Alcoa workers in Mexico who were pitted against lower wage Honduran workers.  (They were told by Alcoa that they "could hire two Hondurans for every Mexican.")  Now that Alcoa has busted a union organized at its wire harnessing plant in the El Porvenir Free Trade Zone in Honduras--immediately firing all 50-plus union leaders and organizers--local Alcoa management is threatening that if the workers continue to organize, the plant will be shut down and relocated to NICARAGUA, where "labor is cheaper and workers don't make so many demands or cause problems." Alcoa's race to the bottom strategy has spread from the U.S. to Mexico and now to Central America, where under CAFTA the workers are being pitted against each other to work for less and abandon their legal rights...

In a related CAFTA-esque step backward, the Honduran Government has just reduced the minimum wage in the South of Honduras (including the department of Santa Barbara) from $178 to $136 a month. This is a 24 percent drop in wages, from 74 cents an hour to 57 cents. The largest free trade zone in Central America, the recently completed Green Valley Industrial Park is conveniently located in Santa Barbara to access the 57-cent-an-hour wages.  San Pedro Sula, where the majority of the maquila factories are concentrated, is just 20 miles or so from Santa Barbara.  How long will it be before wages drop in the rest of Honduras? The last time the export factory workers’ wages were at or lower than 57 cents an hour was 5 years ago. Today's 57 cent an hour wage is, in terms of real purchasing power, much lower due to inflation.

Bush administration using deal momentum to push Fast Track - for more than just Doha

The Bush administration appears to be considering making a concerted push for Fast Track - but for just more of the same NAFTA deals. Here's Martin Vaughan from Congress Daily with the scoop:

After a resounding failure last week to get the Doha round of global trade talks back on track, Trade Representative Schwab is arguing that whatever happens with Doha, the White House needs trade negotiating authority renewed to focus on smaller, bilateral deals.

"The United States has assuredly not given up on the Doha round," Schwab told reporters at a House event Tuesday. "Absent a breakthrough right now, it doesn't mean that trade promotion authority no longer is an objective . . . there are other ways of approaching it," she said.

"And the single most important thing to recall in terms of U.S. trade policy going forward," Schwab continued, "is when the Doha talks are in the doldrums, you're going to see us step up in the negotiation of bilateral and regional deals around the world."

June 26, 2007

Oxfam criticizes Deathstar Deal as "too costly for poor people"

Oxfam America put out this release calling the Deathstar Deal "too costly."

EVEN WITH CHANGES, PERU TRADE AGREEMENT TOO COSTLY FOR POOR PEOPLE

International agency Oxfam America warned that even as amended today, the bilateral trade agreement
between the US and Peru will institutionalize an uneven playing field between the trading partners instead of establishing fair and equitable rules for trade that could promote development and reduce poverty. Although significant progress has been made in the text on intellectual property rules that have important consequences on the access of poor people to medicines, the trade deal still contains provisions that will undermine development, according to the organization.

“Trade can contribute to economic growth that leads to the reduction of poverty in developing countries
when trade rules are aligned with development and poverty-reduction goals, and we’ve seen some
movement towards this today on access to medicines,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “But we’re still a ways off from a trade policy with development at its core that can benefit not only the poor, but also our country’s economy, long-term security and prosperity.”

Continue reading "Oxfam criticizes Deathstar Deal as "too costly for poor people"" »

Deflating the $500 billion number

Since 2005, a lot of pundits have been throwing around the following number:

Harvard's Dani Rodrik, a long-standing globalization skeptic, argued recently that "closed markets may have been a fundamental problem during the 1950s and 1960s; it is hard to believe they still are." But this complacency is wrong. The Peterson Institute for International Economics calculates that the removal of remaining trade barriers would boost U.S. income by $500 billion a year. Whether or not you accept this particular number, there's no doubt further liberalization can unlock huge benefits.

As it turns out, this number is totally bogus, finds L. Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute in a recent brief. Among Josh's findings:

  • The mainstream estimates done by the U.S. government and World Bank -- even in their most optimistic models, and Josh runs some numbers even more "optimistic" still -- find gains from trade that are less than 5 percent of the $500 billion figure found by Peterson.
  • The methodology that Peterson used "are premised overwhelmingly on the assumption that barriers to trade exist even when no explicit price or quantity restrictions on imports or foreign investment can be identified."
  • Finally, rather than relying on the trade theory that has been standard for over half a century that predicts the wage stagnation of the U.S. workforce that we have (in fact) seen over the period, Peterson examines "only those workers directly displaced by trade. This group generally never shows up in most trade theories, which assume full-employment always and everywhere. Displacement, in short, while a real-world problem, is decidedly not the biggest cause of income losses due to trade and trade liberalization. Rather, the largest cost from trade is the permanent and steady drag on the wages of all American workers whose education and skills resemble those displaced by trade. Waitresses, for example, do not generally lose their jobs due to trade, but their pay suffers as workers displaced from tradeable goods industries crowd into their labor market and bid down wages. Not acknowledging these wage costs is a very good way to minimize the total debit column in the balance sheet of globalization’s impact on American workers."

"Deal" language made public; most demanded fixes not made

USTR released the Deathstar Deal's legal language, and is demanding July action. Meanwhile, most of the fixes demanded by fair trade groups are left unresolved. Here is our release on it:

June 25, 2007                                                       
Opposition Grows As Legal Text of Divisive Trade Deal Is Finally Made Public

Deal Between White House and Some Democratic Leaders Would Facilitate Passage of More Bush NAFTA-Style Trade Pacts by Majority of GOP and Minority of Democratic Majority

WASHINGTON, DC - The legal text of changes to several Bush-negotiated NAFTA expansion agreements released today confirms that the essential changes listed by labor unions, environmental, consumer, faith and family farm groups as necessary to avoid their opposition to the free trade agreements were not made, said Public Citizen today.

