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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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September 28, 2007

Trade on the Trail, Part 3.0

Here's what the presidential candidates had to say this week about trade:

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), at a Chicago Change to Win forum said as reported in the Chicagoist,

"Back in the '90s when we had a Democratic Congress and we had a Democratic president, we didn't get universal healthcare," Edwards told the crowd, who interrupted him with seven—count 'em, sevenstanding ovations. "No, instead we got NAFTA followed by CAFTA followed by a whole series of trade agreements that cost America millions of jobs."

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) issued a press release posted here accusing "Communist China" of "cheating on trade." Hunter said in the statement:

Our ability to field effective weapons systems is largely dependent on our American manufacturing base. We cannot rely on foreign sources for critical elements of our systems.

And made a campaign promise:

Hunter said his Presidency will see a stop of China from cheating on trade and will reverse this one-way street inequity with a new fair trade policy. He pledges to level the playing field between U.S. companies and their trade competitors. In addition he further pledges to restore high paying manufacturing jobs to the American workers.

And from Teamsters President Jim Hoffa on Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) reported in the Chicago Sun Times:

Obviously everyone's aware that her husband passed NAFTA. She has to move ahead with her own trade policy and she is doing a lot to try to indicate that it is going to be different than her husband's.

And that's it for this week's Trade on the Trail. Remember to ask the candidates your questions about where they stand on NAFTA expansions (you can adapt our bird-dogging guide linked here) and report back on what they say!

(Disclosure: Global Trade Watch has no preference among the candidates.)

Death Clock Begins

Last night, President Bush formally transmitted the NAFTA expansion to Peru implementing legislation, setting the Death Clock in motion. Under Fast Track, Congress can't amend the legislation, and not even Pelosi or Rangel control the floor. Per Fast Track guru Hal Shapiro:

  • "Following transmittal by the President of a proposed agreement, its implementing bill, and required supporting materials, the implementing bill... must be introduced in both Houses by the respective majority leaders on behalf of themselves and the minority leaders."
  • "Following introduction of the implementing bill, it is to be referred, by the Presiding Officer in each House of Congress, to... the Ways and Means Committee and the Finance Committee... and possibly others."
  • "No amendments in the implementing bill are permitted... in the House of Representatives or the Senate. This limitation applies to committee consideration and in connection with a vote by either full chamber."
  • "Automatic Discharge. Committees may not consider the bill for more than 45 legislative days... after it is first introduced. If the implementing bill is not reported out of the committees to which it was referred within that time frame, those committees are automatically discharged and the bill is placed on the appropriate calendar."
  • "Floor debate is limited in each House of Congress to 20 hours."
  • "A vote on ultimate passage of the bill must occur in the House of Representatives and the Senate within 15 legislative days of the bill being reported out of the relevant committees or the automatic discharge of those committees. Thus, the maximum period for congressional consideration of a fast-track implementing bill is 60 legislative days, bu, of course, a final vote could occur in less time."
  • "No Conference Committee."

But there's just a teeny weeny pwoblem. At Wednesday's caucus meeting, as we reported yesterday, Pelosi "has promised Democrats reluctant to vote for a free trade agreement with Peru that they will first have the opportunity to approve an expanded trade adjustment assistance program for US workers who lose their jobs because of trade (WTD, 9/26/07)." But, as Inside U.S. Trade reported today, there's no such bill.

"It is unclear how quickly a TAA bill can advance. Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander Levin (D-MI) said this week he hoped to circulate a draft to members next week in order to promote discussion. The House approved a short-term extension of TAA on Sept. 25, five days before the program’s expiration and a week after the Ways and Means Committee approved it."

There is no reason that Bush had to drop the implementing legislation last night, AFTER it was reported that Pelosi wanted to go FIRST with trade adjustment assistance, which hasn't even been prepared yet. Whadda yinz think? Is Bush reminding pro-Deathstar Democrats whose NAFTA expansion this really is?

In any case, as we've reported many times, there shouldn't be any deal-making around TAA. First of all, it's cruel to deny assistance to the few workers who are able to qualify (a small minority of all trade-displaced workers). This should be done regardless of any other legislation. Then there's the issue that the biggest negative economic impact of our trade legislation is on the REST of the labor force - the ones that don't lose their jobs but see their wages stagnate as a result.

Finally, there's the perils of the deal-making process itself . Members should really stick to principle on this one, not only because it's the right thing to do politically and policy-wise for Peru and the American people, but also because 90% of promises made for votes on trade pacts do not work out as planned.

September 27, 2007

Karl Rove's Smile Lighting up a Dark Corner of Texas

The wires and industry publications were alight following yesterday afternoon's Democratic Caucus meeting, which was called by the House Trade Working Group to express their outrage that some Democrats are considering supporting Bush's NAFTA expansion to Peru.

If the Peru bill passes, Democrats face the real possibility that NAFTA expansion will be one of the few pieces of legislation (on any issue) that actually makes it through both chambers that is not watered down in the process and is signed into law during their control of Congress. This after losing control of Congress after supporting NAFTA in 1993-94, after 90% of the party voted against the virtually identical CAFTA in 2005, after taking control of Congress on a fair trade platform in 2006, having gotten not too much progressive legislation actually signed into law in 2007, and heading into a recession in 2008. Karl Rove's smile is surely lighting up some dark corner of Texas.

