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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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April 30, 2008

Up Next! Here comes trade to IN and NC in a starring role

Up next, the Democratic presidential primary contest moves to Indiana and North Carolina. Hoosiers and North Carolinians will go to the polls on May 6th.

Both of these states have felt the severe costs of NAFTA-style trade policies on their economies and their communities and voters will be thinking about trade policy when they go to the polls.

Here are the facts.

Indiana:

  • An LA Times/Bloomberg news poll found:
    • 84% of Indiana Democratic primary voters think the economy is going very badly.
    • Among Indiana Democratic primary voters, 81% say the health of the nation's economy will play an important role in choosing a candidate.
    • 58% of Hoosiers say "international free trade" has hurt the economy and only 20% say it has helped.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, during the NAFTA-WTO era, Indiana alone lost more than 102,000 manufacturing jobs.
  • In the 2006 midterm election, fair trader Joe Donnelly defeated pro-NAFTA status quo incumbent Chris Chocola and Brad Ellsworth won his IN-8 seat by campaigning against NAFTA-expansions (watch an ad run during his campaign here).

North Carolina:

  • According to an LA Times/Bloomberg news poll:
    • 84% of North Carolina Democratic primary voters think the economy is going very badly.
    • Among North Carolina Democratic primary voters, 84% say the health of the nation's economy will play an important role in choosing a candidate.
    • 61% of North Carolinians say "international free trade" has hurt the economy and only 14% say it has helped.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, during the NAFTA-WTO era, North Carolina lost more than 289,000 manufacturing jobs.
  • In the 2006 midterm elections, fair trader Heath Shuler in the 11th congressional district beat CAFTA’s missing-in-action Charles Taylor whose failure to vote enabled CAFTA’s passage by one vote. Shuler ran two television ads (read the transcripts) on trade policy during his campaign.

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

April 25, 2008

Friday Film Fun: Caravan/Prague: The Uneasy Road to Change

Katie Clifford, Global Trade Watch intern extraordinaire, wrote up a quick blurb on Caravan/Prague: The Uneasy Road to Change. We'll leave you with this on a beautiful Washington, DC Friday afternoon:

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"Caravan/Prague: The Uneasy Road to Change is a film by Zack Winestine that chronicles a bicycle caravan as it makes its way across Europe in order to shut down the annual meeting of the World Bank and IMF.

"Representative of the power for change that can result from definitive action by a small number of people, Caravan is one of many examples of people around the world taking a stand against the corporate control of global trade policies. This firsthand account is an honest and inspirational look at one groups' fight to ensure that fair trade becomes a reality."

In the meantime, you can take your own stand against corporate-dominated trade and tell your congressperson to publicly oppose the Colombia NAFTA expansion. No cross-continental bike riding necessary!

April 24, 2008

"Don't call me protectionist"

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), in an op-ed in the most unlikely of places, the Wall Street Journal editorial page:

We take for granted our clean air, pure food and safe drinking water. But these blessings are not by chance: They result from laws and rules about wages, health and the environment. Trade agreements with no rules to protect our health, the environment and labor rights inevitably create a race to the bottom and weaken health and safety rules for our trading partners and for our own communities.

But cheerleaders for current U.S. trade policy, while mostly shrinking from a debate about the issues that matter to middle-class America, insist that those of us who want more trade - but trade under a very different set of rules - are protectionists.

Senator Brown goes on to highlight an argument we've made many times at Eyes on Trade regarding the most damaging provisions of the Colombia FTA:

"Supporters sell [the Colombia FTA] as a free-trade agreement, a great opportunity for American companies because it eliminates tariffs on our products. If that were true, the agreement would be a few lines long. Instead, we have a trade agreement that runs nearly 1,000 pages and is chock full of giveaways and protections for drug companies, oil companies, and financial services companies, and incentives to outsource jobs now held by Americans."

April 22, 2008

Uribe in trouble

Mario Uribe, that is, although it's not hard to make an argument that the Colombian president (Álvaro Uribe) is probably feeling a little uncomfortable right now as well. The wires are aflame with the latest in the "para-politics" scandal that has, rather outrageously, been flying under the radar a little during this whole Colombia FTA debacle. In short, there's an arrest warrant out for Mario Uribe - President Uribe's second cousin - who is under suspicion of conspiring with murderous paramilitary groups. Instead of consenting to arrest, he fled to the Costa Rican embassy and is seeking asylum. (!) The AP had one of the earliest stories:

Colombia's chief prosecutor ordered the arrest of one of President Alvaro Uribe's most intimate allies on Tuesday, bringing a scandal linking politicians and right-wing militias deeper into the president's inner circle.

Former Sen. Mario Uribe, a second cousin of the president, was accused of criminal conspiracy for "agreements to promote illegal armed groups."

Mario Uribe quickly entered Costa Rica's embassy to request political asylum, his attorney Jose del Carmen Ortega told The Associated Press.

We've made no secret that it's downright offensive that the U.S. is even considering an FTA with this country, and chronicled the many reasons right here at Eyes on Trade. More fuel for the fire...

Other good coverage of this developing story is at Reuters and the New York Times.

Today's the Big Day - Pennsylvania Decides!

