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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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December 23, 2008

ITUC Condemns Most Recent Union Murder in Colombia

This is not news any of us hoped for during the holiday. Another Colombian unionist has been killed for their political activity, in violation of the human rights of all in his country. The International Trade Union Confederation sent a letter to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (in Spanish), condemning the assassination.

The ITUC statement summarizes the fact and the tragedy:

William Rubio Ortiz, a member of the leadership of the union SINTRAMBIENTE-CGT, representing employees of the national environmental institution, was killed at 7 p.m. on 12 December, when two shots were fired at his head and shoulder by assassins on motorbikes just after leaving his home in the town of Santander de Quilichao, in the department of Cauca. Brother Ortiz had worked for 22 years for the regional authority (Corporación Autónoma regional del Valle del Cauca) and was currently a member of the union's governing body.

Its worth following the links to the full condemnation (which isn't that long), but its worth posing the conclusion here:

“These killings must stop,” stated Guy Ryder, general secretary of the ITUC. “It is time to put an end to these crimes and to the impunity in Colombia, so that trade unionists are free to carry out their union work and to protect workers without putting their own lives at risk.”

That's at the top of my wish list for this holiday season too.

A Deeper Look At Extrajudicial Executions

Witness for Peace has put together a very moving video that brings alive the issue of 'false positives', or extrajudicial executions.

More analysis has surfaced recently that suggests the Uribe government is grossly exaggerating the number of neutralized militants. The BBC reports on the sinister trickery of the Uribe government:

About 114,000 members of the warring factions were said to have been dealt with by the army in the last six years.

However, other estimates say there are only 30,000 in the warring factions.

CODHES, a widely respected Colombian NGO, begs to differ:

But the Codhes study, entitled "The numbers do not add up", attacks the very foundation of the Uribe administration, suggesting the government statistics are simply unbelievable...

Also there is mounting evidence that members of the security forces have killed hundreds of unarmed civilians and presented them as members of the illegal armies shot in combat.


The Uribe government has tried to use the inflated numbers to prove that its security policy is working, another instance of the that government counting atrocity and destruction in the 'progress' column.

These sort of exposes like Witness for Peace's moving video highlight the human tragedy of the Colombian military, which continues to justify its heavy handed campaign against its own citizens by invoking fear of armed insurgents. When there are none there to fight, they are more than happy to invent guerillas so as to justify their existence, and the militarization of life for rural and poor Colombians.

December 22, 2008

Petition to Obama: Close Santa's Sweatshop

Toys You may have read a few days ago that we recently released a new report, Closing Santa's Sweatshop (PDF), showing how trade agreements exacerbate our import safety crisis and what changes need to be made to fix the problem.

We are now circulating a petition to President-Elect Obama, calling on him to keep his campaign pledges to address unsafe imports and to fix the NAFTA/WTO-style agreements that encourage the offshoring of production while simultaneously limiting border inspection and imported product safety standards.

Sign the petition!

(Photo by Flickr user "cursedthing")

Krugman: reduce the trade deficit

In today's NYT, Krugman calls for action on the trade deficit as a way to get past speculative bubbles:

A more plausible route to sustained recovery would be a drastic reduction in the U.S. trade deficit, which soared at the same time the housing bubble was inflating. By selling more to other countries and spending more of our own income on U.S.-produced goods, we could get to full employment without a boom in either consumption or investment spending.

But it will probably be a long time before the trade deficit comes down enough to make up for the bursting of the housing bubble. For one thing, export growth, after several good years, has stalled, partly because nervous international investors, rushing into assets they still consider safe, have driven the dollar up against other currencies — making U.S. production much less cost-competitive.

Furthermore, even if the dollar falls again, where will the capacity for a surge in exports and import-competing production come from? Despite rising trade in services, most world trade is still in goods, especially manufactured goods — and the U.S. manufacturing sector, after years of neglect in favor of real estate and the financial industry, has a lot of catching up to do.

December 19, 2008

What Ron Kirk's boss wants him to do

Today's Obama statement on the appointment of Ron Kirk as his USTR reminds us of all the trade commitments Obama made on the campaign trail. As readers of this blog may remember, not only did trade play a decisive role in the primaries across the country (along with its major role in elections in November), but candidate Obama made very specific and detailed commitments to change our trade policies. Check out the compilation of Obama's campaign statements on trade to various state-based fair-trade organizations that we've put together.