Among the highlights:

  • After opposing 95% identical CAFTA, Pelosi defends NAFTA-CAFTA expansion to Peru. From Congress Daily PM: "House Speaker Pelosi defended her support of the U.S.-Peru free trade agreement to a restive Democratic Caucus Wednesday, as the trade deal looks more and more likely to be on the House floor in October...   Pelosi told the caucus she had proved her "bona fides" on trade through past opposition to trade agreements, and said the Peru deal was a case where Democrats need to "take yes for an answer," according to one participant... New Democrat Coalition Chair Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., said the group will whip their members to support the deal, but said it has not been determined whether the coalition will formally score the vote. That might be decided at the group's weekly meeting today, she said. Michaud said he and other opponents will build opposition, including through reaching out to Republicans."
  • We get wheeling and dealing on a program that benefits very few Americans. Washington Trade Daily: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) has promised Democrats reluctant to vote for a free trade agreement with Peru that they will first have the opportunity to approve an expanded trade adjustment assistance program for US workers who lose their jobs because of trade (WTD, 9/26/07). The speaker told Democrats yesterday she will bring legislation expanding TAA to the floor before voting on the US-Peru free trade agreement - or any other trade deals, a Democratic aide told WTD. The announcement came at a closed-door meeting of the Democratic Caucus on the Peru FTA.  At that meeting, a number of members spoke out - “often in passionate language” - according to one aide, including free-trade critics Reps. Phil Hare (Ill), Mary Kaptur (Ohio), Michael Michaud (Maine), Linda Sanchez (Calif) and Brad Sherman (Calif)."
  • We have some very surprising reversals. The Hill reports that 93% fair trade vote record Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) is supporting Bush's Peru NAFTA expansion: ""I think I'€™ve voted for one trade deal since I've been here," said Pascrell, a six-term lawmaker who joined Ways and Means this year. At the time, Pascrell'™s appointment raised eyebrows from some in the business community since Pascrell is seen as a reliable vote against trade deals, not for them. "œSome of my friends say: '€˜What did you do when you got on Ways and Means? Did you drink the Kool-Aid?" quipped Pascrell... Rep. Hank Johnson (Ga.), one of 41 Democratic freshmen who called for a shift in trade policy, has said trade was critical to Democrats regaining their House majority earlier this year."
  • And a healthy dose of courage from freshmen members. Congressional Quarterly writes: "Trade opponents in the caucus, however, say that while the new standards represent improvement, the agreement remains flawed. They contend that the Bush administration cannot be trusted to enforce the new standards and that Democratic leaders are pushing the pacts too quickly. In a recent conference call, Trade Working Group member Phil Hare, D-Ill., said Democrats should postpone action on pending agreements until a new president takes office. Domestic politics exert a strong influence on opponents, many of whom say constituents voted for them to change U.S. trade policy. "I ran on this issue,' Hare said Wednesday, “and I can’t run away from it.'"

100 Priests Against CAFTA in Costa Rica; Workers Against Bush Admin Interference

Just as we're hearing about the impressive uprising in Burma against the military dictatorship - being led by Buddhist priests no less - the priests in this hemisphere are also getting active. (Check out Gringos Against CAFTA for ongoing updates and great photos on this story.)

According to the Spanish AP (my translation),

March1_2 On Wednesday, nearly 100 Costa Rican priests let their opposition to CAFTA be known, in spite of the church hierarchy declaring itself neutral on the topic.

The religious leaders, represented by Father Ignacio Trejos, detailed their reasoning in an 8-page document entitled, "Ethical Evaluation of the FTA," as only 10 days remained before the referendum that will decide the fate of the commercial pact in this country.

"We have been asked by our Church to remain neutral on this important issue, which is the referendum on the FTA. This would mean no more or less than the total disfiguration [of our church], since the Church should always be on the side of the truth, justice and the social well-being," wrote Trejos.

Among the reasons mentioned for their opposition is that the pact was negotiated in secret without citizen input, and that there were no safeguards for the rights of oppressed peoples.

For the prelates, "The FTA is equivalent to a reform of the state by stealth, introduced from outside the country."

Costa Ricans area also upset about the Bush administration's ambassador interfering in the referendum, as Xinhua reports in Spanish (again my translation):

Continue reading "100 Priests Against CAFTA in Costa Rica; Workers Against Bush Admin Interference" »

September 26, 2007

Blumenauer's Constituents Protest Peru NAFTA Expansion

More than two dozen people protested the NAFTA-expansion to Peru in Rep. Earl Blumenauer's (D-Ore.) Portland office earlier this week. Four protestors, who refused to leave until Blumenauer committed to vote "No" on the Peru NAFTA expansion, were arrested. The Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC) has more details on the protest and a link to a video interviewing labor and campesino leaders who know passing this deal will cause irreparable harm in Peru.

Image_mini Ignoring the real concerns that were voiced at the protest - including the impoverishing impact of this deal on hundreds of thousands of Peruvian farmers - the Ways and Means Committee (presumably with Blumenauer present although there is no recorded vote count) approved the NAFTA expansion to Peru by "voice vote" at yesterday's "mock mark-up." Is Blumenauer helping the Bush administration pass a NAFTA-style agreement to Peru instead of standing with his constituents who want to see real change in our trade policy? Let us know your thoughts.

September 25, 2007

Latino, immigrant and other groups tell Congress to reject Peru NAFTA expansion

OPEN LETTER TO THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS – OPPOSE U.S.-PERU FTA

Dear Members of the U.S. Congress:

We are concerned Peruvian-Americans, immigrant organizations and human rights advocates in the United States. We are writing to express our strong opposition to the Free Trade Agreement with Peru (FTA) and to request its further renegotiation for the following reasons:

Continue reading "Latino, immigrant and other groups tell Congress to reject Peru NAFTA expansion" »

House Trade Working Group Responds to Mock Mark UP

House Trade Working Group Members Respond to “Mock Markup” of U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement

WASHINGTON, DC-Members of the House Trade Working Group today released the following statements in response to the “mock markup” of the U.S-Peru Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by the House Ways and Means Committee. Under the rules of fast-track, the markup is nonbinding and the agreement cannot be amended. The U.S.-Peru FTA, which follows the same flawed model as NAFTA and CAFTA, has not had a formal hearing since the White House and Congress announced a deal on labor and environmental standards in May.

Continue reading "House Trade Working Group Responds to Mock Mark UP" »

Trade on the Trail, Part Deux (that means too)

Here's what the presidential candidates had to say this week about trade:

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.),
at a Chicago meeting of the Laborers International Union of North America in response to a question about Clinton's healthcare plan, reported by the Chicago Tribune, said,

"The cost of that failure 14 years ago is not just somebody's political fortune or their scars," he said. "It's the millions of Americans who have now gone for almost 15 years without health care."