Today, a final Pennsylvania news and fact roundup as votes are cast:

  • Pennsylvania has lost 222,000 manufacturing jobs since NAFTA and WTO.
  • According to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI):
    • 286,000 Pennsylvania jobs are "highly offshorable";
    • 755,000 Pennsylvania jobs are "offshorable";
    • A combined 1,041,000 Pennsylvania jobs - or 18 percent of the state's total workforce of 5.7 million - are vulnerable to offshoring.
  • Both candidates have detailed plans on trade, collected in questionnaires by the Citizens Trade Campaign on every issue from import safety to Fast Track to renegotiating NAFTA to China and trade enforcement and more!
  • And according to an LA Times/Bloomberg Poll (April 10-14), Pennsylvania voters consider the economy a top priority with 55% of Democratic Primary voters and 66% of Independents who will be voting in the Democratic primary naming it as the number one issue.
  • Pennsylvania Democratic primary voters were also asked who better understands trade issues. Their response, 52% said Hillary Clinton and 28% said Barack Obama with 9% saying both equally.

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

April 18, 2008

Behind the Fast Track Death

I am heading out of town for a week or so for Passover, but here's one last post before I go. Our friends from Human Rights Watch have an excellent post over at the Hill:

Congress is right to delay consideration of the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA). What’s at stake here is a fundamental principle: that free trade should be premised on respect for human rights, especially the rights of the workers producing the goods to be traded.

Colombian workers cannot exercise their rights without fear of being killed. Just in the first three months of this year, 17 Colombian trade unionists have been assassinated—a substantial increase over the 10 killed in the same period last year.

Dan Wolfensberger writes in Roll Call:

Pelosi, however, is the first Speaker in the history of the 34-year-old statute to ask the Rules Committee (with House approval) to suspend the expedited timetable for consideration. The House handily endorsed her gambit Thursday, 224-195.

Just as it is unlikely that Congress will grant Bush his requested renewal of fast-track negotiating authority so late in his term, it is even more difficult to imagine a Democratic president even asking for it... It is also highly unlikely that the next Congress, which is likely to contain an even larger Democratic majority in both chambers, will grant whomever is president such authority. All this poses a new challenge to both branches of how to reconfigure our trade relations and processes over the next four to eight years...

The Politico gives the inside scoop on Fast Track death:

Democrats broke more than three decades of precedent by changing trade rules to suspend consideration of the deal. But they also displayed a procedural acumen that was less evident during their first, sometimes bumpy, year in power...

McGovern and other Democrats on the Rules Committee began discussing the possibility of stripping the time requirements from trade rules as early as January, members and aides said.

Those conversations were hypothetical, however, until the White House began to make noise about sending the Colombia agreement to Capitol Hill before Pelosi signed off on it. That prompted McGovern and Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-N.Y.) to call for a meeting with the speaker.

Slaughter and McGovern oppose the trade deal for different reasons. The Massachusetts Democrat believes Colombia has not gone far enough to rectify its history of violence toward labor leaders.

Slaughter, meanwhile, opposes the measure because she believes it would deal another blow to her upstate New York district, which already suffers from the steady export of jobs.

Both opposed any maneuvering by Bush to force a vote, and both believed that stripping the time requirements was the best way to stop the president in his tracks.

And we got some feedback on a post from earlier this week on Fast Track, and just wanted to point out that Pelosi's action to cancel Fast Track virtually guarantees that the Senate will also not take action.

April 17, 2008

Office Park Jobs At Risk in Pennsylvania and What the Candidates Will Do About It

David Brooks asks the candidates in the New York Times:

Aren’t there windows in the vans they use to drive around the state? Don’t they see that most middle-class voters are service workers in suburban office parks, not 1930s-style proletarians in the steel mills?

Interestingly enough, a new analysis finds that it's not just Blue Collar jobs that are at risk anymore, but more than 286,000 Pennsylvania jobs (that's right, we're just talking about Pennsylvania) are highly susceptible to being offshored in the near future - from mathematicians to architectural drafters to editors and writers. Suburban workers, that's right, we're talking about your jobs!

But Brooks also says that many solutions currently offered by the candidates won't have an economic impact - and he's partially right. Without specifics, what will this set of trade-talking candidates actually do when they get to the White House? That's why groups like ours have been calling on the candidates to make real commitments to overhaul our failed NAFTA-WTO trade policies. You can read their most recent campaign commitments to Pennsylvanians on trade issues at the Citizens Trade Campaign here.

April 16, 2008

The White House responds, and we respond to the response

Last week we received this e-mail from White House staffer Kerrie Rushton, taking issue with Todd's post (really Lori's statement) about the many problems with the Colombia FTA.  We're reprinting the email in full, of course with our own responses.  After the break, Kerrie's email is in boldface, with our responses mixed in.

Continue reading "The White House responds, and we respond to the response" »

April 15, 2008

Focusing in on the economics and foreign policy

I had a piece on the record of NAFTA in my hometown paper today, the Courier-Journal, which typically (and today was no exception) is a big supporter of NAFTA-style trade deals.

If NAFTA is so rotten, why does Congress keep passing similar deals? The few special interests benefiting from these pacts have armies of lobbyists, give millions in campaign contributions and are shameless scaremongers. Their latest line, for instance, is that expanding NAFTA will counter the influence of Venezuela. In reality, the damage done to most people in our trade partner countries by NAFTA-like policies has been a major factor in breeding anger against the U.S. and support for populism.