“Today’s text release confirms that Congress is about to face a vote on yet another Bush NAFTA expansion agreement, because now we can see that unfortunately none of the core NAFTA-CAFTA provisions linked to offshoring and downward pressure on wages so strongly opposed by most congressional Democrats and the American public have been removed even as improved labor and environmental standards have been added on,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “It’s like adding a new roof on a condemned building.”

Continue reading ""Deal" language made public; most demanded fixes not made" »

June 25, 2007

What they're saying about the Citibank provision in the Peru FTA...

Here's William McNary of USAction, an organization that has done extensive work opposing social security privatization in the United States:

"...the same corporate forces that tried to destroy our Social Security, under the guise of 'free trade,' are trying to destroy the social security system in Peru. Congress rejected Social Security privatization in 2005 and should reject it again in 2007 – whether it's for Americans, Peruvians or Canadians. The promise of a secure retirement shouldn’t stop at America's borders."

Lots more after the jump. Also be sure to check out the action alert we sent out last week to sign a petition against the Citibank provision.

Continue reading "What they're saying about the Citibank provision in the Peru FTA..." »

June 22, 2007

Lawyers talk about outsourcing (this makes me feel dirty)

Via BusinessWeek is this gem: the IT industry folks are all over the H-1B issue, and they've produced a YouTube video (that has been viewed over 50,000 times) showing lawyers discussing how to exploit loopholes in the law to outsource jobs and save labor costs. These folks go through a step-by-step process on how to pretend to seek U.S. workers (as required by U.S. law) while actually finding any possible way to disqualify them in favor of hiring cheaper outsourced labor. Some choice quotes:

  • "Our goal is clearly not to find a qualified and interested U.S. worker."
  • "If necessary [to disqualify a U.S. job-seeker from the recruitment process], schedule an interview, go through the whole process, to find a legal basis to disqualify them for this particular position. In most cases, that doesn't seem to be a problem."

Just watching this YouTube clip (below) makes me want to go wash my hands. The lack of shame is amazing. I suspect this law firm will get in a bit of hot water as a result of the video, but a real fix for this problem would have to involve far more than pointing a finger at a law firm and a company or two. It would also have to address, at the very least, taking out the de facto immigration policy (in the form of, for instance, the WTO GATS' "Mode 4") in our trade agreements; and on a deeper level, the broader topic of wage arbitrage and the race to the bottom in wages and labor standards. That's the real issue, rather than the "is-it-xenophobia-or-corporate-greed? debate" that InformationWeek thinks is the relevant one.

Pelosi's district calls on her to replace Fast Track

Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors joined the dozen other state and local authorities around the country and unanimously passed a resolution (PDF) calling on Speaker Pelosi to replace Fast Track. The resolution also blasts the

"recent failure of the House leadership to consult other members of Congress, state and local policymakers, and key constituency groups before announcing the conclusion of negotiations with the Bush administration.."

Read the Green Party of California's Press Release on the resolution here.

NEA says Fast Track must expire

The National Education Association (NEA) sent a letter to the Hill (PDF) this month urging Congress to let Fast Track go, citing key concerns about new U.S. General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) offers that would further commodify higher education. Some choice excerpts from the letter:

NEA strongly believes that education is a basic right... Subjecting higher education to WTO jurisdiction, which current proposals do, would place at risk a multitude of important higher education policies, such as subsidies, scholarships, and loans... We do not need WTO trade tribunals second-guessing U.S. lawmakers and regulators in closed trade tribunals.

Moreover,

To subject higher education to WTO jurisdiction without a thorough review by relevant policymakers within state and federal governments would be a serious error with devastating consequences. It is important to note that once signed, the binding terms of the GATS make it prohibitively difficult to "take back" sectors from WTO jurisdiction.

Case in point — the U.S. has decided to "take back" gambling from our WTO commitments, but Antigua is now demanding $3.4 billion in compensation for maintaining our gambling laws. Who's footing that bill?

June 21, 2007

More action from Maine

Maine has been taking the lead on reforming our failed trade policy on all fronts — through anti-Fast Track resolutions, sweat-free consortiums, and now economic impact studies. This week, Maine became the first state in the nation to pass legislation requiring economic impact studies of big-box projects before they are approved. LD 1810 requires cities and towns to evaluate the impact of big-box retail development on jobs, local businesses and municipal finances. These projects can only be approved if they will not adversely affect the local economy, which doesn't bode well for mega-retailers like Wal-Mart, which has lobbied the USTR (PDF) against some of these proposals.

In a press release from the Maine Fair Trade Campaign, Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance says:

"Too often communities must decide whether to approve big-box development without any objective information about the impact on the local economy. Maine is leading the nation by giving towns a tool for weighing the costs and benefits."

These initiatives have been proposed in several states, and the California state legislature passed a similar bill twice, which Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed in 2004 and again in 2006 (PDF). Laws requiring economic needs tests before approving big-box stores are just among some of the local zoning laws that could be potential threats under GATS rules. Luckily, Maine isn't succumbing to the chilling effect.

To find out more about this topic, check out our "Big Box Backlash" report on the WTO's threat to local zoning laws.