"We didn't get universal health care, but we got [the North American Free Trade Agreement]," he said. "We need universal health care. We didn't need NAFTA."

And Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), as reported in The Des Moines Register said,

"I'd make sure that jobs aren't exported to countries without protection from child or slave labor...And I'd make sure there are job protections and environmental protections" so that the United States won't be at a disadvantage.

"The president will tell you Wall Street's doing great. Tell that to the family in Newton, Iowa, which lost 2,700 jobs when Maytag got gobbled up by Whirlpool," he said. "The American dream has suffered because our economy is only responding to the upper branch of the population."

And more:

The National Review reports in its column Democrats Panic In The Heartland that Edwards' consultant, Dave "Mudcat" Sanders, had some impassioned words about Clinton and NAFTA:

If the Clintons had gone to the mat for universal health care the way they did for NAFTA and for crazy one-sided trade treaties, and had listened about the giant sucking sound that Ross Perot told them about, we would still have our health care and our jobs. It takes gall for her to say she's going to help us. She's got a record of killing us....

When Hillary Clinton talks about the 'unintended consequences' of NAFTA -- hey, I was born at night, but wasn't born last night. Unintended consequences, my ass. Everybody in rural and small town America knows they were unconsidered consequences. They didn't give a s---. All they cared about was holding on to their power!

And that's it for this week's Trade on the Trail.

(Disclosure: Global Trade Watch has no preference among the candidates.)

Mocking the Mock Mark Up

Just when I was beginning to think that last week's Senate Finance Committee's 18-3 approval of NAFTA expansion to Peru was a mockery of the millions of voters that voted for fair trade candidates in last year's elections (not to mention the Peruvian worker and peasant groups that have spent years trying to block the deal), I realized this morning that the mockery had just begun.

The House Ways and Means Committee just held its "mock mark-up" moments ago, and boy was it amped up on the "mock" factor. Without discussion, debate, amendments or input from most members, the Ways and Means Committee "approved" the NAFTA expansion to Peru by "voice vote," meaning none of the positions of the committee's 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans were recorded, and the committee chair just decides subjectively or based on the volume of member's voices whether they think the ayes or the nays won. Witnesses said that the call for "nays" was so rushed that a sneezing member might have missed it.

Under the Nixon-hatched Fast Track, there is a tradition of holding a "mock markup," which Fast Track scholar Hal Shapiro defines as:

"Although not statutorily required, the President submits a draft implementing bill to Congress in order to solicit comments and proposed changes. The President does do because it gives key members of Congress a chance to weigh in on the draft bill, which can allow the President to address any such issues in the final bill and thereby increases its chance of passage. Because the bill actually submitted by the President must be voted on without amendments, the committees of jurisdiction (Ways and Means in the House and Finance in the Senate) have developed an informal practice know as a "mock mark-up" to air their views and attempt to influence the bill. They do so by holding an informal executive session to discuss the draft implementing bill and propose changes, in the form of proposed 'amendments.'... The President is free to accept or reject any such 'amendments' in the bill he ultimately transmits to Congress." (Emphasis added.)

As we've written elsewhere,  Fast Track is an inherently undemocratic process that undermines the Founding Fathers' intention that Congress not only write but actually BE RESPONSIBLE for trade policy. Since Congress has voted through Fast Track (first in 1974) to take its hands off the trade policy steering wheel, the United States has run a ballooning trade deficit and wages have scarcely grown - thanks in large part to our trade policy.

But, if only to show constituents that they care, the congressional committees responsible for trade have often held a hearing on trade deals right before the "mock mark-up," followed by the "mock mark-up" where they debate and propose some amendments. In the past, important labor, development and environmental amendments have been proposed by members - and then often ignored by Bush or the previous GOP committee chairs. But it moves the debate forward and gets members (and the president) on the record nonetheless.

But today, nada. Bienvenidos al Deathstar, companeros.

September 24, 2007

Peruvians talk about why they don't want an FTA

Hat tip to the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, who pointed us to the film below, a well-produced video full of interviews with Peruvian labor and campesino leaders on why they oppose the U.S.-Peru FTA. Definitely worth your 10 minutes.

Sanders and Michaud show real solidarity in Costa Rica

As we've reported, Costa Ricans on October 7th will have an unprecedented opportunity to vote in a popular referendum on whether the country - Central America's oldest and strongest democracy, according to the State Department - will join CAFTA.

Recently, this drama has involved the resignation of top government officials who have been using threats and scare tactics to try to win support for CAFTA.

And then, over the weekend, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) went down toSanders_and_michaud_3 Costa Rica to let folks know that the scare tactics and the bullying are based on lies and hoaxes. According to Diario Extra:

  • The Bush administration has threatened Costa Rica with elimination of its current duty-free access in many products. According to Sanders: "That's absolutely false. Costa Rica will continue to benefit from the Caribbean Basin Initiative because it's a law and its existence depends exclusively on the U.S. Congress. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are talking about getting rid of this law."
  • Michaud pointed out that the Clinton administration promised a reduction in illegal immigration if NAFTA is signed, but that instead that NAFTA has caused a sharp increase in displacement and immigration.
  • Sanders said that, if the U.S. had a popular referendum on CAFTA, it would have gone down.

Now, that's people's solidarity and diplomacy. Hat tip to Sanders and Michaud!

Roll Call: Weller aide roughs up journalist over CAFTA

We recently reported that Rep. Jerry Weller's (R-Ill.) political career is crumbling in the wake of questions about his conflicts of interest with Nicaraguan investments as he boosted CAFTA in 2005.

Apparently, the CAFTAgate pressure is starting to get to Weller, who recently announced his retirement and is married to the daughter of the former Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt. Roll Call is reporting that a Weller staffer pounced on a journalist who was inquiring about CAFTAgate:

Guatemalaweddinginside A staffer for Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) apparently took questions from a reporter a bit too seriously Friday, when he allegedly pushed the scribe down a flight of stairs.

