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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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November 26, 2008

Colombia FTA Roasted Turkey Cornucopia

Congress stands in recess, leaving for leftovers the unsightly US-Colombia FTA. Like so much canned cranberry, no one could quite stomach it. The mold it came from was just too disconcerting, to say the least.

Cornuc_3

Although Congress will likely reconvene in December to reconsider a rescue package for US automakers this NAFTA expansion, stuffed full of juicy goodness for corporate interests, is pretty much mashed (yes, like potatoes).

Let's take a moment to catch up on the cornucopia of reasons why and evidence that the Colombia FTA won't get a seat at the big kids' table during this Congress:

One: The FTA should not come up during an lame-duck session of Congress. Despite NAFTA backers' hopes that Congress buck voter mandate and popular opinion  when accountability is least, it just ain't happening. First Rahm Emanuel said so, now, Charlie Rangel. From Inside US Trade on November 21st (subscription only):

According to Rangel, no vote was scheduled on the Colombia FTA for a lame-duck session because it was clear to members that it was opposed by Obama.

“One thing we knew is that we were not going to rush out there and cut a deal with President Bush that the incoming president didn’t want as a matter of fact ... we tried not to do anything that was inconsistent with where he wants to take the country,” he said.

But there is still a whole gaggle of Turkeys scrambling around like a different sort of poultry does with its head chopped off, gobbling about how more market fundamentalist trade policy will pull us out of this market fundamentalist-caused economic crises. Inside US Trade goes on to tell that Colombian officials are still lobbying hard for the lame-duck vote, and then The Hill covers the quixotic quest of the still Turkey in Chief. Turkey_2

Two: Even if they did get the FTA a seat at the big kids table, the timing couldn't be much worse. Uribe's government is embroiled in gravy boat-loads of scandal, even for them. Points 3-9 lay out the scandals and other mounting pressures helping Congress leave the FTA forgotten at the back of the fridge.

Three: Uribe himself can't seem to stay out of scandals. Yes plural. Like your inlaws' kids, they seem to keep multiplying. Allegations resurfaced that he himself directly ordered the massacre at "El Aro' in 1997 (El Espectador or a rough translation). Uribe's family has also been implicated in a massive pyramid scheme whose recent collapse caused riots and are consuming Colombia's headlines. He says his sons are innocent and he will cooperate with the investigation, because he's as well known for that as Aunt Agnes is for the yumminess of that fruit cake. See below for more on his 'cooperation' with other investigations.

Four: Recent revelations show that extrajudicial executions by Uribe's military are systemic. This is just a kinder way of saying the military massacring civilians and passing them off as enemy combatants, all to show 'progress' against guerrillas. This is actually how they win promotions! The US Office on Colombia has all the details.

Five: This scandal finally toppled Uribe's ally, Gen. Montoya, long suspected for his paramilitary ties, as reported in this recent Washington Post article about President Alvaro Uribe obstructing investigations of paramilitaries. Huh... Why could that possibly be?

Six: Amnesty International released a report showing overall violence on the rise in Colombia, exposing the white-washing of the Colombian Embassy and the Uribe Government. Human Rights Watch agreed, and wrote to Dem Leadership opposing consideration of the FTA on similar grounds.

Obamatlc

Seven: As if all that wasn't enough, a new GAO report says that Plan Colombia is failing. So wait. Even if I could ignore the fact that FTA-caused displacement will increase incentives for drug production and fuel armed groups and thought we just had to pass a trade deal in exchange for all Colombia's success in the war on drugs, what now if even the GAO says its just wishbonefull thinking? And what about how we treat Bolivia, if Colombian drug crops are up 15%?

Eight: The Colombian indigenous and labor movements continue to mobilize for their rights and against the FTA. The indigenous MINGA is keeping the pressure on Uribe, and even on Obama. (No Queremos TLC = We Don't Want the FTA). Also, cane workers called off a 56-day strike having won most demands, except for the elimination of phony cooperatives, the one thing the Uribe government could have done in this case to improve labor rights.

Nine: As if all that wasn't enough, Obama has posted some of his commitments from the primaries about renegotiating NAFTA and a new directions on trade up on his transition website!

Overall, many of these ingredients are pretty foul, but all in the mixing bowl, they make for NO Colombia FTA. That part at least is a recipe for some happy holidays indeed.

"I want the WTO to tell us we can't do this... because then we won't have a WTO."