USTR claims economic impacts of trade are unknowable

This is from last week, but bizarre and worth highlighting — via U.S. Fed News, a press release from Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) that includes the following:

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and five U.S. Senators met Tuesday with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab to urge that trade agreements be renegotiated to include benchmarks for success, including whether the agreements had resulted in a net improvement in U.S. job creation and higher wages.

"With stagnant wages and good jobs disappearing, America's workers need a new trade policy that will promote job creation and wage growth at home. This Administration also should be pursuing remedies to China's deliberately undervalued currency, preferably through action at the WTO," Senator Webb said.

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who hosted the meeting, said that while Ambassador Schwab demonstrated a willingness to discuss the concept of benchmarks, she insisted it is not possible to measure the economic impact of trade agreements, including job creation. "We obviously have some differences," Dorgan said.

Schwab's argument would probably come as quite a surprise to folks like Rob Scott at the Economic Policy Institute, who have been doing for the past several years exactly what she claims is impossible in reports like Revisiting NAFTA and Costly Trade With China.

Trading away social security in Peru

Thanks to the efforts of Todd and Lori here at GTW, as well as our friends at USAction and Americans for Democratic Action, wading through some serious legal weeds, yesterday we released a new report detailing the threat posed by the Peru FTA to Peru's social security system.

In brief, the FTA's foreign investor protection provisions could undermine any attempt by the Peruvian government to reverse the deeply unpopular attempt to privatize the country's social security system. Because ProFuturo AFP, one of the four major private social security providers in Peru is majority-owned by Citibank, a U.S. corporation, Citibank could sue Peru for extensive damages should the country attempt to re-nationalize the social security system.

Ironically, given the Death Star Deal fails to correct this (easily fixable) problem, it puts pro-deal Democrats in the awkward position of supporting the social security privatization that they so vehemently opposed domestically, as reported last week by Ian Swanson in The Hill.

The full report is available in both English and Spanish (PDF links).

Antigua ups the ante; EU and India double down

For those of you following the WTO gambling case, we finally have a price tag on how much the U.S. gambling market is worth to Antigua: $3.4 billion! As predicted, Antigua's hitting us where it'll ostensibly hurt the most (sorry Hollywood). Announced in a Congress Daily article today (not linkable):

In a filing made today with the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body, the island nation said it wants the ability to override copyrights, trademarks and patents to copy products to which U.S. entities hold the exclusive rights. According to an attorney involved in the case, that could include the ability to offer "authorized, expropriated" digital copies of movies and software for sale at cut-rate prices over the Internet. A press release from the government of Antigua and Barbuda said the move "could have significant implications for American intellectual property rights and represents a material escalation in the stakes at play in the gambling case."

Adding insult to injury, the European Union and India also filed papers at the WTO on Monday, requesting compensation from the United States for also being locked out of the gambling industry. While no numbers have been released, Antigua has set a pretty high bar, and now the U.S. has three months to come up with a deal that will satisfy the EU and India, according to today's BNA article (also not linkable, sorry). On top of that, Antigua's attorney, Mark Mendel, says he expects other countries to follow suit including Brazil, China, and perhaps Japan and Canada. But USTR is adamant that it owes no one nothin':

The United States has already said it does not believe claims for compensation are justified since no WTO Member could have reasonably thought that the United States was agreeing to commitments in direct conflict with its own laws.

If that's the case, perhaps the U.S. should also think about "clarifying" all our commitments in other service sectors we've signed up to the GATS that go against our domestic laws.

June 19, 2007

Great new word: "boboaperturismo"

Ecuador's new president Rafael Correa is a serious fair trader who understands trade and development issues very very well. Think a Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) or Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) of the Andes.

Recently, he told reporters that:

"I've never been against trade pacts. Trade is important - vital for development - but it's got to be fair trade. Another thing is the free trade of 'boboaperturismo'," which Correa called a "formula for disaster."

There's no easy way to translate this word. "Bobo" means something like "dummy," while "aperturismo" means something like "a reckless philosophy of market opening."  In English, a little unwieldy. But there's no tariff on importing fun phrases.

June 15, 2007

Skill biased technological change too biasey these days

Back when me and my friends were but wee lads, during the good ol' Reagan years, middle class parents who had learned to accept being beaten by the man counseled their kids to skill up. "You're not going to be the bloke [uhh, I grew up in England??] that builds the widgets for the house, you're going to have to go high end, get some sweet design skills, and make the whole house."

If we needed any further evidence that this line of argument was but wishful thinking, that nothing is impossible in the land of magic wishes and corporate-run economies, that houses can float across borders, that the real issue is about POWER (i.e. not accepting the beat down), here yinz go:

FOUR years ago Henry Scott, a media consultant living in Manhattan, hired Sergio Guardia to design a weekend house on a wooded site in Kerhonkson, N.Y. Mr. Guardia, an architect who was born in Bolivia and trained at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, came up with plans for a futuristic house set on thick steel beams cantilevered over a hillside.

The house, which was meant to feel like a capsule suspended in the woods, was perfect for the North Carolina-born Mr. Scott, who said he loves nature — when it’s behind glass. Because of allergies, he said, “I didn’t want to have a lawn to mow or bushes to prune.”

Mr. Scott responded enthusiastically to Mr. Guardia’s vision. But when they priced the house, he said, “there was no way I could afford it.” The steel supports (which ended up costing $47,000) were budget-busters, but they were essential to the design.

So Mr. Guardia, of the Manhattan firm of Guardia Architects, suggested having the wood parts of the house — the floors, doors, window frames and cabinetry — made in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where his sister-in-law, Cecilia López, is an architect, and where labor costs are much lower than in the United States.