Mike Flannery, the political editor at the CBS affiliate in Chicago, planned to file charges against the staffer, identified by the station as John Dusik.

According to a news report on the station’s Web site, Flannery followed Weller into a stairway at the local chamber of commerce in Joliet, Ill., after the Congressman delivered the speech announcing his retirement. After Flannery asked Weller about the Central American investments that have gotten the Congressman into hot water, Dusik apparently pushed Flannery — first off-camera and then again on-camera, causing a woman nearby to fall.

“There’s a large man, who begins shoving reporters around, including yours truly,” Flannery told the station. “He shoves me one way, then he goes after another reporter with CLTV. ... There’s an opening in the doorway, and I begin moving through that doorway, and he shoves me down the stairs; he shoves me into a railing on the staircase and also into a woman on the staircase who was traveling with Weller.”

Dusik later was arrested, according to the report. Weller, for his part, stayed mum during the incident and drove away without answering questions from reporters.

September 21, 2007

Michigan's Stabenow Stands Strong

As Bloomberg has reported, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) stood strong for fair trade on the Senate Finance Committee to vote against the Peru NAFTA expansion. She was joined by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who are concerned that the FTA's intellectual property protection provisions are not restrictive enough.

The members that voted for NAFTA expansion to Peru included:

Democrats: Baucus (Mont.), Rockefeller (W.V.), Conrad (N.D.), Bingaman (N.M.), Kerry (Mass.), Lincoln (Ark.), Wyden (Ore.), Schumer (N.Y.), Cantwell (Wash.), and Salazar (Colo.).

GOP: Grassley (Iowa), Lott (Miss.), Snowe (Maine), Smith (Ore.), Bunning (Ky.), Crapo (Idaho), Roberts (Kansas), and Ensign (Nev.).

ScareGate Outed in Costa Rica

The Los Angeles TImes has a great story on Costa Rica's upcoming CAFTA referendum, as well as the ScareGate tactics that the anti-fair trade side is using.

But that was before a memo written by CAFTA advocates was leaked to the public this month, fueling outrage here. The document, dated July 29 and written by two high-level government officials with close ties to Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, outlined a campaign of dirty tricks intended to sway voters.

The authors proposed smearing CAFTA opponents by linking them to leftist firebrands such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro. They called for a public relations campaign to "stimulate fear" among citizens about the alleged dangers of snubbing the deal.

They also advocated punishing local officials -- by withholding funds for public programs in their regions -- if their constituents repudiated CAFTA.

CAFTA opponents have cried foul while supporters have suddenly found themselves on the defensive over a measure that appeared headed to victory. Prominent CAFTA backers, including Arias, have distanced themselves from the memo, which was addressed to him and his brother, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias.

One of the authors, Second Vice President Kevin Casas, has resigned from the "yes" campaign and temporarily stepped down from his Cabinet post as planning minister while election officials investigate whether any laws were broken.

"It's a bombshell," said Luis Guillermo Solis, a political science professor at the University of Costa Rica who opposes CAFTA. "It's Watergate."

Solis predicted that the memo would spark a backlash among undecided voters and citizens fed up with corruption scandals that have roiled Costa Rica in recent years.

Oxfam tells Congress: No NAFTA expansion to Peru!

Oxfam letter from earlier this week:

September 17th, 2007

Dear Member of Congress:

I am writing to you regarding the imminent Congressional action on the recently modified free trade agreement between the United States and Peru, referred to as the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA). Oxfam America is asking you to oppose this trade agreement because it will undermine development and poverty reduction in Peru.

Oxfam believes that trade can contribute to economic growth and to the reduction of poverty in developing countries, provided that trade agreements take into account the economic and social disparities between trading partners and include rules that are aligned with development and poverty-reduction goals. As originally negotiated, the PTPA failed to achieve these purposes. The modifications subsequently negotiated by the Democratic leadership and now included in the agreement, while taking important steps toward making trade work for people living in poverty, remain insufficient to overcome its adverse effects on development and poverty reduction in Peru.

The PTPA’s adverse effects on Peruvians will outweigh its limited benefits, which will primarily accrue to a limited group of exporters whose current US market access will be made permanent. Meanwhile, the agreement will harm many thousands of Peru’s small farmers who will be forced into an unfair competition with subsidized US agricultural exports. The PTPA will also restrict Peru’s ability to regulate foreign investment to ensure it serves national development. The bottom line is that the PTPA is not a fair trade agreement for the poor in Peru and should be rejected.

Continue reading "Oxfam tells Congress: No NAFTA expansion to Peru!" »

September 20, 2007

Lori Wallach testifies on food & product safety

Toxicthumb_3

Today, our very own Lori Wallach testified on imported food and product safety before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, drawing on and expanding up the findings of our recent report. The Washington Post has already picked up the story:

U.S. trade and safety policies, coupled with the Consumer Product Safety Commission's "laissez-faire" attitude, have left American consumers to rely on foreign regulations and inspectors to ensure the safety of products in their homes, Wallach said.

Read Lori's testimony or download it as a PDF. You can also see our recommendations for 10 steps to improving imported food and product safety (PDF, previewed at right).

September 18, 2007

Change to Win Unions oppose Peru NAFTA Expansion

Read the House and Senate letters - really, they're right on the mark!

And while there has been some talk in the news of the a labor divide, many AFL-CIO member unions have also come out against the Peru and Panama FTAs. Check out the Machinists for example.

And don't forget about Peruvian labor - also opposing. As reported in CongressNow (sorry - not linkable):

"The problems with worker rights in Peru can't be fixed with only Supreme Decrees from President Alan Garcia," said Julio Cesar Bazan, president of Confederacio Unitaria de Trabajadores, a Peruvian labor federation with strong ties to the AFL-CIO, through a translator on a conference call today. Such decrees, he said, do not have the force of law but rather make regulatory changes...