Thankfully, the 2006 elections ushered in a freshmen class full of fair traders. The new political reality was on display in last year's vote on a NAFTA expansion to Peru. Reps. John Yarmuth and Ben Chandler joined a majority of Democrats in opposing the deal, which was also opposed by American and Peruvian unions, church leaders and environmental groups. Yet Indiana's Baron Hill and Brad Ellsworth were among the minority of Democrats who caved to corporate pressure and voted for the NAFTA expansion. This is a bad record to have as Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton tour Indiana bashing NAFTA and distancing themselves from their own mixed records on trade.

There are some other great pieces out there circulating now too. Kevin Gallagher has a great piece looking at the economic impact of the deal:

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade deal is one of the most deeply flawed trade pacts in U.S. history. It will hardly make a dent in the U.S. economy, looks to make the Colombian economy worse off and accentuate a labor and environmental crisis in Colombia. The Democratic majority in Congress is right to oppose this agreement and call for a rethinking of U.S. trade policy.    

According to new estimates by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, the net benefits of the agreement to the U.S. will be a miniscule 0.0000472 percent of GDP or a one-time increase in the level of each American's income by just over one penny. The agreement will actually will make Colombia worse off by up to $75 million or one tenth of one percent of its GDP; losses to Colombia's textiles, apparel, food and heavy manufacturing industries, as they face new competition from U.S. import, will outweigh the gains in Colombian petroleum, mining, and other export sectors, it concludes.

Adam Isacson has an interesting piece tackling the national security argument for the Colombia FTA:

Dealing a blow to small-scale producers in places like Cauca, Nariño, or Putumayo could damage the livelihoods of thousands of farmers who, as it is, are just getting by. It could add to the ranks of rural dwellers who see no other option but to plant coca. It could add to the population of young rural Colombians susceptible to recruitment by guerrillas or "emerging" paramilitary groups.

In the absence of a "Marshall Plan" for Colombia's countryside—which is not forthcoming—the FTA could deal an economic shock to zones that, while sparsely populated, are of central importance to the effort to combat armed groups and the drug trade. Rather than making the Andes safer, the FTA could trigger a more immediate national-security threat.

In other news, support for the free market system is dropping in the US and around the world, according to a new poll from PIPA. Finally, Policy Matters Ohio has a great report out calling for an industrial policy for "green" and "blue"-friendly lightbulbs.

April 14, 2008

Bitter fallout, murders, dodges, rules, deals

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

Following Obama's "bitter" comment, most progressives are rallying to his defense: see Sirota here, Jane Smiley here, and Katrina vanden Heuvel here. A lot of progressives I know think that Obama was just channeling Thomas Frank. I dunno, I read the comment as throwing Frank in with the Kansans, and dismissing both. After all, trade criticism was listed right along religion as a seeming opiate of the masses. It seems, however, from yesterday's news cycle that Obama did not intend to send this message. Obama now says:

“Obviously, if I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that,” Obama said in a phone interview with the Winston-Salem Journal. “But the underlying truth of what I said remains, which is simply that people who have seen their way of life upended because of economic distress are frustrated and rightfully so.”

On the right, Bill Kristol, no NAFTA opponent, writes in the NYT on the Obama bitter remark:

Obama ascribes their anti-trade sentiment to economic frustration — as if there are no respectable arguments against more free-trade agreements. This is particularly cynical, since he himself has been making those arguments, exploiting and fanning this sentiment that he decries. Aren’t we then entitled to assume Obama’s opposition to Nafta and the Colombian trade pact is merely cynical pandering to frustrated Americans?

But mostly, all was quiet on the trade angle of Obama's remarks from the corporatists, who love to use the Guns-God-Gays wedge issues while also pushing failed trade policies.

In other news, BoRev shows video showing Hillary unwilling to answer questions about her husband's ties to Colombia.

Simon Romero writes on the union killings in Colombia, showing that Citigroup employees are among the unionists targeted for murder just this year - which has seen an uptick of killings relative to 2007:

The case of Leonidas Gómez, Ms. Gómez’s brother, is one of several examples of union officials killed in recent weeks who were involved in organizing rare protest marches last month against paramilitaries. Government investigators here said they were investigating all the recent killings but had not yet identified those responsible.

Carlos Burbano was a vice president in the hospital workers’ union of the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán in southern Colombia who disappeared March 9. His body was found four days later in a garbage dump in an area considered paramilitary territory. Mr. Burbano, who had received threats before from paramilitaries, had been stabbed multiple times and burned with acid.

Like Mr. Burbano, Mr. Gómez, a member of the Bank Workers’ Union here in Bogotá, was an outspoken critic of the paramilitaries. He had also traveled throughout Colombia to speak against the trade deal, which he expected to raise salaries of senior Citigroup executives while eroding the benefits of employees, said Luis Humberto Ortiz, a fellow union official and Citigroup employee.

Mr. Gómez, last seen at a meeting with leftist politicians on the night of March 4, was found dead in his apartment on March 8, with stab wounds and his hands tied behind his back. Missing from his apartment were his laptop computer, U.S.B memory sticks and cash from his pockets, said his sister, Ms. Gómez.