In these statements, Obama highlights the need for not just better labor and environmental standards, but also provisions to ensure imported food and product safety, the curbing of excessive foreign investor rights, efforts to ensure that public interest policymaking authority is not implicated by agreements like the WTO, and a more inclusive and democratic replacement for Fast Track.

Just one example that Mr. Kirk should be thinking about: when Obama was asked by the Texas Fair Trade Coalition this question (PDF):

Will you commit to renegotiating NAFTA and all existing trade agreements to address problems including labor and environmental standards, investor rights, procurement rules, food and product safety, and agricultural provisions BEFORE initiating any new trade agreement negotiations?

Obama's answer was yes and his comments begin with, "I voted against CAFTA and never supported NAFTA. NAFTA’s shortcomings were evident when signed and we must now amend the agreement to fix them. While NAFTA gave broad rights to investors, it paid only lip service to the rights of labor and the importance of environmental protection."

Check out all this good stuff saved on the GTW website.

Ron Kirk tapped as next USTR

President-elect Obama today announced Ron Kirk as his U.S. Trade Representative, something that's been percolating around the news and blogs for a couple days now. Here's our statement on this appointment:

Ron Kirk Selected to Deliver on President-elect Obama’s Campaign Pledge to Reform U.S. Trade Policies

Ron kirk

Whether Ron Kirk is a good choice for trade representative will be determined by his ability to deliver on President-elect Obama's pledges to the American public to create a new trade and globalization policy that benefits more Americans.

As a past supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and China Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), Kirk will face close scrutiny as he assumes the responsibility for delivering on Obama's pledges to fix existing trade agreements and create a new trade policy that benefits more people. Kirk's vocal opposition to Fast Track during his 2002 U.S. Senate race puts him in line with the majority view in Congress and positions him well to deliver on Obama's campaign pledge to replace Fast Track with a process that provides a greater role for Congress to ensure that American trade agreements promote the public interest.

Whatever Kirk's past views on various trade policies, his future course of action must reflect the powerful expectations for change created by Obama's trade reform pledges. His actions must also reflect the new political realities created by congressional elections that resulted in 71 House and Senate supporters of the trade status quo being replaced by those who were elected campaigning for a new approach. Scores of Democrats and Republicans used attacks on NAFTA and China PNTR to win elections nationwide this year and these candidates and the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees featured more than 140 television ads criticizing the trade status quo.

Continue reading "Ron Kirk tapped as next USTR" »

Korean Fair Traders: You Wanna Take this INSIDE!?

The GOP and their big business allies - the folks who blocked health care for sick children - have accused fair traders of 'blocking progress'. How so? By delaying a vote on Bush's hangover NAFTA expansions, like the Colombia, Panama and Korea FTAs - never mind that the public made clear on election day that they oppose our current failed trade policy.Korea FTA Scuffle

One could only imagine what these corporate shills would say about the Korean fair traders, who in order to represent the true public interest sought to physically block the introduction of the wildly unpopular US-Korea FTA in it's committee.

The New York Time reports on the parliamentary, and literal brawl over the US-Korea FTA (follow links to the some lively photos, here and here):

The parliamentary battle over a contentious free trade deal in South Korea led to a confrontation on Thursday in which opposition lawmakers used a sledgehammer to knock down the doors of a blockaded room in which a committee was discussing the agreement.

Television footage showed fire extinguishers being sprayed at the opposition lawmakers trying to get into the room. At least one person was shown bleeding from the face.

The members of the opposition Democratic Party were trying to stop the trade agreement with the United States from advancing to the floor of parliament for a final vote. The governing party has been seeking to ratify the trade pact by year's end, saying it would improve South Korea's competitiveness and ties with the United States. Opponents say it will hurt South Korean farmers.

The Korean fair traders know the stakes are high in this FTA, and aren't shying away from the fight. Follow the jump for some video of the parliamentary brawl courtesy of AP and US News & World Report.