"We in Peru know that once the trade agreement is ratified, there's not going to be any effort at all by the Peruvian government to pass the general labor law," Bazan said.

 

September 14, 2007

Labor leaders in Peru and Panama speak out

And guess what? They think the FTAs are a bad idea.

Julio Cesar Bazán, president of a major Peruvian labor federation, said in response to the idea that the Deathstar deal labor provisions will be implemented by Supreme Decree instead of actual legislative changes, "The problems with worker rights in Peru can’t be fixed with only Supreme Decrees from the President. Decrees are just administrative rules. They can’t overrule actual laws." He also added, "Furthermore, the FTA contains provisions that affect sectors that shouldn’t be included at all in trade agreements, like social security. One of the reasons that we oppose the FTA is that it would give U.S. banks like Citibank the power to sue our government if we try to fix the problems with the failed privatization of the social security system in our country."

Mario Thompson, a representative of Alliance for Social Justice, said in regards to the Panama FTA, "Unions and workers in Panama are literally under attack by the government of Martin Torrijos. Approving a Free Trade Agreement with the Torrijos government right now would send the Panamanian government the message that their current method of doing business is okay."

These statements were covered today in Congress Daily, CongressNow (sorry, neither linkable) and Bloomberg.

Panamanian farmers' group: FTA will cause "hunger and misery"

ONAGRO, the largest organization of peasant farmers in Panama, today released a letter to Congress that doesn't mince any words about the Panama FTA.

We are certain that the FTA will cause great displacement in the Panamanian agriculture sector, on which 40 percent of our nation's population depends either directly or indirectly. We Panamanians do not want to follow the Mexicans and Central Americans in the flood of immigration to the United States, where many risk their life trying to be able to make a living...

This kind of trade agreement will only increase hunger and misery in the indigenous and peasant sectors of Latin America, pushing our countries even faster into the arms of leftist governments, which has already happened in South America proper. Your actions will determine the rise or fall of these tendencies, just as they will determine the rise or fall of Latin Americans' immigration to the United States.

[emphasis in original.] Read the full letter in both English and Spanish as a PDF (courtesy of Inside U.S. Trade).

A New Series - Trade on the (campaign) Trail

I'd like to introduce a new series called Trade on the Trail, each Friday bringing you what candidates have said on the campaign trail about trade that week.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) released a statement on NAFTA trucks:

The Bush administration has allowed multinational corporations and their Washington lobbyists to jeopardize American highways and streets. They are putting profits over safety and pushing through this program without regard for the impact on the environment or the safety of America’s workers and families. As president, I will enact smart trade policies that put workers, wages and families first.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), according to the Washington Post, "told students in New Hampshire this week that she hated 'seeing U.S. telemarketing jobs done in remote locations far, far from our shores.'"

Also, a Clinton spokesperson said to the The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC),

The senator wants NAFTA and other trade deals "consistently monitored and evaluated."

She wants to make sure that our trade deals expand, not reduce, the number of good-paying, middle-class jobs and raise, not lower, American wages.

And Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), also reported in The Sun News,

"Look, I voted for it [NAFTA]," Richardson said in an interview after his speech to the union leaders in McCormick. "I'm not apologizing for it. We thought the standards on environmental protection, on worker's protection would be strong. They were weak."

And in the polls:

Politico comments on a Quinnipiac poll which tested how the candidates would do in Ohio. Apparently, they were surprised by the no more NAFTA fervent that was the same in all tested demographics (maybe they forgot to read our Election Report?),

Along with Michigan, Ohio has been the state perhaps hardest hit by job losses due to foreign competition. Although Republicans are slightly more supportive of free trade than are Democrats or independents, even within GOP ranks there is clear resentment that Ohio’s prosperity is being sacrificed to foreign competitors.

For instance, when Ohio voters are asked whether they think the U.S. economy would be better off if the nation continues its current trade laws or increases restrictions on imported goods, by a 60 percent to 30 percent margin they pick the latter. Even Republicans want new restrictions on imports, by a 55 percent to 35 percent margin...

...Only 21 percent believe the growth of the global economy has helped the Ohio economy, 30 percent think it has helped their families’ bottom line, and 30 percent say it has helped the U.S. economy.

And that's it for this week's Trade on the Trail.

USITC predicts Panamanian rural displacement

Under Fast Track, the U.S. International Trade Commission is tasked with preparing estimates of the likely impact of trade pacts under consideration. Just this week, the USITC released their report on the NAFTA expansion to Panama. Among their findings in their 200 page report:

  • There will be significant displacement of Panamanian producers (many of whom are rural poor) of corn, rice, pork and poultry, as U.S. goods flood in. Remember that NAFTA's similar provisions led to Mexico's massive rural displacement - and then U.S. immigration.
  • That even though there is very little new U.S. tariff cuts for Panama, that the NAFTA expansion "could create additional incentives for investment in export-oriented industries in Panama, as it would effectively make CBERA and GSP duty-free treatment permanent.” (at xvi, xvi) This is the avenue through which additional U.S. job displacement could occur. So the two-way street argument is pretty flawed. Corporations are looking to lock-in an off-shoring arrangement via an FTA, even though the import of products is already duty-free.
  • That the Deathstar Deal labor provisions are unlikely to lead to any on the ground improvements in workers' well being in either country. "The labor provisions contained in the proposed U.S.-Panama TPA text likely would have minimal impact on the U.S. or Panamanian labor markets or on U.S.-Panama trade because of the chapter’s focus on the enforcement of existing labor regulations and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and Its Follow-up (1998) (ILO Declaration), which the United States and Panama are already committed to observe as members of the International Labour Organization (ILO)." at 5-22, emphasis added).
  • That consumers are very right to be concerned about the NAFTA expansion to Panama's watering down and weakening of our already fishy food safety standards. "U.S. imports from Panama were fairly concentrated in a few product categories, primarily fish and crustaceans, including shrimp, tuna, and frozen fillets of fresh-water fish; ... Fish and crustaceans accounted for more than 30 percent of total U.S. imports from Panama in 2006."