Josh Holland had a great piece on Alternet a while back that talked about how the WTO will need to be shrunk, sunk or otherwise renegotiated to allow Obama's green jobs plans to go forward without challenge or sanction. He does fresh reporting on an issue we've been raising for a while:

It's a story that's gotten little attention during the campaign. The traditional media have found the time to analyze Sarah Palin's wardrobe in great detail, take a hard look at whether or not the fact that Joe Biden was raised in Scranton, Penn., will win over white folks from the "Heartland" and ponder the all-important question of whether a mainstream, centrist Democrat like Barack Obama is in fact a crypto-Maoist. But they haven't bothered to point out that much of what both the Democratic and Republican nominees are promising on the campaign trail would likely be found "illegal" according to the rulings of shadowy trade tribunals that have the power to impose daunting financial penalties against the U.S. government if it were to stray from the economic orthodoxy known as "neoliberalism."

That's what "free trade" deals are about: limiting by treaty the policy space in which lawmakers can operate. As such, both of the presidential candidates are boxed into a cage of their respective parties' creation. It's the dirty secret of the 2008 campaign.

Recently, AlterNet asked Van Jones, founder of Green For All and author of The Green Collar Economy, about this issue, and he responded with defiance. "I want the WTO to tell us we can't do this," he said, "because then we won't have a WTO. I want the free traders to stand up in front of the world and explain to Americans why some people are going to tell you that you can't have clean energy and you can't have your home retrofitted (with American-made products) because it is more efficient for it to be made in Asia or Germany, that you can't bring Detroit back to build wind turbines. I want the free traders to defend having an overseas body to declare this agenda illegal. I want that fight."

November 25, 2008

Team Obama Making the Rounds on Trade

According to the Politico, Team Obama is making the rounds on trade:

Officials in charge of the policy area for his transition team have done extensive outreach to all stakeholders, including labor, business, trade skeptics and the centrist New Democrats.

Democratic constituencies that have been loudly critical of the Bush administration’s trade policy, and its treatment of them along the way, are praising Obama’s listening tour.

“We’re very pleased to see their willingness to reach out to the diverse group within the Democratic caucus as well as other interest groups that are interested in the trade issue, compared to what we were used to under the Bush administration, [which was] just plugging forward without talking to anyone, Republicans or Democrats,” said Rep. Michael H. Michaud (D-Maine), who is one of the leaders of the House Trade Working Group who opposes the Bush trade agenda.

Victoria McGrane reports that Dan Tarullo and Lael Brainard (of Georgetown U and Brookings Institution, respectively, and also the Clinton administration) are among the top rumored picks for USTR, along with Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and former Rep. Jim Davis (D-Fla.).

November 21, 2008

As the Dust Starts to Settle...

Lori and I have a new piece up on Foreign Policy in Focus. Here's a teaser:

As the dust starts to settle from the historic election of our nation's first African-American president and first president who ran on fair trade, we have some time to contemplate other impressive changes voters brought to Congress. At least 41 new fair-traders were elected to House and Senate seats, which represent a net gain of 33 in Congress' overall economic justice contingent. This comes on top of the 37 net fair-trade pick-ups in the 2006 congressional elections. These new members campaigned to oppose further NAFTA-style agreements and advocate for positive alternatives that ensure widely shared prosperity. Obama himself made many fair-trade commitments, including a pledge to replace "fast track" trade negotiating authority, renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and oppose a NAFTA-like pact with Colombia.

In 2009, the U.S. government will be squarely in the hands of people who have contemplated the global economic architecture built up through the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush, and found it fundamentally flawed. Or at least they have realized that an overwhelming majority of Americans have had it with the current "race to the bottom" trade and globalization status quo — and are systematically voting for those who join them in demanding change and against those who want more of the same.

Either way, this is a good thing not only for the millions of people living in this country who have their jobs offshored, wages stagnate, and environmental and consumer protections gutted by current trade policies, but for the billions of people worldwide who have suffered under our country's worldwide exportation of this model.

And Jane Bussey from the Miami Herald reports,

Obama's platform specifically staked out a shift in the trade agenda.

His program included a position that no future bilateral trade agreement could ''stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety or the health of its citizens,'' among other issues.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, gained little traction with his strong stand in favor of NAFTA and CAFTA, which also includes the Dominican Republic.

Although free trade accords have been narrowly approved for the past two decades -- always with bipartisan support and even when a Democratic president sat in the White House, trade analysts believe the status quo is unlikely to continue...

''The election gives a stronger voice to those who say past agreements have not gone far enough, and the current economic problems can drive us to place more emphasis on domestic programs and less on international agreements and incentives,'' said Gilbert Lee Sandler, one of the founding partners of Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, a Miami-based law firm that specializes in trade issues.

November 19, 2008

With Begich, we're up to 41 new fair traders!

It was just announced that Anchorage mayor Mark Begich (D) defeated Sen. Ted Stevens (R) for the Alaska Senate seat. Begich made strong fair-trade statements on his website, and his win brings our total new fair traders in Congress up to 41, or a net shift of 33, in the 2008 elections. This means that the 2006-2008 shift is up to 70.