Continue reading "Korean Fair Traders: You Wanna Take this INSIDE!?" »

Another Leader Falls by Uribe Army's Hand

The Colombian Army has assassinated another activist, Edwin Legarda (pictured here). Indigenous leaders of the Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (CRIC) suspect his vehicle was specifically targeted. The red truck was well-known to belong to Legarda and his wife Ayda Quilcué, a main leader of the Minga - the assembly that's protesting the Uribe government's policies and the US-Colombia FTA. You can take action here to denounce the continued targeted killing of community leaders in  Colombia.Edwin in his Pickup

Inter Press Service reports on the assassination:

Colombian soldiers killed the husband of a leading indigenous activist Tuesday when they opened fire on the pickup truck he was driving.

Edwin Legarda was the husband of Ayda Quilcué, a leader of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), a province in southwestern Colombia. The truck had 15 bullet holes in its sides and two through the windshield...

...Local indigenous people speculate that the target of the attack was Quilcué.

Continue reading "Another Leader Falls by Uribe Army's Hand" »

December 18, 2008

Political Brain Surgery and Fair Trade

Psychologist Drew Westen’s The Political Brain was one of the most influential books of 2007, and released right after the fair-trade sweep of Congress in 2006. Like the work of linguist George Lakoff, Westen’s work does not advise candidates what positions they should take, but rather how they should communicate about their positions, whatever these might be. Drawing on knowledge from the field of cognitive science, Westen finds that voters are more responsive to candidates and platforms that carry emotional resonance for them. Among the major communication tactics that Westen considers:

  • 41rmaqdvl_sl500_aa240_ Emotionally evocative language: “Progressives have to stop using the kind of language that has left the left so right but so wrong, such as ‘Poverty is a serious social problem,’ ‘We have to do more to protect the environment,’ and ‘Income disparities in the country have increased at an alarming rate.’ If you didn’t feel anything as you read those phrases, you’re not alone. This doesn’t mean those on the left have to give up their values and principles to win elections. It means they have to describe them with emotional clarity.” (258)
  • Framing: “The most prominent contemporary examples of framing, beginning with the Contract with America, have been the handiwork of Frank Luntz, who has recently disclosed some memos written to provide Republicans with ‘translations’ for common phrases that didn’t serve them well. For foreign trade, he substituted international trade… Luntz recommended using words that evoked the right [neural] networks, rather than those that elicited little emotions or unintended negative associations to Republican policies (e.g., the word foreign). A perennial problem for the Democrats has been the failure to recognize Trojan horses that smuggle in frames from the other side.” (265)
  • Principled stands: “the level [of cognitive categorization] that appears to have the most emotional impact in politics is … a principled stand. A principled stand is neither an abstraction (too superordinate) nor a detailed policy proposal (too subordinate). Unfortunately, these seem to be the two levels toward which Democratic minds naturally gravitate. A principled stand has clear implications for policy, but it does not lay out the specifics of programs. Rather, it is an emotionally compelling application of a value or ideological principle to a particular issue or problem.” (270)
  • Using the whole brain: “Successful campaigns present both positive and negative messages. The reason is less political than neurological: it is inherent in the structure of the human brain. Positive and negative emotions are not the opposite of each other. They are psychologically distinct, mediated by different neural circuits, and affect voting in different ways. Focusing primarily on the positive and leaving the negative to chance is simply ceding half the brain to the opposition.” (250)

Westen explains how Gov. Mike Huckabee might have gone further in the Republican primaries if, ironically, he had been an even angrier “populist” than he was. Instead, he spoke in the emotional tones of a pastor trying to lead his flock to their “better angels.” Similarly, Westen says Democrats are missing many voters by not evoking both angry and compassionate emotional cues. (427)

One some level, these insights are not brain surgery (pun intended). Any good labor or community organizer, for instance, knows that she must move the people she hopes to organize through a cycle of “anger-hope-action.”  In other words, people must be shaken out of apathy by anger at their problems, convinced that something can be done about their problems before the anger turns to depression, and then moved swiftly into taking action that will build power and help them solve their problems.

Continue reading "Political Brain Surgery and Fair Trade" »

December 17, 2008

Becerra: Trade Not an Obama Priority

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif) has reportedly turned down the Obama USTR job. According to Politico:

The California Democrat – the first high-profile figure to reject an Obama job offer – says he turned down the U.S. trade representative gig because he was concerned that trade would not be a big priority in the new administration...