September 13, 2007

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: we hate Americans

Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue: "You know, when you come to immigration and trade -- I've sort of come to the point that I don't blame the politicians as much as I blame their constituents." This was regarding Fast Track's expiration and the immigration bill.

Hat tip to Alan Tonelson.

How do the vulnerable MOCs vote on trade policy?

These 28 House Republicans won their 2006 re-election by less than a 10 percent margin, many against Democratic challengers who criticized the incumbents' anti-fair trade records. How have these 28 voted on fair trade? Will they be vulnerable in 2008 as public opinion continues to shift in a more fair trade direction?

AZ-1: Rick Renzi (0/8)
CA-4: John Doolittle (4/19 - 21%)
CA-50: Brian Bilbray (0/6, in previous terms)
CO-4: Marilyn Musgrave (0/8)
CT-4: Chris Shays (0/19)
FL-8: Ric Keller (0/10)
IL-10: Mark Kirk (0/8)
IL-11: Jerry Weller (1/15, or 6.7%). See here for a good Weller story.
IN-3: Mark Souder (4/15, or 26.7%)
KY-4: Geoff Davis (0/4)
MI-9: Joe Knollenberg (0/17)
NE-2: Lee Terry (0/15)
NV-3: Jon Porter (0/8)
NJ-7: Mike Ferguson (0/10)
NM-1: Heather Wilson (0/15)
NY-25: Jim Walsh (5/19, 26%)
NY-26: Tom Reynolds (0/15), faced a strong fair trade challenger last time around
NY-29: Randy Kuhl (0/4)
NC-8: Robin Hayes (10/15, or 71%). Faced a strong fair trade challenger last time who pointed out that he always votes wrong on VERY tight votes like CAFTA and Fast Track where his flip-flops make a big difference.
OH-1: Steve Chabot (0/15)
OH-2: Jean Schmidt (0/2)
OH-15: Deborah Pryce (0/18)
PA-3: Phil English (1/15, or 6.7%). His bad trade record is a major problem for English in his Erie district.
PA-6: Jim Gerlach (1/8, or 12.5%). Had a challenger who chose not to make trade a major issue, and paid the price in more working class precincts.
PA-15: Charles Dent (squeezed by with just over 10%) 0/4 on fair trade
VA-2: Thelma Drake (0/4)
WA-8: Dave Reichert (0/4)
WY-At Large: Barbara Cubin (2/15, or 13.3%). Trade was a big issue in this very surprising close race too.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, there was only 5 races where a Democratic incumbent squeaked by with less than a 10% margin. I'm betting that the 90%+ Democratic opposition to NAFTA expansion to Central America helped some of the most vulnerable members in heavy lean-GOP areas (Georgia's Jim Marshall and John Barrow in the 8th and 12th districts respectively, who campaigned on fair trade), while opposition to (or inconsistent support of) fair trade has made other more vulnerable.

Rep. Melissa Bean (IL-8) was made very vulnerable because of voting with corporate interests on CAFTA and other legislation. Rep. Leonard Boswell (IA-3) voted against CAFTA, but has only voted the fair trade position 26.7 % of the time. The other under-10%'er was Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind., 7th district), who has a decent record on trade but has had health and other problems.

September 12, 2007

NAFTA Highway Deregulatory Gambit Thwarted

As we recently reported, the Bush administration and multinational trucking companies and the mainstream media have been trying to ram through a sweeping Reaganomics of the Road agenda. As part of this effort, they'll use whatever phony justification imaginable - from creating competition and consumer savings to building interracial harmony. (P.S. - we like those things too.)

Malarkey.

Well, now, the people's branch has spoken. First, the House voted overwhelmingly earlier this year to block the Reaganomics of the Road agenda. And yesterday, the Senate voted 75-23 in favor of Sen. Byron Dorgan's (D-N.D.) amendment to block the NAFTA highway program. All the Democrats voted for the Dorgan amendment, as did a majority of Republicans (25) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). All 23 opponents were Republican... oh, and the sole representative of the Lieberman-for-Lieberman party.

Interestingly, all the presidential candidates voted the fair trade position, unlike many times in the past: Biden, Brownback (who has never voted the fair trade position), Clinton, Dodd, and Obama. Only McCain did not cast a vote.

You can read our full release after the jump:

Continue reading "NAFTA Highway Deregulatory Gambit Thwarted" »

September 11, 2007

As Congress discusses Peru FTA, grassroots opposition grows

As the Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the Peru FTA, grassroots opposition to the deal grows. We just put out this release.

As Peru NAFTA Expansion Vote Looms, Opposition Grows

Not One Union, Consumer, Latino Civil Rights, Environmental, Family Farm or Faith Group Supports ‘Modified’ Peru Free Trade Agreement

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A growing number of constituency groups key to the Democratic base are calling on Congress to oppose a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) that would extend the NAFTA-CAFTA model to Peru, Public Citizen said today, as the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the pact.

“The majority of Americans oppose more NAFTA-style trade deals based on their experience, so it’s not surprising that unions and consumer, environmental, faith and Latino groups oppose a Peru NAFTA expansion,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “What’s surprising is that a Democratic-majority Congress would consider more Bush NAFTA-style pacts, especially since the Democrats’ majority was delivered by candidates who explicitly ran against incumbents’ votes on past NAFTA-style deals.”...

“As more Americans are thrown out of work and home and a recession seems imminent, the last thing Congress should be considering are more wage-depressing, job-killing NAFTA expansions,” said Todd Tucker, research director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “I can’t imagine any members of Congress wanting to face out-of-work, foreclosed, underinsured voters next year with these harmful free trade agreements as the one piece of trade legislation passed by both chambers and signed into law.”...

The whole release is after the jump.