With at least six races still uncalled, there may still be changes to our total count. But you can find the latest 58-page report and 37-page appendix on our website, which includes the Alaska races. As we state in our newly updated report:

In conservative Alaska, Democrat Mark Begich defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens with a platform that called for trade reform. Of course Stevens’ ethics scandal was the prominent focus of the campaign in the closing months. However, the trade issue played with Alaska’s conservative voters in a similar way as seen elsewhere in the west. Alaska’s economy bears little resemblance to that of the Rustbelt. Employment is2680172657_97160348a6 concentrated in service and extractive industries that are rarely affected by imports in the same way foreign textile imports might affect that domestic industry. But concerns over local and national control of policy are important, and in fact Stevens and his House colleague Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) had a history of opposing the WTO and other trade policies based on sovereignty concerns. Neither, however, had voted the fair-trade position since 2003.

Begich’s campaign sensed an opening, and his website said
, “NAFTA has not worked as predicted, costing an estimated 1 million American jobs. NAFTA, CAFTA and the bilateral free trade agreements negotiated by the Bush administration have helped big business while hurting middle class Americans. Mark believes fair trade policies should include meaningful and fully enforceable consumer, labor, environmental and human rights protections. He favors a tax code that rewards companies for creating jobs in America, not that take those jobs abroad. International trade can be good for Americans, and is a vital part of Alaska’s economy, but it needs to serve middle class families, not just multi-national corporations.”

[Thanks CitizenChunk for taking the awesome photo. Click here for some more great ones.]

Word of the fair-trade election victory is getting around. Joseph Schatz at CQ has written about it, Bridges over in the EU ran something on it, David Sirota has written about it his latest column and elsewhere, and Bill Lambrecht at The St. Louis Post Dispatch also weighed in. In a wire story by Jim Abrams that is making the rounds at the NYT, WP, IHT, Guardian, Newsweek and elsewhere:

The election of Barack Obama has delivered a decisive victory to "fair traders," mainly Democrats and their allies who for years have contended that the free-trade policies of past administrations were recipes for American job losses and environmental degradation.

Obama's win marks the first time in modern American history "that a candidate advocating a shift in our trade policies in a decisively pro-worker, pro-consumer, pro-environment direction has been elected president," Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, an advocacy group that is critical of free trade agreements, said in a report.

On the other side, Dan Griswold, director of the center for trade policies at the pro-trade Cato Institute, was equally stark in his assessment: "We are going to see the U.S. retreat from its long-standing leadership in the global economy."         

Of course, there is both life and leadership after the WTO model. One way that climate groups are suggesting Obama could claim the mantle of global leadership - and rebuild significant good will in developing nations - is to lead a global effort to establish a "green carve-out" in WTO rules that would allow countries to pursue cap-and-trade programs, green subsidies and procurement, and other carbon-reducing policies without being subject to WTO challenge or sanction.

A similar move has already been made on public-health matters in 2001. As we suggest in a recent fact sheet, an Obama-led green overhaul of the WTO would be one way to stop to avoid the planetary heat, and stop the WTO chill... not to mention a great first step on global leadership by putting climate ahead of commerce.

[UPDATE: For more on this issue, we've re-released our analysis of how WTO rules will need to be overhauled to accomodate Obama's climate and health plans. See our new press release after the jump.]

Continue reading "With Begich, we're up to 41 new fair traders!" »

Editorials or Epitaphs?

Despite all indications that the US-Colombia FTA is actually DOA, ideologically driven editorial boards like the New York Times', the Washington Post's and the LA Times' continue begging for Congress to snub their noses at the fair-trade electoral mandate and to take up the unpopular and wildly controversial trade pact during this week's lame duck session of Congress.234515917_edcfcc218d

Seems that Bush is not the only one with a childish obsession with this trade deal, one that even pro-FTA economists say will have minimal impact on the overall US economy. Even according to Forbes, this FTA barely stand a chance this year. As the St. Petersburg Times points out, the FTA's chances aren't aided by the fact the Uribe government is in the throes of a damning and still unfolding scandal  regarding extrajudicial executions of innocent civilians, carried out in cold blood by his armed forces. The resulting  mass firings and resignations of military leaders - many for whom Uribe once vouched - for human rights atrocities, shows that Uribe and his allies are rotten to core (look out for a entire post on this soon).

What's more, most serious observers, including Colombia's own Agriculture Ministry, say implementing the FTA would displace millions of rural farmers, fuel immigration, increase coca production, and send a wave of new recruits to illegal armed groups. For those counting, thats no less than three ways that this commercial policy would undermine other stated US priorities: curbing immigration, decreasing drug supply, and establishing a peaceful, democratic Colombia.