Eat your Frankenstein Food, and Eat it Fast, says Eurobureaucrat

This news out of Europe today:

The European Union must accept more genetically modified foods to avoid renewed complaints about market barriers at the World Trade Organization, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said...

In a case brought by [the US and other countries], the WTO ruled last year that a 1998-2004 EU ban on new gene-altered foods was illegal. The bloc ended the six-year moratorium after tightening labeling rules and creating a food agency to screen biotech applications...

The European Commission, the 27-nation EU's regulatory arm, faces resistance to gene-modified foods from member states including Austria and Greece. Surveys show opposition to such foods by more than half of European consumers, who worry about risks such as human resistance to antibiotics and the development of ``superweeds'' impervious to herbicides.

As we noted last year when the WTO made its most recent Frankestein Food ruling, which was not only about WHAT food we eat but HOW and HOW QUICKLY we have to decide to eat it,

The WTO’s invasion of such a hypersensitive, value-laden policy about something as intimate as the very nature of food on people’s dinner tables is certain to throw even more doubt on the already-shaky Doha Round WTO expansion talks. If the WTO can meddle with what food comes into our homes, the last thing we should do is expand the power or reach of this unaccountable, corporate-controlled body.

Sweat Free Communities on Deal: "fails in both substance and process"

Sweat Free Communities, , recently released this note on the Deathstar Deal:

SweatFree Communities Statement on Trade Deal Announced May 10, 2007
June 6, 2007

SweatFree Communities is a national network of community-based worker rights organizations that believe that we need a new fair trading system for the global economy to support the rights of workers, strengthen communities, and protect the environment. For this reason, we are opposed to the trade deal recently announced by the Bush Administration and House and Senate Democratic leaders to facilitate passage of pending Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Peru and Panama, Colombia, and Korea. Because only a broad summary of the provisions of the trade deal are available, a real assessment of its impact will have to await the release of the specific FTA language. However, enough public information is available to know that the deal – despite seemingly positive new labor and environmental protections – would further advance the corporate "free trade" model that has proved devastating to the world's workers. We still need a new direction for trade agreements based on the values and priorities of workers and communities, and the principles of democracy, equity, and social justice.

Continue reading "Sweat Free Communities on Deal: "fails in both substance and process"" »

June 14, 2007

Teamsters: Deal like "new tires on a car that does not run"

Here's a letter that the Teamsters sent to the Hill a few days ago:

June 12, 2007

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the 1.4 million members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, I am writing to express our opposition to the trade deal announced May 10, 2007, by Chairman Rangel, some members of the Democratic Leadership, and the Bush Administration to facilitate passage of more Bush North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) expansions. Not one labor union, small business, family farm, consumer, environmental or faith organization supports this deal. The Teamsters plan to strongly oppose the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) unless further changes are made to fully address the concerns with the Bush-negotiated FTAs that we enumerated to the Ways and Means Committee well before the negotiating process began.

It is time for the United States (U.S.) to push for trade policies that will create jobs here in the U.S., not passage of more bad free trade agreements. In fact, there should be a moratorium on all new trade agreements until the United States adopts the policies necessary to restore our economy so that all workers benefit and so that our skyrocketing trade deficit is finally brought to balance. It is astounding to the Teamsters that Members of Congress would consider passing the Peru or Panama FTAs -- or any FTA -- without fully addressing the serious problems of the NAFTA- Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) trade model or the impact our current globalization policies have had on workers everywhere. The public strongly demanded a new American trade policy during the 2006 election. Adding even the best labor and environmental standards to agreements containing the same NAFTA foreign investor, procurement, and other provisions that have proved to destroy U.S. jobs and push down wages is not a new American trade policy. It is more of the same policy the majority of Americans rejected.

Continue reading "Teamsters: Deal like "new tires on a car that does not run"" »

Bono takes it personal and makes it personal

It's a little off of our general beat here at Eyes on Trade, but there's been some pretty funny coverage of an outburst by Irish rocker Bono at a recent conference on foreign aid.

Bushbono2 When scholars at the conference rightfully pointed out that no country has ever developed on the basis of foreign aid, Bono heckled some choice words from the audience.

He went on to say: "You'd think somebody farted in here when the words 'debt relief' came up - ooh, debt relief, that's so uncool," and praised U.S. Cold War strategery in Europe, and Ireland's low taxes - a pretty funny aside, since Bono and fellow bandmates have caught flack back home for tax avoidance.

June 13, 2007

Another great Fast Track video

Following in the Machinists' footsteps, the Oregon and Maine Fair Trade Campaigns have produced a 10-minute educational film consisting of a bunch of people (including our own Lori Wallach) talking about why Fast Track needs to be replaced.  (There's also a bit of the obligatory railroad-track imagery.)  It can be seen below, or downloaded from the Maine Fair Trade Coalition website here in QuickTime MOV format.

What's this stuff doing in our "trade" agreements?

Two rather outrageous "trade" disputes were recently ruled on, one brought through NAFTA and one through the WTO.  These are worth looking at briefly because the provisions under which these cases were brought are bound to make you scratch your head and think, "what the heck are these things even doing in trade agreements anyway?"

First, a NAFTA tribunal ruled against an aggressive move by UPS, which sued the Canadian government over Canada Post, the country's government-owned postal service, in 2000 using NAFTA's "Chapter 11" investor rights provisions.  UPS claimed that Canada Post enjoyed an unfair competitive advantage because, as succinctly put by a Canadian Press reporter, "[Canada Post's] services such as Express Post and Priority Courier draw on an infrastructure of sorting facilities, mailboxes and post offices that private firms must provide for themselves."  UPS was contending that the very existence of Canada Post as a publicly owned corporation, funded by government money and using a government-established infrastructure, cost UPS $160 million in lost revenues.