Inside U.S. Trade on Friday had some interesting dissection of what Pelosi's Fast Track move last week means. Here is my paraphrasing of their reporting:

  1. Pelosi - confirmed by Rules Cmte and House vote - removed the Fast Track timeline, as well as the provision that it is highly privileged and cannot be debated. This safeguards against the scenario where Rangel passes it out of Ways and Means Committee but Pelosi remains opposed. It also safeguards against any member of Congress calling for a vote when they want. So leadership will be in control.
  2. The Colombia FTA is still not amendable, however, and the Senate rules remain the same: once the House sends it up, the FTA has up to 15 days in Finance Committee, and up to 15 additional days for a floor vote.
  3. However, if the Senate wants, it can vote under Fast Track rules today, but then would have to formally approve it again after the House sends it up. (This happened on CAFTA, when the Senate GOP leadership just wanted to get some momentum going by passing the pact before the House, and then taking a second vote later.)
  4. Because Bush has already dropped the Colombia FTA, it will have to be voted on this Congress, or it dies. Next year, if the president wanted to resubmit it, they could, but it wouldn't automatically receive Fast Track treatment. A new Fast Track vote would have to be taken if they wanted that to apply. Ed. comment: I'm betting we see Fast Track replaced by a different system, so I wouldn't expect any new Fast Track votes.

Finally, IUT cites an April 4 letter from Rice, Paulson and various cabinet secretaries to Pelosi saying that:

In seeking to identify an agreed path forward for the Colombia FTA, the Administration’s efforts have been guided by three objectives you identified in conversations with several of us that need to be met before the Colombia FTA would have the necessary support to pass the House of Representatives. They are: (1) a strong, bipartisan vote on legislation to implement our FTA with Peru; (2) a solid Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) reauthorization package; and (3) progress on labor violence and impunity in Colombia. As noted above, the first objective was satisfied by the strong bipartisan votes on the Peru FTA last year. [emphasis added]

That's the first time I've seen such clear preconditions on the record. Wonder if they're true?

April 12, 2008

Bitter

New York Times is reporting about a recent comment by Obama:

At the fund-raiser in San Francisco last Sunday, Mr. Obama outlined challenges facing his presidential candidacy in the coming primaries in Pennsylvania and Indiana, particularly persuading white working-class voters who, he said, fell through the cracks during the Bush and Clinton administrations.

“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” Mr. Obama said, according to a transcript on the Huffington Post Web site, which on Friday published the comments.

A while back, Eric Alterman reported on a similar comment from former Obama advisor Samantha Powers, made at the same time as the infamous monster remark:

ABC News's Jake Tapper... explained, "But I thought what was even more revealing from that interview was the elitism, the disdain that she talked about, Ohioans concerned about job losses, and they're obsessed with NAFTA. That just kind of betrayed--and that was on the record. That betrayed a sort of university elitism that we have seen before in the Obama campaign."

UPDATE: And the LA Times reports on Hillary's trade vote record.

Since 2001, Clinton has backed pacts with Jordan, Chile, Singapore, Australia, Morocco and Oman that were opposed by numerous labor, farming and environmental groups concerned that the deals contained insufficient safeguards for American workers and consumers.

As recently as November, Clinton supported a free trade agreement negotiated by the Bush administration with Peru.

Clinton's more recent critiques have cheered many trade critics, who long have complained that the pacts encourage companies to move jobs overseas.

But Clinton's campaign posture also has raised a few eyebrows. Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch division, a leading opponent of the structure of current trade agreements, said the New York senator apparently had shifted after getting "a lot of feedback from people across the country."

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

April 11, 2008

Exhibit B in non-permanence of neoliberalism: IMF is dead

After the demise of Fast Track this week, Exhibit B shows again how movable the neoliberal institutions are. From the FT earlier this week:

The board of the International Monetary Fund voted on Monday to cut 15 per cent of its staff and sell about $11bn (€7bn, £5.5bn) in gold reserves in one of the biggest shake-ups of its funding since it was founded.

The IMF plan to cut 380 jobs and sell 403.3 tonnes of gold, about an eighth of its reserves, still has to be approved by other authorities...

“We think it is time to retool and move away from pure lending towards a business model that offers a group of experts to help countries adopt the right policies,” the IMF said.

You can just smell the spin when a LENDING institution claims it's going to be doing a mite less lending, and instead be a stable for otherwise unemployed experts. In fact, as friends who have worked at the IMF tell me, all of the IMF's economists are here on work visas. Some of them have been here 20 years, and have houses in Silver Spring, and kids at Sidwell Friends. If they're fired, they must go home.

But what's a deported Malawian central banking expert to do back home? Well, the Malawian central bank or government might be a good place to drop off a job application. But tragically, after 30 years of IMF structural adjustment, there isn't much of a government left to go back to. Indeed, thanks to the stunning success of the IMF at shrinking the size of developing country governments to the size where you can drown them in a bidet, neoliberal economists have made themselves unemployable.

The IMF's financial difficulties comes from the fact that it has no more borrowers. Latin Americans got peeved and created their own Bank of the South. Asians got peeved and decided to just hoard ever greater dollar reserves on their own (contributing to our own current account problems, but that's for another time.) Currently, Turkey accounts for most of the IMF's lending portfolio. As Mark Weisbrot and Erinc Yeldan showed a few years ago, this hasn't been particularly good for Turkey. And then, this happened:

Turkey's economy can withstand global economic turmoil, Economy Minister Mehmet Simsek told Reuters, to the point that a new IMF stand-by agreement is not needed and is indeed "unlikely."