But these fine opinion-shapers just won't let the facts get in the way of their ideology. The NYT piece ends by saying that:

Failing to approve this trade agreement would do nothing to improve Colombia’s human-rights record. Walking away from it now would alienate many people in Colombia and undermine Washington’s credibility.

Do they imagine that supporting discredited policies that fuel conflict and accompanying human rights violations does anything BUT undermine and alienate broad swaths of Colombian Society, not to mention their own credibility as a news source?

It certainly won't bode well for them when the deal's six feet under as many are predicting. I hope they find a way to engrave the text of all these editorials (plus the previous ones) on one single tombstone! Its not entirely done just yet, but I can't wait to finally see it:

Colombia FTA (2006 - 2008) R.I.P.

*Update:

Members of Congress Linda Sanchez and Phil Hare of the House Trade Working Group are helping lead the fight and keep the US-Colombia FTA bucket kicked with this Op-Ed in today's Politico. They write:

Now that the election is over, the talk in Washington has shifted to a possible lame-duck session of Congress and the urgent need to revitalize our economy. Democrats have argued for investing in our crumbling infrastructure and providing relief to the struggling U.S. auto industry. But President George W. Bush has instead insisted on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, a measure that would only dig us deeper into recession while sending a terrible message to the world about our commitment to basic human rights.

The election of Barack Obama as president did wonders to improve America’s reputation in the world, which has been tattered by the policies of the past eight years. So what message would it send if, within two weeks of that historic moment, we approved a trade agreement with a nation where joining a union can literally cost you your life?

With 41 new Fair Traders coming to town, we might just hear their strong words in the Colombia FTA's coming eulogy! Lets all keep knocking on wood, ok?

November 18, 2008

Corporate lobby group attempts to debunk our study

For the second election cycle in a row, we've released a nearly 100 page study analyzing the role of trade in the congressional races, and for the second cycle in a row, a corporate lobby group has attempted to debunk the main findings. The group, the National Foreign Trade Council, is one of the prime groups fighting fair trade policies in the U.S., including state level efforts to divest from brutal regimes in Sudan and elsewhere.

Jay Heflin at Congress Now picked up this story last week, and here's how he reported on what we told him:

When contacted about the NFTC's study, Public Citizen deputy director Bill Holland said the group made a similar claim after the 2006 election that turned out to be incorrect.

'In 2006, they released a statement that said only 10 candidates appeared to make trade an issue in their election,' Holland said. 'Weeks later, 39 freshman sent a letter to the House Ways and Means chairman specifically saying that trade was a decisive issue in their campaigns and that they desire change in U.S. trade policy.'

That letter, dated Jan. 17, 2007, was sent to Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). It stated, 'It is very important that we not only reverse the troubling results of the administration's trade agreements and trade policies, but also that we are able to deliver on the promise we made to our constituents to move our nation in a new and improved direction on trade.'

So, you would think that NFTC (and its affiliated group, USA Engage) might have given up on U.S. election analysis, which is clearly not their forte. Or that of their bizarre choice of researcher for their 2006 "debunk," the British Simon Evenett at the Swiss Institute for International Economics and Applied Economic Research. Interestingly, the British and Swiss are not known for their detailed birddogging work in U.S. politics.

Instead, their 2008 report is even stranger than their 2006 attempt. Not to toot our own horn, but in 2006, we spent months analyzing looked at websites, television ads, public statements, press quotes, candidate pledges, vote records (even at the state level) and beyond to sketch trade positions of over 200 incumbents, challengers, and outgoing representatives. After looking at these sources once, we did it again, and again, and again, and fleshed out a very full picture of the candidates. NFTC and Evenett appeared to spend a few days contracting an intern to do a modest search of campaign websites only - which across the country are varied in terms of their level of detail and sophistication.

But the group was apparently not embarrassed by this overwhelming gap in their research, and have pushed out a comparably shabby product this time around - even as we greatly expanded our methodology to cover a greater number of races and candidates (over 260). Among the problems with their 7 page report and press release:

Continue reading "Corporate lobby group attempts to debunk our study" »

WTO case against U.S. auto industry bailout??

We've been warning about this for some time, but there is an ongoing WTO threat to our plans to usher in a green energy revolution here in the U.S. See this news on the U.S. auto bailout, which includes several greening components:

The European Union might complain to the World Trade Organisation about U.S. plans to help its stricken car industry, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Friday.

Democrats in the United States Congress are trying to draw up a $25 billion bail-out for American automakers, who are struggling to survive the financial crisis.

"We are in the process of analysing the plan. The plan has not yet been presented yet. Of course, if it is illegal state aid, we will act at a WTO level," Barroso told Europe 1 radio.