Continue reading "What's this stuff doing in our "trade" agreements?" »

June 12, 2007

DLC think tank confirms key facts on Deathstar/trade policy

Our very own Lori Wallach was on the "Your Call" show on KALW 91.7 FM (San Francisco's NPR affiliate) with host and guest Ed Gresser of the Democratic Leadership Council's Progressive Policy Institute.

I won't go into too much detail about what Lori said, because you can find most of it on our main site, but I think it was useful to hear from Ed on the Deathstar Deal. Listen to the whole show, but these facts that Ed made were particularly cogent:

  • That there's no reason to trust the Bush administration on labor and environmental enforcement actions.
  • That NAFTA and other NAFTA expansion agreements over the last 12 years have not had meaningful or enforceable labor and environmental standards.
  • That trade unionists in Colombia are regularly targeted for assassination, so the country is not ready for a trade deal with the United States.
  • That the South Korea FTA is bad for U.S. manufacturing.
  • That trade policy is sharply dividing Democrats.
  • That the Democrats' recent losing presidential nominees have not campaigned on fair trade policies.
  • That the U.S. unemployment rate is low.
  • That child labor is pervasive in many developing countries - and even in parts of the United States.

Continue reading "DLC think tank confirms key facts on Deathstar/trade policy" »

Deepa Fernandes on a real solution to immigration

WBAI radio host Deepa Fernandes comes across with some clear thinking on immigration:

I have spent years researching immigration policies and talking about immigration with citizens and migrants alike. While some immigrants certainly do aspire to stay permanently in the U.S., many wish they could have remained in their home country and earned a living wage there.

But trade policies like NAFTA, CAFTA and free trade agreements with many Caribbean and Asian countries, coupled with IMF and World Bank policies that have gutted social welfare programs in many of these countries have forced millions into migratory patterns to eek out a living. When their village or rural town becomes unviable, most people move to the nearest big city. Cities in all these countries are far from able to provide meaningful employment for the masses and the migration continues until a decent paying job can be found. In this part of the hemisphere, that place is the United States.

Simultaneously, U.S. workers have suffered because employers can hire, en-masse, a workforce that has few rights, no benefits and accepts paltry wages. But somehow, this exploitation of undocumented workers has been transformed into the idea that immigrants are the ones to blame for “taking” plum “American” jobs.

So here’s my solution. Let’s go to the root cause of the problem. Let’s deal with why people can’t stay in their home country and earn a fair wage, and lets then look at why there is a race to the bottom for wages and job conditions here in the U.S. In sum, the domestic immigration problem should be tackled through trade and labor policies...

Imagine if we could end, or at the very least massively reform, NAFTA, CAFTA and all the free trade agreements the U.S. has with other nations. Let’s push for fair trade or even take some of the huge budget that is spent on militarizing the southern border (because let’s be real, it hasn’t worked and more money for stadium lights, unmanned drones and border patrol agents is not going to stop people coming in search of work) and lets invest in jobs that will keep people where they want to be: in their home country. If one could earn $7-10 an hour in Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica, Peru etc, you watch the flow of undocumented immigrants dry up. And while this may seem a pipe dream, with political will, it is possible.

Korea FTA: Pressure's on the Democratic leaders

Yesterday, protesters in San Francisco called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to oppose the U.S.-South Korea FTA. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, San Francisco Labor Council, national AFL-CIO, and Oakland Institute all participated. Fog City Journal has the story and a bunch of photos (like the one you see below).

Young Koo Heo, Vice President of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said that democratic rights and free-speech have been repressed, calling the FTA "unfair," and benefiting corporatate interests at the expense of workers. Heo said the FTA would cause unemployment rates to increase in both the US and South Korea.

Inequality is the new black

There have been dozens of stories on inequality in the mainstream press recently: some bad, some awful, some pretty good. It's clear that the burgeoning interest in this topic even among mainstream pundits is a clear sign that "the establishment" is working over time to explain this away and get the rhetorical upper hand, before somebody proposes something that could actually DO something about inequality and wage stagnation. (Even the good stories try to delineate the fault lines of the debate as the statesmen-like economic GOP-style conservatives, the statesmen-like economic Dem-style conservatives, and the rabidly unpredictable populists. Guess which option gets discredited?)

You have Roger Lowenstein of the New York Times, never one to let facts or analysis get in the way of a good story, who Dean dissects on the intellectual property point in greater detail at Beat the Press. But one of the things that annoyed me about this piece was this passage:

Why isn’t prosperity spreading more equally? The leading theory has been that a global, high-tech economy creates big winners and losers. That is surely part of it. But Europe has computers, too, so where are all of its billionaires? Countries like Sweden are more equal, but to some economists, they are probably too equal. There is a rough trade-off between equality and growth: if you try too hard to make everyone equal, you get fewer entrepreneurs, fewer Silicon Valleys and a lower standard of living.

Okay, so I'm the blogger here, but I think this passage is shockingly cavalier. First of all, the global economy creating winners and losers?? That's not "part of it." That's it! Especially if you consider those things that have directly to do with public policy choice (the number of workers effectively in competition with one another through trade, immigration and regulation) and also those things that are less directly about policy choice (high tech booms).