Oh, well. Despite the IMF chief Dominque Strauss-Kahn''s declaration this week that "the IMF is back," it's pretty clear that it's down for the count. One down: two to go (WTO and World Bank - both are in critical condition.)

If you're in DC this weekend and would like to participate in some of the civil society events planned, the Bank Information Center has a webpage that is a great resource.

Making history

The FT summed up this week's happenings on Colombia and Fast Track fairly well:

The Democratic-led House voted 224 to 195 to stop the 90-day “fast track” time-table under which most significant US free trade deals have been ratified since the 1970s...

It was the first time in the 35-year history of the “fast-track” process that a president had sought to force lawmakers to vote on a free trade deal...

Even before this week, fast track has had a rocky history and has sometimes been suspended, for example during the latter years of the Clinton administration following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

David Sirota has a great column out this week that likens Bush's Colombia tactics to a moment from Colorado's labor history:

Ninety-four years ago on April 20, America made international news when a government-sanctioned paramilitary unit murdered Colorado union organizers at a Rockefeller-owned coal mine. The Ludlow Massacre was "a story of horror unparalleled in the history of industrial warfare," wrote The New York Times in 1914 — and the abomination was not just the violence, but the way political and corporate leaders colluded on their homicidal plans to protect profits.

Sanitized history teaches that our government has since changed. Quite the contrary, as the Bush administration this week moves to legitimize the methods of Ludlow through its Colombia Free Trade Agreement...

Colombian labor leaders have begged the White House to drop the deal, saying it will undermine their struggle for human rights by validating Uribe's thug-ocracy. Nonetheless, President Bush bolstered Uribe with a pact giving corporations incentives to leave America for the corpse-strewn pastures of Colombia — a union hater's paradise.

And there was this inspiring quote from the NYT's obituary of Abe Osheroff, one of last remaining veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades. It seems appropriate as we move into the next phase of the fight, which is whether Dems will actually vote FOR the agreement now that they've canceled Fast Track. Ugh.

“If you need a victory, you aren’t a fighter,” he said in 2000, “you’re an opportunist.”

April 10, 2008

Fast Track Death - live blogging

The House is doing an hour of debate on Fast Track for Colombia. I'll try to type the basic things that people are saying, and bracket any editorial remarks.

Rep. Slaughter (D-NY): Fast Track outsources our very basic legislative responsibility. We can alter this rule, and it won't affect the FTA or the Senate's actions in any way. We're on the edge of economic ruin, now is not the appropriate time to bring up a flawed agreement. Damage to workers and Afro Colombians too significant to warrant passage of this bill. It is our preregorative to suspend Fast Track if timing necessitates it. WE ARE REESTABLISHING THE HOUSE OF REP AS CO-EQUAL TO THE PRESIDENT

Rep. David Drier (R-Calif.): I've never seen Democrats align with Hugo Chavez and FARC. We are considering the Hugo Chavez RULE. Process is substance. He's reading the Fast Track rules as evidence that it's a Democratic process. Cites number of codels as upholding democratic principles. This is an unprecedented rule change. They are making up this nonsense as they go along. Venezuela threatens not only Colombia but very idea of democracy and free markets.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY): I doubt that there's anyone who has the concern for Colombia. Not only with their political problems, but also their fight against drugs. Mr. President, you forgot to consult with the Ways and Means Committee. I don't remember the last time anyone has talked about the bill, instead they only want to talk about Chavez and Castro. Suggests some kind of a trade off for urban policing technology.

Rep. Diaz Balart (R-Fla.): This day will live in infamy.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.): I'm open minded, but I'm not a cheap date.

Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.): This bill turns off the timeline entirely.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) [- voted against the Peru FTA, but now is supporting an identical deal for Colombia - where unionists are murdered.]

SORRY. FLAKED. TOO MUCH INTOLERABLE RHETORIC ON BOTH SIDES.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.): So this is a rule from 1974. Guess what? we were the manufacturing collosus of the world. Until today, Congress never had a spine to stand up to the president before. Today is a new beginning.

Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.): [Colombia is safer that Washington, DC. Pretty rich coming from a guy married to Guatemalan death squads.]

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.): Talking about globalization's squeeze on middle class Americans. If people don't win, they'll turn against trade per se.

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.): We didn't have FTAs before Fast Track.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas): [Calls us chickens.]

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.): They call it Fast Track so that we don't have to argue about process.

Measure to kill Fast Track passed: 224-195. On the Dem side, Melissa Bean (Ill.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Allen Boyd (Fla.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Bud Cramer (Ala.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Baron Hill (Ind.), Nick Lampson (Texas), Tim Mahoney (Fla.), and Jim Matheson (Utah) crossed sides. On the GOP side, Bob Aderholt (R-Ala.), Virgil Goode (R-Va.), Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) crossed party lines. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) voted present. Bob Andrews (D-N.J.), Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), John Larson (D-Conn.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), and Albio Sires (D-N.J.) did not vote.

Colombia-Congress-Fast Track: What happened, What we will do, and What you should think

Statement of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch Director Lori Wallach on Decision to Remove Fast Track Treatment from Colombia Free Trade Agreement:

We applaud House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for reasserting congressional authority over trade by removing Fast Track treatment from the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Ftanoes Public Citizen will apply its full resources to ensure that the Colombia Free Trade Agreement is defeated by Congress.