       

Honestly, I've even been a doubter at times as to whether these challenges would ever materialize. But as this news shows, whenever there is real money on the line - and the green revolution is nothing if not MONEY - there will be a WTO challenge.

November 17, 2008

Flipper attacked again

A few weeks ago, Mexico requested WTO consultations with the United States at the World Trade Organization. What’s at issue this time around? The “dolphin safe” tuna label…again!Dolphin

You may have thought this was settled back several years ago when Congress, in response to another trade dispute under GATT, gutted the “dolphin safe” labeling requirements. Now the dispute is back, and it’s even more serious this time because a ruling by the WTO would be binding.

Check out this article for a full history of the case.

Nevermind the Wildfires! Let's Play with Wet Matches!

If the foundation of your house was sinking in torrential flooding, how would YOU fix it? Would you dig a hole on the back patio? What if the world was on fire? Would you want the firefighters playing with a wet book of matches during the shift change? Our outgoing president apparently would.

Wildfire

Last week Bush met for the first time with President-elect Obama at the White House. The meeting was designed to address the economic and financial crises sinking the entire global economy - caused in no small part due to the radical deregulating and liberalizing agenda of the WTO/NAFTA model. But reportedly, all Bush wanted to talk about was expanding that very same failed commercial model to Colombia, which even FTA proponents admit would have an insignificant effect - at best - on the overall US economy.

According to AFP:

"During their private meeting, Bush said he could support some aid in exchange for approval of a free-trade agreement with Colombia, the Times said, citing unnamed people familiar with the discussion.

However, neither Obama nor Democrats in Congress -- who been blocking the trade pact -- seem willing to bend on Colombia, the Times wrote."

The Bush administration, perhaps feeling the heat for suggesting the popular idea of relief to US workers be conditioned on the discredited and widely unpopular idea of more failed NAFTA-type policies, denied this account. As AP reports:

"In no way did the president suggest that there was a quid pro quo," said White House press secretary Dana Perino. But, she added, "he did talk about the merits of free trade."

Newly named Chief of Staff for President-elect Obama, Rahm Emanuel, interestingly a long-time proponent of the Colombia FTA himself, has publicly rejected the idea of bartering bailouts for bad trade deals. As reported in The Hill, Emanuel issued a grim prognosis on the Sunday morning circuit for the Colombia FTA, who only hope of passage is in a lame duck session:

"You don't link those essential needs to some other trade deal," he said. "What you have to deal with is what's immediate here, and the lame duck is for immediate things that are important. That's what should be the focus, right now. There's an economic recovery package in front of the Congress. Washington should get it done."

So for those of you getting lost in these metaphors (and I could hardly blame you less), the world is ablaze from failed market fundamentalism, the Colombia FTA would add more of the same, but is nearly extinguished after a big fair trade realignment that has even Rahm Emanuel helping stop bad trade deals.

Despite all this, Bush still childishly, naively insists on playing with fire. We can try to say we told him so when he gets burned!

November 16, 2008

G-20 communique continues with more of the same

Here's what we had to had to say in response to the G-20 communique released yesterday:

G-20 Financial Crisis Summit Declaration Calls for Completion of WTO Doha Round that Includes Further Financial Services Deregulation: Ignorance or Cynicism?

G-20 Leaders Fail to Address Existing Radical WTO Financial Service Deregulation Requirements that Conflict with Summit Reform Proposals

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The failure of world leaders today to require significant changes to existing World Trade Organization (WTO) rules that lock in domestically and export worldwide the extreme financial services deregulatory agenda that fostered the global economic crisis seriously threatens proposed solutions, Public Citizen said. The summit statements call for completion of the Doha Round of WTO expansion is maddening, given one of the three core pillars of the agreement is further service sector deregulation and liberalization, including financial services.

"Only ignorance or extreme cynicism can explain why the summit not only failed to address the existing radical WTO financial service deregulation requirements that conflict with many of the most basic remedies to fix the mess and avoid future meltdowns, but called for a new Doha Round WTO expansion agreement a core aspect of which is further financial services deregulation and liberalization," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizens Global Trade Watch division.

The G20 call for countries to strengthen their domestic financial service regulations and also work towards regulation of the world's major cross-border financial institutions fails to recognize that 105 of the worlds nations have taken binding WTO Financial Service Agreement commitments to stay out of the business of regulating multinational financial service firms.

"Because they dont address the radical financial services deregulation agenda that has been aggressively promoted and entrenched by the WTO, the proposals emerging from this summit will simply NOT solve the problem," Wallach said. "Given president-elect Obama is savvy to the problem of trade agreements undermining domestic regulatory space and the Democratic platform includes resolving the overreach of trade rules that limit non-trade regulatory space, hopefully the next U.S. administration will be able to chart a new course and bring the change we need to the global financial architecture."