Becerra told the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion he had concluded that trade “would not be priority number one, perhaps not even two or three,” according to a loose translation of his remarks, adding that, “To do this job well, it would be necessary to travel a lot ... and also I have a family.”

As we document in a new report "Closing Santa's Sweatshop", the USTR - along with agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission, responsible for safety of imported toys - has a lot to tackle in the coming years. This includes renegotiating existing trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO to create policy space for product safety and climate reform.

New Report: Closing Santa's Sweatshop

We just put out a new report, "Closing Santa's Sweatshop: How to Deliver on Obama's and Congress' Toy Safety and Fair Trade Promises".

We find that, while production of our children's toys has become globalized, our consumer safety system and its protections against injury and death have not. And unfortunately, our trade agreements take us in the wrong direction.

6a00d83451e0d569e200e5523e3aa888338 The United States is expected to import $23 billion in toys in 2008, 90 percent of that from China. Imports this year represent 90 percent of U.S. toys, which is the highest toy import level and share on record. Many nations producing our children's toys have extremely lax safety standards and enforcement. Yet, while toy imports exploded by 562 percent from 1980 to 2008, the budget of the agency responsible for toy safety, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), was cut by 23 percent, with staffing cut nearly 60 percent during the same period.

Unfortunately, the threat of toy safety improvements being attacked as "illegal trade barriers" under current U.S. trade agreements is no longer only hypothetical. The report describes actions taken by China in 2008 invoking two U.S. safety initiatives relating to state-level bans on lead and bisphenol A (BPA) in toys that China claims violate World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. U.S. laws challenged at the WTO have been ruled against more than 80 percent of the time.

The report lays out a variety of recommendations on how to reform our trade agreements and domestic policy to guarantee toy import safety. "Closing Santa's Sweatshop" also documents campaign pledges on import safety made by President-elect Obama and Rep.-elect Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and other new members of Congress – 71 of whom replaced congressional supporters of the failed trade-policy status quo generating the import safety crisis in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

You can find the press release and all the hot materials here.

December 15, 2008

UN Shoes Fly at Uribe Government

Seems that the more desperately you love the hangover Bush NAFTA expansions, like the Colombia FTA, the more likely you are to have been met by a barrage of footwear in past days.Shoe2_4

The Human Rights Council at the United Nations followed the lead of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush over the weekend. Of course, the UN has its own protocols, which are much more diplomatic. According to Inter Press Service:

Experts at multilateral forums usually begin their speeches with diplomatic words praising some aspect of the country or government under examination, before delivering their barrage of criticism.

The tried and true formula was followed by nearly all the government representatives who spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council session devoted Wednesday to human rights violations in Colombia.

Over 40 diplomats lambasted the Uribe government for both its direct participation and role in facilitating human rights violations:

The number of indigenous people who have been killed in Colombia is alarming, said the representative from Copenhagen, who warned that the killings have pushed several indigenous communities to the verge of disappearing.

Denmark's delegate also mentioned the widespread use of torture by the Colombian security forces, and called on Bogotá to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Canada stressed the gravity of the violations committed in Colombia, highlighting the problem of extrajudicial executions. Ireland referred to the same abuses and expressed concern that the murders are attributed to the Colombian armed forces.

Continue reading "UN Shoes Fly at Uribe Government" »

December 12, 2008

3 Years and 3 Strikes for CAFTA

The Stop CAFTA Coalition just released their third annual DR-CAFTA monitoring report highlighting the damages of this particular Bush trade deal. The report focuses on the three cases of the Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, the first three countries to implement CAFTA. Despite the warnings of people in each country, those three governments each swung hard, and missed big.Strike

CAFTA has failed to bat in the promised shared prosperity and economic development. From the Stop CAFTA Coalition's press release:

Patterns of growing inequality and ongoing poverty within the signatory countries have only become more extreme, contrary to the promises of supporters of the agreement.

Coalition members are calling for the incoming Obama administration for at least a thorough renegotiation of the Central America Free Trade Agreement, and a moratorium on further NAFTA-style trade deals. In the Stop CAFTA Coalition's press release Burke Stansbury of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), a member of the coalition, summarizes:

We believe that the results of CAFTA demonstrate the failure of ‘free’ trade and justify a definitive split with this model by the incoming Obama Administration... Not only should the Democratic Congress reject pending agreements such as the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, but the party in power should take this opportunity to introduce a new trade policy based on human rights, and economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Katherine Hoyt of the Nicaragua Network, also a coalition member, elaborates on the problems as seen from Central America:

Unless there is a significant shift in the economic model, employment opportunities will continue to be scarce, agricultural prices will continue to fall, the poor will become poorer, and immigration will increase.