As for Scandinavia, I'm not advocating we wholesale import their social model, but it's difficult to argue that there's been much downside for the region from following its model. On low wage inequality, high collective bargaining coverage, low rates of incarceration, high life expectancy, controllable health care costs, high math and science literacy, high national income, high hourly labor productivity, and more, the Scandinavian countries have performance that meets or exceeds the U.S. level.

June 11, 2007

Sneaky catfishes

BNA reports (sorry, not linkable):

The Department of Justice announced June 7 the arrest of David S. Wong and David Chu for allegedly conspiring to deceive customs agents by falsely labeling catfish to be imported into the United States (United States v. Virginia Seafood Corp.,C.D. Cal.,No. 2:07-cr-00449,indictment 5/24/07).

The indictment, which was returned on May 24 by a federal grand jury in the Central District of California, charges 10 seafood companies and six individuals "for a scheme to import millions of pounds of falsely labeled Vietnamese catfish into the United States," the Justice Department said in a June 7 press release.

Between June 2004 and June 2005, Virginia Star Seafood Corp. and International Sea Products Corp. illegally imported over 10 million pounds of Vietnamese catfish falsely labeled as sole, grouper, flounder, and conger pike, according to the indictment. The indictment alleges that the seafood companies conspired to deceived Customs and Border Protection officials.

There's two ways to look at this. Economic libertarians would say that having any such labeling requirement invites this kind of attempt to evade the law. Parents of children, however, would say that we have a right to know what's going on our dinner table. Says Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) summed up what many fair traders are thinking, especially after Alabama banned the sale of catfish imported from China after 14 of 20 samples tested positive for fluoroquinolones - a banned antibiotic:

Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) in May sent a letter to FDA calling for tougher inspection standards for catfish imported from China. "It is alarming that only 1.3 percent of imported fish, fruit, and vegetables are currently inspected," Davis said in the letter. "The FDA, the federal agency with responsibility for the safety of 80 percent of the food supply, needs to take the lead in maintaining a rigorous, flexible, and transparent food safety process."

Growth accounting

For those who like to make simple connections between trade policy and growth, it don't get much simplisher than this:

In the first quarter, trade subtracted a full point from the G.D.P., which expanded just 0.6 percent, the slowest in more than four years. While trade has occasionally aided growth for a quarter, it has not added to a full year’s growth since 1995.

China case illustrates food safety issues in a globalized economy

Right on the heels of the tainted Chinese pet food episode and rising fears of contaminated food imports from China, it now appears that China is playing the same cards against the United States, claiming that some U.S. health supplements and raisins failed to meet Chinese safety regulations.

Regardless of whether or not you think this move by China results from retaliatory political showmanship or genuine, rising concern about food safety in the wake of the corresponding furor among the U.S. public, this kind of quid-pro-quo blame game illustrates a point that fair trade activists have been making for years.  That is, replacing a locally controlled food supply with a globalized food market operating under the current rules of the game (under which tight food safety standards or bans are attacked as "barriers to trade") creates a downward pressure on food safety standards worldwide and takes away communities' rights to determine what is in the food they eat.  Of course, this is in addition to the economic and social effects of global trade rules that favor massively industrialized food producers, and the unintended economic side effects of a tightly interconnected global economy (like the effect of a Chinese pork shortage on inflation in the developed West).

You don't have to look far for examples, from Europe's ban on artificial beef hormones ruled WTO-illegal, to food imports in the United States not being subject to U.S. inspection standards yet receiving USDA stamped approval anyway, to Saudi Arabia's reluctance to enter the WTO because of concerns that they would not be able to prevent the importation of pork under WTO market access rules.

A helpful concept in this debate is the idea of subsidiarity: regarding food, the principle of subsidiarity would mandate that to whatever extent local farmers and producers can meet the needs of their community, the rules should encourage them to do so, instead of subsidizing massive levels of trade for trade's sake (or for the sake of profits for multinational industrialized food producers).  This idea is explained in greater detail by the International Forum on Globalization in their book Alternatives to Economic Globalization.

June 08, 2007

Oregon Sen. Smith locks out constituents concerned over job losses

On Monday, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.)'s Pendleton office was expecting a visit from a group of constituents wanting to voice their opposition to the "fast track" process. These citizens' level of concern, as in many districts across the United States, was due to the increasing number of displaced Oregonian jobs lost in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), including their own. When they arrived, however, they were met with a locked door rather than an open ear. The East Oregonian reported:

...people showed up to urge Smith to oppose the "Fast Track" process, also called the Trade Promotion Authority, that gives the president the authority to negotiate and write trade agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster.

Jason Hennings was one of those who claimed free trade hurt him and his family. He worked at Simplot in Hermiston for 17 years before the company moved its food processing business out of the country in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He said there are some things about fast tracking trade agreements Smith should understand..."Fast Track is bad policy. It doesn't allow for a real democratic process."

Noting the limited floor time trade legislation is allowed under this process (just one of many unique restrictions on Congress' authority under fast track), Hennings continued, saying: "if senators and representatives were allowed to scrutinize these kinds of free trade agreements, they may not be so inclined to approve them."

Smith has a record of voting for NAFTA-style trade agreements such as the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the more recent Oman FTA.

Foreign Policy Freelancing

Just for fun:

Reported today in Reuters, referring to the Colombia trade pact,

"We're working with the State Department, the Treasury and USSR (U.S. Trade Representative's Office) on conditions where people might be in position to support it," said Rangel, whose committee has initial jurisdiction over trade agreements.

Our trade policy is clearly antiquated when we're negotiating standards with the United Soviet Socialist Republics.