Despite the pervasive role of the WTO in worldwide financial service deregulation, the primary comments regarding adherence to global trade rules made by world leaders and commentators before and during the global financial crisis summit were of the red herring variety: panicky warnings about the perils of countries raising tariffs to block imports in response to dire economic conditions - something no country has proposed.

"Altering the WTO financial services rules is critical for creating domestic policy space to address the crisis," Wallach said. "However, even in the face of this crisis, the United States and the European Union are pushing for further financial services liberalization in the ongoing WTO Doha Round, the conclusion of which they are now pushing as a cure to the crisis, even as they find that flaunting the existing WTO terms is the necessary course of action."

As part of its original WTO commitments, the United States agreed to conform a broad array of financial services - including banking, insurance and other financials services - to comply with WTO rules.

For more information about the WTOs role in the crisis, go to http://www.citizen.org/documents/WTO-FinancialCrisis-ReportersMemo.pdf .

November 15, 2008

Yet another dead institution trying to revive itself

CEPR, Essential Action and results have the scoop on another dead institution trying to revive its power. They did a press call talking about the issue. Mark Weisbrot had this to say:

The IMF answers mainly to the U.S. Treasury Department, with some minor influence from Europe," said CEPR economist and Co-Director Mark Weisbrot. "Treasury is using its influence just as it did 10 years ago during the East Asian economic crisis, to channel international bailouts through the IMF and to determine the conditions attached to such lending, and to select the recipients of such aid according to its own political preferences."

Weisbrot noted that during the Asian financial crisis, the U.S. Treasury department scuttled proposals for an Asian Monetary Fund, which could have prevented much of the damage that occurred, in order to maintain the IMF/Treasury monopoly on bailouts in the region.

Weisbrot called for countries with large surpluses of international reserves to channel any aid to developing countries outside of the IMF, either through regional, multi-lateral, or bi-lateral arrangements.

"Competition is necessary, and will also improve the performance of the IMF," said Weisbrot.

November 12, 2008

Fair trade state legislators head to Washington...Anti-fair traders stay home

                                                                                                                  217776387_6b51cdb2ff

This past week we've been posting findings from our election report, Fair Trade Gets an Upgrade. Today, we want to take a look at how a few former state legislators fared in last week's Congressional elections, and how their support or opposition to fair trade initiatives at the state level played a role in the outcome of their campaigns.

1. Former Nevada Sen. Dina Titus, who won last week's Congressional race for Nevada's third district, not only ran paid trade ads against unfair trade practices, she also cosponsored groundbreaking legislation in the Nevada Senate to require more legislative oversight of process by which Nevada commits to certain provisions of trade agreements.

2. Former Maryland Sen. Andy Harris, who lost his bid to represent Maryland’s first district in Congress, had a history of opposing fair-trade initiatives at the state level:

Harris was one of a handful of Maryland State Senators who opposed legislation similar to what Titus proposed requiring more legislative oversight of the process by which Maryland would commit to certain provisions of trade agreements. The legislation was first proposed by the Maryland state legislature in 2005 after Governor Robert Ehrlich committed Maryland to the procurement provisions in CAFTA without consulting the Maryland legislature (which has authority over procurement decisions). Many state legislators were up in arms upon learning that their governor had committed Maryland to the procurement provisions of the pact, thus opening Maryland’s government purchasing to international competition and striking a blow to “buy local” purchasing policies, local economic development initiatives, and campaigns to ban state procurement of goods from countries with horrendous human rights records.

Despite Harris' opposition, the legislation passed with an overwhelming majority and supporters successfully overrode the Governor’s veto.

3. Although it’s still too close to call for former California Sen. Tom McClintock who is running to represent California's fourth district, he too could be reeling, in part, from a weak stance on fair trade at the state level. McClintock was skeptical of California legislators’ efforts to speak out against nasty NAFTA Chapter 11 investor-state provisions which allow companies to sue governments over state regulations that might impact profits.

According to The Washington Times, “State and local officials are jumping into the national debate on globalization, led by an unusual state legislative committee in California that scrutinizes the effect of trade agreements on individual states. Though the Constitution gives the federal government jurisdiction over international trade, this bipartisan group is worried that international trade deals threaten the American ideal of state sovereignty. In California, state activism has centered on the Select Committee on International Trade Policy and State Legislation, headed by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, a Democrat from Los Angeles. The panel has taken aim at a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement that allows companies to seek monetary damages from governments for violations of the 1994 pact… Critics of the committee say there is little reason for it to stick its nose into an area of exclusive federal control. ‘Nobody ever lost any money underestimating the common sense of the California state legislature,’ said Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock.”