The United States should never have negotiated a trade agreement with Colombia, a country with a shameful record of labor leader assassinations and systematic violence against Afro-Colombian communities whose current government has been linked to deadly right wing paramilitaries.

The Colombia FTA includes the most egregious provisions of NAFTA, including extraordinary foreign investor protections that promote offshoring of U.S. jobs and expose domestic health and environmental laws to attack in foreign tribunals; and agriculture rules that will devastate hundreds of thousands of subsistence farmers in Colombia, making them poorer and undermining U.S. security interests in the region. The deal also replicates NAFTA's  limits Buy America and green procurement policies and on imported food safety and inspection requirements.

April 09, 2008

Breaking: Pelosi to kill Fast Track on FTA with union murder capital

As we reported yesterday, Bush is proving he is better at being Nixon that even Nixon was, showing what Nixon's Fast Track process is really capable of. (In other news, Nixon's trade representative, who helped cook up Fast Track, just died.)

According to Reuters, the House will be voting tomorrow on a proposal by Pelosi to kill Fast Track's application to the Colombia FTA. Fast Track, which expired last year, would have still otherwise applied to the Colombia FTA because it was notified to Congress before the deadline.

Back in January, we predicted that Pelosi might do something like this. And many state governments and civil society groups have spent the last two years (and more!) passing resolutions for replacing Fast Track with a more democratic process. That fight is still around the corner, but both Clinton and Obama have committed to a change of course on Fast Track and our trade policy.

We'll be coming out with some kind of statement shortly.

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

April 08, 2008

Trade on the Trail - Bush channels Nixon

While Mark Penn's gaffes are grabbing headlines, the Bush administration has taken the unprecedented action of sending the Colombia FTA to Congress under Fast Track rules over the objections of congressional leadership. Since Fast Track was first enacted in 1975, no president has ignored congressional leaders by forcing a trade vote under Fast Track without addressing Congress' concerns. Fast Track allows only 60 legislative days for the House of Representatives to consider a 600-page plus trade deal; debate is limited; and no amendments are allowed. In fact, Richard Nixon devised the Fast Track process in 1973 as a way to grab Congress' constitutional authority over trade.

Despite this three-decade history, some are splitting hairs over the status quo trade model, as this quote from today's New York Times shows:

"Pennsylvania lost a lot of steel jobs in the '80s, before Nafta," said G. Terry Madonna, a professor of public policy at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

It's important to remember that Pennsylvania has lost 25 percent of its manufacturing jobs – or 222,000 – since NAFTA and the WTO went into effect. But it's not surprising that some of today's trade damage could also be seen in the 1980s. NAFTA locked in and deepened a trade model that originated in the 1970s, when corporations began to use trade policy as a vehicle to push an agenda of radical deregulation of the economy. The year Fast Track became law (1975) was the last year we had a trade surplus; the year U.S. manufacturing employment peaked (1979) was the same year the first Fast Tracked legislation was passed. Indeed, Fast Track provided the basic trade framework which paved the way for 3 decades of offshoring of production, trade rules that constrain ever deeper areas of domestic, non-trade regulations, and an erosion of checks and balances between the branches of government.

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

April 07, 2008

What people are saying about the Colombia FTA

We say:

...If the Bush administration believed its oft-repeated talking point that this agreement is vital to U.S. national security interests, it would not send it to certain defeat, but rather would work with Democrats to pressure Colombia's president to stop labor leader assassinations and forced displacements and murders of Afro-Colombians, and leave the agreement for consideration in the future when conditions had improved.

In the 33 years since the Fast Track trade agreement process was first established, no past president has exercised Fast Track's extraordinary procedure that forces a vote on a trade agreement over the objection of congressional leaders. In this instance, both Democratic congressional leaders and the few Democrats inclined to support the Colombia agreement made clear that dismissing the role of Congress and insulting the speaker by sending the pact without her consent would unify Democratic opposition. By deciding to force the vote this way, Bush has put the few Democrats inclined to support the deal into a position of either having to oppose it or sanction the administration's public insult of the speaker and other Democratic leaders.

The AFL-CIO says (sorry, not linkable):

Our nation has lost three million good manufacturing jobs on President Bushs watch alone. The economic damage has inspired a new consensus around the necessity of protections for workers basic rights to stanch the worldwide race to the bottom in living standards. Yet today, the Bush Administration has scuttled the progress toward a new consensus with its willingness to turn a blind eye to rampant human rights atrocities -- all for a trade agreement that even Administration economists anticipate will be of little economic consequence. Todays announcement makes a complete mockery of the labor protections that were negotiated and incorporated into the trade agreement, and which would be violated from day one.

Chairman George Miller says:

Because of historical and ongoing violence against Colombians who are labor organizers, labor leaders, or simply members of labor unions, Congress should not consider this proposed trade agreement with Colombia until we are assured that Colombia has brought to justice those responsible for the attacks on union members in Colombia and until Colombia has successfully put an end to the impunity that has been enjoyed for years by those who have attacked and killed union members in Colombia.

Chairman Baucus says:

Forcing Congress to vote on the Colombia trade agreement without a chance to weigh in on the legislation is an abuse of the fast-track process for trade agreements, and may well turn supporters and potential supporters of the Colombia agreement into opponents of the deal. Forcing this vote now is a disservice to American workers and to our trading partner, Colombia, as well. Colombia is an important ally in a troubled region. I urge the President not to add fuel to the fire surrounding this agreement, but to reconsider this unwise decision.

Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Rangel say:

President Bush's statement today regarding his unprecedented decision to send a free trade agreement to Congress without following established protocols of Congressional consultation is counter-productive, jeopardizing prospects for its passage. Under present circumstances, we cannot support the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.... Despite progress made by President Uribe, Colombia remains a dangerous place to be a labor activist, and for those who commit these acts of violence, there is little threat of prosecution or punishment.

Teamsters say:

"This trade deal is an insult to every American who works for a living," Hoffa said. "Workers are feeling the pain of the trade deals that began with NAFTA. They’ve been disasters.

"The Teamsters, the Change to Win federation and the entire labor movement will work tirelessly to defeat this job-killing trade deal that never should have been negotiated in the first place," Hoffa said.

Penn steps down; other heart attacks

Mark Penn stepping down from Clinton campaign... I guess now he can focus full time on destabilizing other countries instead of his own. [UPDATE AT 1153 AM, JOHN HAS POSTED ON SOME OF THE TRADE BAGGAGE OF THE DUDE WHO IS REPLACING PENN.]

Inside US Trade from Friday also had a number of heart attacks. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said:

“My goal is to get a robust TAA signed by the president and once that occurs I think we will be in a much better position on Colombia. ... Taking on these issues can clear the way I think for the pending trade agreements.”... Baucus admonished both labor unions and business groups in the speech. ... But AFL-CIO Policy Director Thea Lee... said that if President Bush introduces the Colombia FTA bill over the objection of the congressional leadership, it will be defeated for a number of reasons: the economy is in recession, it is an election year and there is a Democratic majority in the House and the Senate. In addition, the last election in the House saw 27 free trade representatives replaced with fair traders, she pointed out."

It's true! More than 27, in fact. Check it out!

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House Dem Whip, also had some strange things to say. From IUT again:

According to Clyburn, Hoyer is “very supportive” of the agreement, but he is “not so sure that we got it at the point where we can get the full leadership to endorse it.” Everyone in the Democratic leadership voted for the Peru FTA, he pointed out. A Hoyer spokeswoman said Hoyer remains undecided on the Colombia FTA and said Clyburn did not accurately describe Hoyer’s position, however.

Clyburn said he would work with other Democratic leaders between through next week in order to get the Colombia FTA “in shape” for a possible vote, explaining that he expects the administration to submit the implementing bill next week in order to have the maximum number of legislative days for a vote this year.

He acknowledged that a vote on a controversial piece of legislation could be made more acceptable by linking it to another important bill. “A lot of times you cobble together coalitions to get things passed and people swallow on one end in order to get what they want on the other,” he said. “Whether or not that would be an approach we would take, I don’t know.”

He said White House cooperation on a new Trade Adjustment Assistance bill might help with the passage of the Colombia FTA and said this was a “big part” of Rangel’s “concerns.”

UPDATE AT 11:50 AM - BUSH JUST SIGNED THE LETTER TO DROP THE FTA IN CONGRESS. WE'LL TRY TO FIND THE VIDEO... FUNNIEST PRONUNCIATION OF "URIBE" EVER.

April 04, 2008

Mark Penn. Wow.

Wowzers. WSJ (and the rest of the Western world) reporting on Hillary advisor Mark Penn meeting with President Alvaro Uribe to talk Colombia, and Penn is apologizing. Teamsters are hitting back, and Change to Win is hitting back. We'll stay tuned to see what happens, although both Hillary and Obama have said they will vote against the NAFTA expansion to Colombia, which Bush may try to submit to Congress as early as next Tuesday. (Saturday update: Uribe canceled Penn's firm's contract.)

Meanwhile, WSJ blog reports that Obama hits back against Uribe:

Sen. Barack Obama pushed back against criticism from Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who said Obama opposes the free-trade deal between Washington and Bogota because of election politics.

“I think the president is absolutely wrong on this,” Obama told reporters on his plane Friday morning. “You’ve got a government that is under a cloud of potentially having supported violence against unions, against labor, against opposition.” The Illinois senator has promised to rebuild America’s reputation abroad.

Nutcake In related news, Max Baucus gives us his definition of nutcake; and Bob Novak further deflates his credibility by suggests U.S. labor is controlled by Venezuela's Chavez (funny, I worked on Venezuela a few years back and remember quite the opposite).

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

April 03, 2008

Trade on the Trail: Obama v. Uribe

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) made a speech to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO yesterday that called for an overhaul of our trade policy. Here's the key quote:

But what I refuse to accept is that we have to sign trade deals like the South Korea Agreement that are bad for American workers. What I oppose - and what I have always opposed - are trade deals that put the interests of multinational corporations ahead of the interests of Americans workers - like NAFTA, and CAFTA, and permanent normal trade relations with China.

And I'll also oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement if President Bush insists on sending it to Congress because the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements. So you can trust me when I say that whatever trade deals we negotiate when I'm President will be good for American workers, and that they'll have strong labor and environmental protections that we'll enforce.

Obama touched on two themes that are obvious but rarely spoken in polite political circles: one, there is a severe imbalance in our trade policy against the public interest in favor of corporations; two, that it's a mockery of human dignity to even consider signing a trade deal with a country that is the union murder capital of the world.