Also, last week - in the Congressional Record: May 22, 2007 (House), Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) defended the trade deal laid out by the Bush administration and a few members of Democratic leadership as a template for trade relations with NORTH Korea (?!):

"There are obstacles and other issues that have to be dealt with in our trade agreements. This is just part of the special ones that often have to be dealt with. They certainly will be with Colombia, with North Korea, [issues] that are not spoken to in this template that will be very specific."

UPDATE: Congresswoman Schwartz's office has assured me that she mispoke and that a correction was immediately submitted to the Congressional Record.

But her statement might be truer than she thought. A little known provision in the pending agreement references an industrial zone, Kaesong, that according to the Wall Street Journal's "Washington, Seoul Face a Thorny Issue" (no longer available online), "combines South Korean capital with North Korean labor" (i.e. multinationals using slave labor). Read more about this at the Huffington Post in David Sirota's "Bush, Congress Consider North Korea 'Free' Trade Pact."

June 07, 2007

Sanders, Grassley try to put the brakes on outsourcing

In the latest strange-bedfellows case, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced an amendment (PDF) to the Senate immigration bill that would bar companies from hiring foreign workers with H-1B visas if they have made mass layoffs of U.S. workers within the past year. This would prevent companies from profiting by dumping U.S. labor in favor of cheaper international workers, while still allowing companies with genuine labor shortages to take advantage of the H-1B program.

This has been covered extensively by technology sites like Ars Technica, PC World and Information Week, and on Sirota's site, although it doesn't seem like it's gained much traction yet elsewhere (and I can't seem to find a statement from either senator). Maybe that's not too surprising given that there have already been over 100 proposed amendments to this bill. In any case, we're keeping our eyes on it.

Rodrik on China and the WTO

Today, Dani Rodrik points out just one way that WTO policies are potentially anti-development: WTO rules constrain industrial policy of exactly the sort that China has used to build its manufacturing base.  In looking at China's automotive industry, Rodrik says,

...domestic content requirements compelled vehicle manufacturers to source more of their inputs domestically than they would have chosen to do at the outset. Economists normally think this is a terrible policy because it breeds inefficient domestic suppliers. (Such requirements are also now banned by the WTO). But this has evidently not happened in China (and also in India), where first-tier suppliers have reached near-frontier levels of productivity.

Of course, China's industry isn't the only one that has succeeded using domestic policy that is now WTO-illegal — just look at South Korea's even more successful auto industry, Brazil's experience with Embraer, etc.  Each of these countries made judicious use of industrial policy to take advantage of backwards linkages and build a much more robust manufacturing base than they could have under WTO rules banning domestic-input requirements.

Immigration debate over at the National Review

David Frum over at the National Review poses an interesting line of argument:

I am often asked: how can you support free trade while favoring curbs on immigration? If borders are open to goods and capital, should they not be open to people as well? This argument used to impress me a great deal. (In the next NRODT I tell the story of how I came to change my mind on immigration.)  But can we please note that from a distributional point of view, immigration functions more like protectionism than trade?

Protectionists always do well in Congress because the benefits of protectionism are tightly concentrated while the costs are broadly dispersed. The beneficiaries clamor for protection; the victims keep quiet.

Isn't that exactly what happens with immigration? The benefits of open borders are claimed by a few tightly organized groups; the costs fall on the American people as a whole.

Immigration is an odd issue that cuts in odd ways in the body politic. The left tends to emphasize the individual dimension of immigration (i.e. families that have suffered from ICE raids, border policing, etc.) as reason to have more open borders to immigration, while this right advances cultural arguments (who is dem America? what language do dem speak?) disguised as economic ones (labor supply concerns). Still others emphasize that we're importing the "wrong workers," and that there would be more payoff to American families if we imported doctors and lawyers rather than putting our lowly paid manufacturing workers in race to the bottom competition.

Continue reading "Immigration debate over at the National Review" »

June 06, 2007

More from Pennsylvania

Fresh off the heels of passing a resolution calling for Fast Track replacement, State Rep. Robert Belfanti and the Pennsylvania Fair Trade Coalition reiterated the need to change our failed trade policy. At a press conference on Monday, Belfanti explained:

"We need a new model for trade agreements which ensures the views of the states will be heard. Our companies cannot compete with countries where workers are paid a fraction of what U.S. workers are paid and where companies don't have to worry about protecting the health and safety of their workers and the environment."

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President William George went on to say that Congress as a whole should step up and oppose Fast Track:

"Nobody gets a free ride on this issue from the labor movement. We are holding them accountable, Democrats and Republicans."

June 05, 2007

Cut-Throat Capitalism: A Pirate's Paradise

Today, the New York Times again called attention to the dangerous fake and falsified products that are being exported to the U.S. and around the world from China. The most imminent threats have been from products in people food and pet food, but everything from fake car parts, cosmetics, and Philips light bulbs to counterfeit electrical cables and phony Viagra have a history of production in the country.

The insightful question that adds an edge to this article, however, diverts from China-bashing and rather implores us to consider the larger framework in which countries operate in the global economy:

"This is cut-throat market capitalism," said Wenran Jiang, a specialist in China who teaches at the University of Alberta. "But the question has to be asked: is this uniquely Chinese or is there simply a lack of regulation in the market?"

"We have to bear in mind they probably don't think about the consequences at all," said Steve Tsang, a China specialist who teaches at Oxford University. "They're probably only thinking of making a fast buck."

What happens when deregulation runs rampant? This is just a preview. More to come on specific products to avoid that are readily available to the American consumer.

GOP Craig Thomas and Dem William Jefferson on trade

The latest news to come out of Washington is the indictment of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) and the death of Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.). Tasini has a post on Jefferson worth reading over here.