November 08, 2008

Palin finally states NAFTA views, but cares more about jerks

Here at EOT, we were disappointed that - unlike many gubernatorial candidates in the '06 races - now-Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) never clarified her views on NAFTA or the WTO - big issues in a state very much concerned with sovereignty and local control.

And we weren't much happier when these views did not become clarified in the vice-presidential debates, whereas now-VP-elect Joe Biden had made a series of commitments on fair trade to Iowa activists in the primaries, not to mention a long voting record that was trending fair trade.

Now, as Palin goes back to Alaska, we have the first glimmer of recogniStevemartinjerk782937 tion on the trade debate, as the NYT reports...

Fox News quot[ed] unnamed McCain campaign officials as saying that Ms. Palin had not known that Africa was a continent, not a country, and claiming that she did not know which countries were covered by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Ms. Palin told reporters in Alaska that the anonymous criticism was “cowardly,” and that she had discussed the campaign’s position on Nafta at her debate prep sessions.

“I remember having a discussion with a couple of debate preppers,” she said. “So if it came from one of those debate preppers, you know, that’s curious. But having a discussion about Nafta — not, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t know who is a part of Nafta.’ ”

“So, no, I think that if there are allegations based on questions or comments that I made in debate prep about Nafta, and about the continent versus the country when we talk about Africa there, then those were taken out of context,” Ms. Palin said. “And that’s cruel and it’s mean-spirited, it’s immature, it’s unprofessional, and those guys are jerks, if they came away with it taking things out of context and then tried to spread something on national news. It is not fair and not right.”

November 07, 2008

With Perriello, we're up to 40 new fair traders!!

Tom Perriello was just announced the winner of the Virginia 5th congressional district race!

Goode was actually one of the most consistent GOP fair traders  in the House, voting the fair-trade position on 15 out of 17 votes. So this campaign became one of the country's top "anti-NAFTA-offs," with both the Dem and the GOP running on fair trade.

Goode's campaign website said: “Agreements like NAFTA and the trade provisions in fast track authorization lead to the erosion of this country's vital manufacturing base. I do not favor international trade agreements such as these that result in a loss of American sovereignty and jobs.” 

Meanwhile, Perriello committed to: “Reject NAFTA-style agreements and promote fair trade. Fair trade means that imports should not be artificially cheap because of human or environmental degradation.” And in response to a Citizens Trade Campaign questionnaire, Perriello committed to oppose the WTO Doha Round and Colombia, Panama and Korea FTAs, support the renegotiation of NAFTA and replacement of Fast Track, and oppose any trade agreements that include NAFTA-style investor rights, among other commitments. And his campaign and the DCCC ran paid trade ads against incumbent Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) for voting for tax breaks to ship jobs overseas.

This brings our total new fair traders in our report up to 40. (Our net number doesn't shift, since Goode was also a fair trader.)

More on the fair-trade mandate

Over at the Guardian, Kevin Gallagher says

The Obama administration will also be pressed to keep its promise to rethink global trade policy. A core principle of a reconfigured Doha Round should be the recognition that developing countries need the policy space to deploy the kinds of government measures that have been proven to work for development in the west. Allowing poor nations to deploy such policies is not protectionism; instead, it is "correctionism" – getting the prices right by correcting for the distortions that form the core of northern trade policy.

Over at Working Life, Jonathan Tasini says

If policy was constructed by the people, not the wishes of the lobbyists and corporate interests, we would never see a so-called "free trade" deal pass Congress again. That's pretty much the upshot of the 2008 elections--though, believe me, this fight ain't over yet.

I would argue that the issue of trade was a significant factor in the sweeping victory by Democrats this past week. The focus on the economy was a broad message. But, underneath the broad topic, trade was clearly something that has penetrated deeply into the American electorate. I say this because this is now the second cycle that one can show an electoral movement on trade

Over at Manufacture This, Steve Capozzolla takes on a trade story very close to John McCain's home.

November 06, 2008

Fair-Trade Election Gains Keep Coming In

Today's announcement that fair trader Jeff Merkley defeated anti-fair trade incumbent Gordon Smith in Oregon's Senate race is just the latest mind-blowing evidence that fair-trade issues have gone national (and beyond the Rustbelt) more than any election in our nation's modern history.