Continue reading "As Congress discusses Peru FTA, grassroots opposition grows" »

September 07, 2007

Breaking News About Pro-CAFTA Electoral Manipulation

A very important document (PDF) just came over the wires that describes the dirty backroom politics of the "yes to CAFTA" campaign being run by President Oscar Arias. Costa Rica is the first country in the world to ever have a popular referendum on a trade agreement, scheduled for October. But while there have been innumerable restrictions put on the fair trade side of the campaign (the "no" campaign), the "yes" campaign is operating with the full resources and bully pulpit of the state. Says my colleague Stephanie Burgos from Oxfam about the document:

The document was published in Costa Rica by el Semanario Universidad (a weekly newspaper published a prestigious university) and both authors have accepted it as legitimate.  The authors are close advisors to the President: Casas is his vice-president and Minister of Planning and Sanchez is a cousin of the President and a Member of Congress.

Here are some key excerpts (my translation):

  • "The campaign around the FTA is becoming what it should never have been permitted: a fight between the rich and the poor, between the people and the government elites. Our opposition is formidable: universities, the church, unions, environmentalists, etc. And on the other side in favor of the FTA, there's only the government, the media, and big business. That's not a way to win."
  • The Congress needs to go into recess so that "our representatives" don't have to show up to work and can agitate for the "yes" campaign.
  • On local officials: "We have to make all of the mayors responsible for the campaign in their districts, and let them know, as crudely as possible, a very simple idea: the mayor that doesn't win their districts on October 7 is not going to receive a cent from the [central] government for the next 3 years."
  • Launching a media campaign, with the following tactics: "Get rid of the notion that this is a fight between the rich and the poor. This requires choosing the face in the mainstream media for the yes campaign and use almost exclusively the faces of workers and small businessmen."
  • And... "Stimulate fear. This fear is of four categories: 1. Fear of the loss of jobs... 2. Fear of the attacks on democratic institutions... 3. Fear of foreign intervention... and 4.Fear of the effect of a no triumph [on governability]."
  • "it's crucial that 'yes' be associated with democracy and stability... and that 'no' be equivalent to violence and disloyalty to democracy. Here's something very important: the campaign has stopped being rational and, as a consequence, about the actual content of the FTA. Thus, the argument of defending democracy is the only resource we have left to mobilize the emotion of the people."
  • "We must rub in all over the place the connection of the no campaign with Fidel, Chavez and Ortega, in very strident terms. It's possible that this kind of campaign will turn off some people, but it's almost sure that it will have a significant impact among the more simple people, which is where we have the biggest problems."

There's a lot more in the document, but what really grabs one's eye is how these kind of manipulations of public opinion and the truth of economic policy occur every single day all around the world, even in the United States.

[MONDAY UPDATE: Costa Rica's English language newspaper ran a story about this today, confirming the authenticity of the memo.]

Continue reading "Breaking News About Pro-CAFTA Electoral Manipulation" »

Toy Recalls: U.S. Jobs Exported, Unsafe Products Imported

Take a look at the list of recently recalled toys. Click on the name for a description of the toy and picture and for information about what to do if you have the toy.

Why is this happening? Our trade policies promote relocation to low wage countries of production of goods once made here. The same trade deals put limits on the safety standards we can require for imports and how much we can inspect imports. This is not just about China, but about our failed trade policies that prioritize the volume of trade over your children's safety or fair working conditions. Find out more here.

What do you think of the import safety crisis? What did you do when you found an unsafe toy? How has this changed how you shop? How are your children reacting to their toys being taken from them? What's your toy story? Post it in the comments!

For more recall information visit www.recalls.gov.

Here is the list:

  1. Fisher Price Bongo Band Toys
  2. Fisher Price Geo Trax Locomotive
  3. Mattel Barbie Dream Puppy House dog
  4. Mattel Barbie Dream Kitty Condo Playset cat
  5. Mattel Barbie Table and Chairs Kitchen Playset dog, chip platter, dinner plates
  6. Mattel Barbie Bathtub and Toilet Playset cat
  7. Mattel Barbie Futon and Table Living Room Playset cat
  8. Mattel Barbie Desk and Chair Bedroom Playset dog
  9. Mattel Barbie Couch & Table Living Room Playsey purse
  10. Imaginarium Wooden Coloring Cases
  11. Robbie Ducky Kids Watering Cans
  12. Thomas and Friends, Curious George and Other Spinning Tops and Tin Pails
  13. Divine Inspiration Children's Charm Bracelet
  14. Toby & Me Children's Jewelry and Gift Box
  15. Hampton Toy Train Set
  16. Mattel Doggie Day Care Toys
  17. Mattel Barbie and Tanner Magnetic Toys
  18. Mattel Sarge Toy Car
  19. Mattel Batman and OnePiece Action figures
  20. Fisher Price assorted Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street Toys

Big Biz: Labor Rights are "Pretty Nuts"

In case you were worried that the Deathstar Labor standards were enforceable, once again big business sets it straight. Here's from Inside U.S. Trade:

Randy Johnson, U.S. Chamber vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits, on Aug. 28 said the Chamber was “uncomfortable with, but bought into” the May 10 compromise incorporating the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of the International Labor Organization (ILO) into trade agreements...

He said the Chamber is opposed to going beyond the ILO principles to also include the ILO conventions in FTAs, or inserting in FTAs an enforcement mechanism in the U.S. for ILO conventions. “We’ve gone as far as we’re going to go,” he said, calling the ILO a “crazy place,” some of whose ideas are “pretty nuts.”

For a little more background into the distinction between the conventions and the declaration, and why a lot of folks are calling for the former, see Human Rights Watch's short and sweet report from June (PDF).

The same article also said that the Chamber wants to expand "NAFTA into the Free Trade Area of the Americas, 'if for no other reason to send a message around the world that we’re not going to let everybody else in the world come in and take over the Americas.' Donohue noted that other countries are signing FTAs in Latin America." Good to know the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well!

Finally, a separate article in IUT noted that:

In a related event, two Peruvian labor unions in an Aug. 20 letter to members of Congress said that the U.S. and Peru would have to go further than they appear willing to do in order to achieve real reform.