UmpYou can view the full report here.

When the new home place ump, and increasingly fair trade 1st and 3rd base umps arrive in January, the fans will be doing the wave demanding action to match words. They earned their posts by promising change toward fair trade, and they be cheers for them to make good on renegotiations of not just CAFTA but NAFTA, and to pass structural reforms like the TRADE Act. The air will be crisp, the beer flowin', red hot hot, and it'll be hard to ask for a better night for a ball game.

December 11, 2008

Whistlin Fair Trade in Dixie

In the south, fair-trade Democrats claimed seats that were thought to be beyond their party’s reach. In North Carolina, Democrat Kay Hagan beat Republican incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole, after running a national record eight paid trade ads

Hagan’s victory is particularly interesting, given her position on “social” issues. While Hagan was pro-choice, her relentless campaigning on fair-trade and other pocketbook issues allowed her to win over the socially conservative voters that dominate her state. In July 2008, Hagan released materials that slammed Dole for voting for CAFTA, and an October television ad showed an abandoned factory while a narrator said, “This is the legacy of Washington special interests: unfair trade deals, and Senator Elizabeth Dole giving tax breaks to corporations that send jobs overseas.”  On her campaign website, Hagan said,

“For too many years, however, trade deals have been written to pull down wages and working conditions in the U.S. and other developed countries, instead of pulling them up in the developing world. As corporate profits and CEO pay have soared, the incomes of ordinary North Carolinians have stagnated. Even in the best case, the pitfalls of trade are too apparent for Americans and for North Carolinians in particular. We need only look at once thriving communities built on the textile and apparel and furniture industries that are being devastated by low-cost competition from China and Mexico and other countries around the world… Our trade agreements need to include enforceable labor and environmental standards to prevent businesses from engaging in a race to the bottom by off-shoring their factories to newly opened markets with little or no environmental and labor protections.”

In Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi – heavily GOP states that supported McCain – fair-trade Democrats Jim Martin, Bruce Lunsford and Ronnie Musgrove gave anti-fair trade GOP incumbents Saxby Chambliss, Mitch McConnell and Roger Wicker a run for their money, after running multiple television ads attacking the incumbents’ support  of unfair trade deals. 

Martin_2 These included an early September 2008 ad paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, where a narrator said: “Wicker and his special interest buddies back tax breaks for American companies that ship jobs overseas, and Wicker supports bad trade deals like NAFTA, Central America, and China – deals that send tens of thousands of jobs overseas. Ronnie Musgrove opposes these job killers, and he’ll fight to keep Mississippi jobs in Mississippi.”  An October ad for Martin focused on Chambliss’ support for CAFTA and Fast Track. In Georgia, Chambliss’ margin was only 3 percent in the first round of voting (and the race is headed for a runoff), and in Kentucky, only 6 percent. In all three states including Mississippi, the fair-trade Democrat beat Obama’s margin – in Kentucky, by 11 points.

And as we detailed in our Fair Trade Gets an Upgrade report (PDF), fair traders won tough pick-ups in House seats in both the so-called “Deep South” (Alabama) and “Outer South” (Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia). And fair traders also defended seats in tough races in both “Deep” and “Outer” South (Georgia, Mississippi; and Kentucky, Texas).

These victories defied some pundits’ suggestions that Democrats should “whistle past Dixie.” In 2006, for instance, political scientist Thomas Schaller said that Democrats could not win statewide seats in the South – even if they were socially conservative yet economically progressive. “Political candidates in all but a few isolated pockets of the South essentially must pass a values ‘litmus test’,” wrote Schaller in Whistling Past Dixie, who calls on Democrats to instead focus on western states. According to Schaller:

“[Some] think Democrats can bridge the cultural gap by emphasizing the destructive impacts of Republican economic policies. But it’s extraordinarily difficult for Democratic candidates to differentiate themselves sufficiently on economic policies to compensate for the built-in advantages Republicans enjoy on social issues, and post-NAFTA Democrats are having a hard time convincing many working-class voters that there is any meaningful differentiation at all. Besides, no matter how attractive their economic messaging may be, Democrats must first pass through the ‘cultural credentialing’ filter to get a full hearing from Southerners on economic policy. The best Democrats can do is hope for fate to drop in their laps a huge electoral windfall, like an economic collapse of such magnitude that it eliminates the culture filter… This is neither a workable long-term strategy nor a noble way to run a political party.”