As Lori and I write on HuffPost, Merkley "shattered the conventional political wisdom by running and winning as a fair trader in the Pacific Northwest." As the latest version of our report shows, Merkley's fair-trade message helped improved his party performance against Smith in all but 2 of Oregon's 40 counties - including all the key socially conservative, working-class counties. Merkley's globalization message was perhaps the most sophisticated of any candidate in the country: a 2007 press release from early in his campaign, for instance, attacked the Peru FTA for:

Extending NAFTA’s provisions that give foreign investors more rights than Americans to sue the federal and state governments;

Enabling foreign investors to challenge American public health, environmental, zoning and labor protections in foreign courts

Blocking government procurement rules that require the hiring of U.S. workers and ‘Buy American’ provisions

Setting limits on food safety standards that require the U.S. to rely on foreign regulators and inspectors

Merkley's ads were equally hard-hitting, such as this ad where he deconstructs the phrase "free trade":

We did a press conference on the report earlier today with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Reps.-elect Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) and Mark Schauer (D-Mich.), and Steelworkers President Leo Gerard. You can listen to the audio here. Here's our latest press release on what went down, and here's a quick snippet from the senator:

"The election results demonstrated Americans continued rejection of NAFTA style trade agreements," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). "Ohioans figured out a long time ago that weak environmental and safety laws abroad allow toxic food, toxic trade and contaminated vitamins into their homes and as a result across the country we saw candidates who supported President Bush's trade agreements lose their races."

November 05, 2008

37 New Fair Traders (at least)

We've got 37 new fair traders (at least) - a net increase of at least 30.

That's the conclusion of our latest report, "Fair Trade Gets an Upgrade," which analyzes the positions and ads of over 130 congressional campaigns, as well as the race for the White House.

Brandon has done a great job putting up all 130+ trade ads that were run in the races, and you can see them all here. Check out our 80 page report and appendix on the sweep here. And here's our press release:

 Trade Issues Played Unprecedented Nationwide Role in Congressional, Presidential Races, Reinforcing Public Demand for New Globalization Rules

Congress’ Views Move Closer to Public’s as at least 30 Vocal Fair-Traders Take Seats Now Held by Supporters of NAFTA-WTO Status Quo in Races Using 130+ Trade TV Ads

WASHINGTON, D.C. – From the presidency to both chambers of Congress and from traditionally “free trade” Florida to Colorado and New York to New Mexico, successful candidates in 2008 election races ran on a platform of fundamental overhaul of U.S. trade and globalization policies including a growing number of Republicans, with a net increase in Congress of at least 30 fair trade supporters, according to the new report “Fair Trade Gets an Upgrade” by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. The number of fair-trade pick-ups in Congress may increase depending on the results of several races not yet called.

“The 2008 election was a veritable tipping point for fair-trade issues, which just reinforces what polls have increasingly shown: The public has had it with the current race-to-the-bottom trade and globalization model, and they voted against those who support it and for those who say they will replace it,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “Public expectations after this trade-focused election create pressure to fix the existing trade agreements and policies while further marginalizing various Bush hangover proposals, such as an expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to Colombia, a bilateral investment treaty with China, and more financial service liberalization through the Korea Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Round.”

A total of 33 new fair-traders won seats in the House of Representatives, which represents a net change of 26. Four new fair-trade supporters won Senate seats, a net change of four. The report includes trade positions for candidates in over 130 competitive or open seat races. Public Citizen found that in 2008, campaigning on fair trade was not solely a Democratic tactic. More than a dozen incumbent and open-seat fair-trade Republicans beat back tough primary and general election challenges by campaigning on a fair-trade platform, including with paid ads. In a dozen competitive and open seat races, both the Republican and the Democrat competed in an “anti-NAFTA off,” battling to be the most critical of the status-quo trade model.

In addition to the seats won by first-time candidates running on fair-trade platforms, 15 of the most consistently fair-trade incumbents facing tough re-election battles prevailed. The 15 incumbents with tough races voted the fair-trade position 100 percent of the time, cosponsored the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment (TRADE) Act, or did both. They come from the Republican and Democratic Parties, from the New Democrat and Blue Dog Coalitions, from the Hispanic and Progressive Caucuses and from California to Connecticut, from Mississippi to Minnesota. The TRADE Act lays out a process to review existing pacts, renegotiate them to meet basic criteria and reform negotiating processes and substantive policies to ensure a new model of globalization and trade that can benefit more people.

“Tuesday’s electoral gains for fair-traders mark the second phase (following a 37-seat net gain by fair-traders in 2006) of an unprecedented shift in the U.S. political landscape away from the disastrous trade and globalization policies of the past,” said Todd Tucker, research director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “The American public expects a serious debate around replacing the current model.”

Continue reading "37 New Fair Traders (at least)" »

November 04, 2008

Are you getting psyched?

Polls are about to close, which means it is only a few hours until our mega election report comes out, and we can share what the law has forced us to hold in for months: the overwhelming impact of fair trade on the races. I can hardly wait, and neither can the Arcade Fire...

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