The letter, signed by leaders from the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores del Peru and the Confederacion General de Trabajadores del Peru, argues that the labor deal struck between the U.S. and Peru is insufficient because new labor obligations refer only to the 1998 Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of the International Labor Organization, but not the eight specific ILO conventions on fundamental labor rights.

Postcards from Nicaragua - xoxo, Rep. Jerry Weller

BeachThe Chicago Tribune reports:

The rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean crashes onto white sand beaches below a lush hillside in southwest Nicaragua, a picture of tropical paradise by anyone's definition.

Who wouldn't want to live here?

Well, Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) does live here. He also had the foresight when buying the property to pass legislation to make his property rights unusually strong and his life much easier.

His investment got a boost from the narrowly passed Central America Free Trade Agreement, which Weller pitched in 2005 as a tool to enable businesses in his hard-pressed district to sell tractors and food to Latin America. CAFTA also includes additional legal protection for American investors, including those who have purchased lots from Weller.

What he didn't say was that, while he publicly pushed CAFTA, Weller privately was pursuing his land development, some 2,000 miles away. The House approved the trade pact in July 2005 by only two votes, 217-215.

Besides not mentioning his Nicaraguan investments during the CAFTA debate on the House floor, Weller did not give anywhere close to a complete accounting of them in his required 2005 financial disclosure statement. House ethics rules require representatives to disclose all property they own except for their personal residences...

He also was an outspoken advocate for CAFTA, which among other things improves conditions for investors in Nicaragua...

This is just another example of a few legislators' instincts to make laws that suit their personal interest over the public interest.

September 06, 2007

Hipsters of the World, Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Chinese-Made Librarian Glasses!

The New York Times cut to the heart of false consciousness with its Style section story on the "labeling sensation" that's capturing the nation's youth.

UNTIL recently, Bill Allayaud, who works as a director for the Sierra Club in Sacramento, thought people who checked labels on clothing or toys to make sure they were “Made in the U.S.A.” were everything he was not: flag-waving, protectionist, even a little xenophobic.

But lately, he said, he is becoming one of them.

“Everything I buy now, I look at the label,” said Mr. Allayaud, 56, who explained that the “buy American” movement — long popular among blue-collar union workers and lunch-pail conservatives — no longer seemed so jingoistic, and was actually starting to come into vogue for liberals like himself who never before had a philosophical problem with Japanese cars or French wine.

He said the reasons for his change of heart are many: a desire to buy as many “locally made” products as possible to reduce carbon emissions from transporting them; a worry about toxic goods made in the third world; and a concern that the rising tide of imports will damage the economy and hurt everybody.

So, youth, what's more "internationalist"? 

A. Going to every single Brown University "Salsa night".
B. Going on the official "Lost in Translation" tour of Tokyo's hotels.
C. Buying Chinese hula hoops because when you shake your hips at the BBQ, you want to be supporting every 10 year olds' dream of working in a factory for 10 cents an hour. That'll buy 10 cents' worth of dreams!
D. Fighting for fair trade - even if you haven't traveled, don't like sushi, and speak only English - because you realize that most people in every single country are just like you - working for someone else, consuming products that they didn't make that the expect the government to regulate, and living in a warming planet?

C'est la quatrième option, mon camarade. It's nice that hipsters, scenesters, oldsters, blipsters, and other 'sters are realizing that just because the working class likes something doesn't mean you shouldn't, and doesn't make it racist. Matter of fact, supporting a working class agenda just might give us better policies too!

MOCs in the News: How Have They Voted?

We at Eyes on Trade realize that members of Congress have a wide stance on trade issues, and that even some unlikely members have a history of voting the fair trade position. Here's the rundown on MOCs in the news:

  • Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) has a better record on trade issues than some of the Democratic candidates for president! He voted against NAFTA, WTO, CAFTA, and NAFTA expansion to Chile and Singapore. But as he's been in office for a long time, that still brings it to only a 36% fair trade vote record.
  • Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) just announced his retirement. While he's gotten some respect on other issues, he has a whopping 0% fair trade voting record.
  • Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) just returned to work after a hospitalization. He has a 64% fair trade voting record - about the same as Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). He voted against NAFTA and every expansion of it to other countries.

Why are we still talking about the Colombia FTA?

Reuters today has an article indicating that the Colombia FTA may come up for consideration this fall, reiterating a rumor that there may be a push to bring it up before the Panama FTA (to follow the order in which the agreements were signed). Indeed, Inside U.S. Trade is reporting that, the Bush administration "has not budged from its long-standing position that Colombia be considered and passed before Panama is brought up for a vote." And a Ways and Means Democrat is quoted in the story as leaving the door pretty wide open to considering the Colombia FTA if "the facts on the ground" are deemed satisfactory. This is despite the outrageous labor and human rights violations that continue in Colombia, as we've detailed in posts here, here and here.

Says the Reuters article,

The Colombian agreement still faces bigger challenges than the other two pacts, but the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has "done tremendous work" to answer concerns raised by Democrats.

There's not really enough work one could do to correct the fundamentally flawed Colombia FTA. This sounds all the more ridiculous in light of the recent news that leaders of the oil workers' union in Colombia — a union which has consistently been victim to human rights violations — have been receiving death threats (Word document, in Spanish) since mid-August, the most recent coming last week.

September 05, 2007

Free trade in condoms: maybe not such a great thing

Almost a year ago, the New York Times published an article indicating that "low-end" condom production has been moving to Asia. "Low end" condoms made overseas under questionable regulatory schemes? Hmm...

Sure enough, the Washington Post says today:

Tens of thousands of condoms provided free by the District to curb HIV-AIDS have been returned to the health department because of complaints that their paper packaging is easily torn and could render the condoms ineffective... [volunteers] were told about packets ripping in purses or bursting open in pockets. As a result, many recipients said they had little confidence that the condoms would offer protection.

In addition, expiration dates on some of the Chinese-made condoms were illegible.

This, of course, comes on the heels of several imported product safety scares just in the past few days, about everything from lead-laden Mattel toys and crayons and paints to killer cribs.

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