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December 19, 2007

Obama steps up to the plate on fair trade

There's been a flurry of news on toy safety today following our report from yesterday.

The Progressive Magazine asks "will the candidates shut down" Santa's sweatshops?" and puts pressure on some of the candidates for their vote on China PNTR.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) responded in a major way, stepping up his fair trade credentials:

Obama said on Wednesday he would ban all toys made in China after a series of safety scares, and he called for tougher U.S. inspections of Chinese imports.

"I would stop the import of all toys from China. Now, I have to say that that's about 80 percent of toys that are being imported right now," the Illinois senator told voters in New Hampshire, which helps kick off the 2008 White House race...

"We have just a handful of people who are inspecting all the toys that are flooding into the country," he said. "The big toy makers now manufacture in China and import here and they have put pressure to resist a strong regulatory system."
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also held forth on his views on the issue:

Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said toy manufacturers have irresponsibly pushed hard for foreign subcontractors to cut costs.

"We know these products are made in conditions and under an economic regime where there is no emphasis on toy safety," said Brown, who supported the findings of Public Citizen. "It's no surprise they make dangerous toys."...

Brown said "failed trade policy" encouraged U.S. toy companies to move much of their manufacturing overseas to areas with less reliable safety standards.

The World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreements have provisions in them that provide foreign investor protections and limit product safety standards and inspections, the report said.

"These agreements prioritize ensuring a favorable investment climate for U.S. firms seeking to relocate production overseas to take advantage of sweatshop wages, weak regulatory systems, and cheap product inputs over the concern of most Americans," Public Citizen said in the report.

Brown said the United States can make toys safer by changing its approach in trade negotiations and giving fewer incentives to offshore production.

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

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