Whatever the eventual outcome of the case against Jefferson, it's clear that money in politics is having a detrimental impact on Congress' (and especially all too many Democrats') ability to think clearly on trade and other pocketbook issues facing working families. Indeed, in the nearly 18 years he has been in office, Jefferson has voted against fair trade 16 out of 17 times, voting for NAFTA, WTO, NAFTA for Africa (twice), China PNTR, NAFTA expansions to Australia, Bahrain, Chile, Morocco, Oman, and Singapore, and providing key passing votes on CAFTA and Fast Track (twice) in 2001-02. He also voted against crucial accountability measures on Fast Track in 1991 and WTO in 2005. (The one and only time he voted the fair trade position was in 1993 on a Fast Track measure.)

Meanwhile, Sen. Thomas - while certainly no consistent fair trader - actually bucked his party leadership to vote the fair trade position on CAFTA in 2005, helping make the measure the tightest Senate vote on trade in recent history. This is also partially explained by the shifting winds on trade in Wyoming, evidenced most recently by Gary Trauner's fair trade candidacy in the '06 election.

June 04, 2007

New Hampshire Joins the Chorus

Check out another state resolution that raises concerns about state compliance with the non-trade rules contained in recent trade agreements. Last Friday, the New Hampshire Senate and House passed a resolution urging Congress to "exempt New Hampshire from new General Agreement on Trade in Services offers unless explicitly granted authority to include the state in such offers." More broadly, the resolution calls for federal trade negotiators to respect the traditional boundaries of state regulatory authority by obtaining state's explicit permission before signing them up to trade deals. From the American Friends Service Committee press release (PDF):

"The arcane language of trade provisions covering investment, government procurement, and regulation of the service sector takes a direct aim at areas which have historically been under the authority of the state and local governments," said Rep. Susi Nord of Candia, who also sits on her town's Planning Board. “We are telling the trade negotiators not to agree to provisions which affect our state unless we tell you to."

New Hampshire is also planning to create a Citizen Advisory Commission that would look at the wide-ranging impacts of trade agreements on the state, modeled after similar oversight commissions in other states such as the one in Maine.

Debate showcased candidate similarities, but what about differences?

If you missed last night's debate among Democratic presidential hopefuls, you can read the transcript here.

You'll notice that after two hours of questions and answers, there were few major differences between the candidates. Amazingly, there were only a few mentions and no questions specifically about jobs, the economy or trade throughout the entire evening.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) took his opportunity and was the only candidate to criticize NAFTA trade deals during last night's debate. This comment was met with thunderous applause, one of the few rounds of applause for anyone at any point on any issue. Amazingly, none of the other candidates joined him last night, supporting a fair trade position and wooing voters who were clearly impressed and aligned with Kucinich's fair trade stance.

Stay tuned for more debates that will hopefully address this major issue on voters' minds: "it's the economy, stupid."

June 02, 2007

All-American Hershey's chocolate: made in Mexico

While we're on the topic of plants closing and moving to Mexico, last Thursday there was this story in the L.A. Times: "Hershey plant to kiss Oakdale goodbye." Hershey is closing the doors of its plant in Oakdale, California, moving all 575 jobs to Monterrey, Mexico. But it's not just this one plant:

The 113-year-old company has described the plant shutdown as part of a "global supply-chain transformation." Some 3,000 of Hershey's 13,000 workers will lose their jobs, including as many as 900 in the company's hometown of Hershey, Pa., where the streetlights are shaped like Kisses. By 2010, Hershey says, the moves will save shareholders as much as $190 million annually.

"The financials are compelling," Chief Executive Richard H. Lenny told a meeting of market analysts in February, saying labor costs in Mexico are 10% of those in the United States. Asked about the negative publicity that would come with the plant closures, he said the decisions were "gut-wrenchingly difficult — but in the best interests of the business."

The article mentions protesters and a Hershey employee who said, "Milton Hershey's ideal was stability for families, but there's none of that anymore. There's no more moral connection between business and working-class America." Sadly, the words of these outspoken folks will probably fall on deaf ears — as Oakdale's congressional representative, George Radanovich (R-Calif.), has a 100 percent anti-fair-trade voting record, having voted wrong on 15 out of 15 trade votes since taking office in 1995.

June 01, 2007

1993 NAFTA vote casting a long shadow

The New York Times today elaborates further on the "minority of the majority" approach we've discussed on these pages, then takes the current trade/Death Star Deal debate and brings it back to the NAFTA vote...

To some veteran House Democrats, the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement is a particularly bitter memory. A majority of then-minority Republicans joined with a minority of then-majority Democrats to pass the deal sought by President Bill Clinton. Quite a few Democrats believe that approval of the trade deal over the objections of organized labor diluted union support in 1994 and contributed to the loss of Congress by the Democrats that year... 156 Democrats, including the majority leader and whip, opposed [NAFTA].

Studying the real-world effects of NAFTA

We've been tipped off to a neat project, 33 Months, which documents the August 2003 closing of a Maytag plant in Galesburg, Illinois. Some 1,800 jobs were lost (see Public Citizen's database of federal trade adjustment assistance [TAA] records), moved to a new plant in Reynosa, Mexico. The project is being coordinated by undergraduates at Galesburg's Knox College — where the man who signed NAFTA into law, former President Clinton, is scheduled to give the commencement address this weekend.

The project's website/blog has plenty of personal stories, interviews, and perspectives on NAFTA, TAA, trade as an election issue, and more. Worth a look.

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