The bold statement didn't win him any friends in Colombia's right-wing government, which has attached its hellish political sails to the outgoing Bush administration. According to the AP:

Colombia's president sharply criticized U.S. presidential contender Barack Obama on Wednesday for opposing a trade deal with his country, calling the Democrat out of touch with the realities of the South American nation.

The White House is urging Congress to approve the agreement, which would remove most tariffs on American exports and cement Colombia's preferential trade status with the United States.

But Illinois Sen. Obama said Wednesday he would oppose the deal.

"I deplore the fact that Senator Obama, aspiring to be president of the United States, should be unaware of Colombia's efforts," President Alvaro Uribe said in a statement. "I think it is for political calculations that he is making a statement that does not correspond to Colombia's reality."

Okay, I realize that the news that was trying to be reported here was the Uribe and Obama spat. But to describe the monstrous (what is it about Barack that makes people use that word?!) 600-plus page FTA does far more (and far more harm) that the innocuous-sounding summary "would remove most tariffs on American exports and cement Colombia's preferential trade status with the United States."

For folks covering the campaign, this short blurbs are a great opportunity to move past the horse race and dig a touch deeper on the issue. Here's just a few thoughts for things to insert:

  1. If FTAs are just about tariff reduction, why are they hundreds of pages, while only a few pages deal with tariff reduction? What accounts for the opposition of such a wide swath of Americans and environmental and consumer groups who don't work on tariffs? Could it be the corporate privileges which allow foreign investors to claim taxpayer-funded compensation for having to comply with the same public interest laws which domestic firms must comply?
  2. What's up with this narrative - paid for by the super-expensive Uribe lobbying outfits - that the Colombia FTA would help our foreign policy initiatives? If voters across Latin America are electing candidates that reject our failed trade model, how is our Latin America policy helped by shoving NAFTA-style trade policy on the one outlier government in the region, and one that doesn't seem to mind playing favorites in our domestic electoral processes? Doesn't sound like much of a foreign policy to me.

Another issue to probe is what role the candidates envision for U.S. multinationals in the global economy. I had the great misfortune to read the cases brought by the estates of murdered Coca-Cola workers against the company. Among the highlights: In 2001, the International Labor Rights Fund and United Steelworkers of America brought a civil case for equitable relief and damages against Coca-Cola and its Colombian bottlers on behalf of the estate of a murdered Coca-Cola plant worker (Isidro Segundo Gil) and of five other plant workers who were tortured, kidnapped and/or otherwise injured. According to the plaintiff’s complaint:

“The claims in this case arise from Defendants’ wrongful actions in connection with their production, bottling and distribution of Coke products in Colombia. With respect to their business operations in Colombia, the Defendants hired, contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders of the Union representing workers at Defendants’ facilities. The individual Plaintiffs have been subjected to serious human rights abuses, including murder, extrajudicial killing, kidnapping, unlawful detention, and torture in violation of the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), 28 U.S.C. §1350, the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA), international human rights law, and the common tort law of the state of Florida. Further, Defendants, their alter egos and/or their agents engaged in a conspiracy to cause physical and mental harm to Plaintiffs in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq.”

In 2003, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed this case on jurisdictional grounds. In 2006, a similar case that is still pending was brought against Coca-Cola and its Colombian bottlers on behalf of the wife and estate of another murdered Coca-Cola workerThe number of unionized workers at Coca-Cola's Colombia plants dropped precipitously after these fear campaigns. As a result, we've seen heightened congressional scrutiny, corporate shareholder protests and university Coke boycotts.

This is the same Coke, ahem, pushing the Colombia FTA. How is doling out legislative victories to corporations that have provoked such animosity abroad helping the long-term interests of Americans? What do the candidates have to say about these crucial issues?

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

April 02, 2008

Our side's brains speak into a camera

Listen here to our friends Ha-Joon Chang and Kevin Gallagher, sharing wisdom from their new books. Thanks Tim for putting this together!

April 01, 2008

Trade On the Trail Tuesday

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe reported "Democrats ply wider range of economic woes: Free-trade focus shifts to consumer struggles." As a consumer group that has worked on trade since the early 1990s, I guess we didn't get the memo that the two issues were separate. In fact, our partners in the labor and fair trade movements have organized a whole series of events in Pennsylvania spotlighting consumers' concerns about imported toy safety (See here and here).

As we show in a recent report, trade deals like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have grave implications for consumer safety. The deals contain provisions that set limits on import safety standards and inspection rates. The report explains how WTO and NAFTA investor protection rules have eliminated the risks normally associated with relocating to a developing country while instituting a system where U.S. public interest policies can be and have been challenged in foreign tribunals as "barriers to trade," with U.S. public policies being ruled against at the WTO more than 80 percent of the time. Additionally, this consumer issue is also a jobs issue with 74 percent of U.S. toys being produced in China, while wages there are as low as 36 cents an hour – half that of other developing countries and 2.5 percent that of U.S. toy workers.

NAFTA and the WTO have become shorthand for a whole system of international economic governance that serves the corporate – rather than consumer – interest. Candidates should be questioned about what specific steps they will take to challenge the WTO, which not only offshores our jobs, but outsources our consumer protections.

We'll be back on Thursday with more Trade on the Trail!

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