Such claims about southern politics are highly debatable.

Continue reading "Whistlin Fair Trade in Dixie" »

December 09, 2008

Mary Jo Kilroy: Fair Trade Pickup #42

Maryjokilroy

With the long-delayed victory of Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy in Ohio's 15th district, we are now officially at 42 new fair traders in Congress, for a net gain of 34. We've once again updated our comprehensive election report (PDF) along with our annex of candidate trade profiles (PDF).

Kilroy will be replacing Republican Deborah Pryce, who had a 100 percent anti-fair-trade voting record. Kilroy ran against Pryce in 2006, running paid ads on trade; Pryce chose not to run again this year, and Kilroy defeated Republican Steve Stivers.

This time around, Kilroy again campaigned on her fair-trade platform, including responses to a Citizens Trade Campaign questionnaire indicating that she would push for the renegotiation of NAFTA and replacement of Fast Track, oppose the Colombia, Panama and South Korea FTAs, and work against NAFTA-style anti-food safety and pro-foreign investor protections.

The only outstanding race is in Minnesota, where fair trader Al Franken is locked in a recounting battle with anti-fair trade Norm Coleman for the latter's Senate seat. Once that race is called, we'll make our final update.

Also, Tasini notes that Rep. William Jefferson - one of the CAFTA 15 - has been fired by Louisiana voters.

December 08, 2008

Becerra Roundup

Obama's courting of Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) for USTR continues. Here's a news round up.

Here's Mark Landler from the NYT:

If President-elect Barack Obama appoints Representative Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California, as his chief trade negotiator, it would punch several political tickets at once for Mr. Obama.

Mr. Becerra, who has emerged as the leading candidate to become United States trade representative in the Obama administration, is known as a defender of workers’ rights and as a skeptic of trade agreements. That would please union backers of Mr. Obama, who spoke in the campaign about reopening the North American Free Trade Agreement...

Trade experts said the appointment of Mr. Becerra would suggest that Mr. Obama intended to make good on his campaign pledges to hold existing and new trade deals to tougher scrutiny.

Mr. Becerra, who entered Congress in 1992 and serves a district in Los Angeles, voted in favor of Nafta but now says he regrets it. In 2005, he helped lead the Democratic opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, emerging as an impassioned voice for the rights of workers. The deal passed the House by two votes...

Some analysts suggested that choosing Mr. Becerra would be a gesture to Mr. Obama’s Democratic base after a series of economic appointments — Timothy F. Geithner as Treasury secretary and Lawrence H. Summers as a top White House adviser — that were viewed as sympathetic to business.

“We’re comfortable with it,” said Thea M. Lee, public policy director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “President-elect Obama has signaled that he wants trade policy to go in a different direction. The choice of Congressman Becerra indicates that he is going to hold trade policy to a high standard.”

And David Sirota over at Open Left:

Beccera hasn't accepted yet, but if he does, my initial reaction is that this is a solid choice. No, it's not perfect - Beccera voted for the landmark China PNTR deal in 2000 and for the Peru Free Trade Agreement. But perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the damn good.

Getting a U.S. Trade Representative who is on record against the NAFTA trade model and with votes against CAFTA and Oman is a huge change from both the Bush administration and the Clinton administration. And it's not just a good pick because it's a change from really bad Trade Representatives, the selection itself is good - and way, way, way better than what it could have been. The selection suggests Obama is serious about reforming our trade policies, and it should be applauded.

Here's John Nichols in the Nation:

Becerra has a long history of engagement with trade debates. That made it particularly significant when, in 2006, he announced that "it has become very obvious that our system for devising trade agreements, so very important to this country's functioning around the world, has not only broken, but it has broken completely."

Becerra is not a resolute fair-trader like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders or Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur. Like Obama, he's a mixed bag who will still need to be prodded by activists, especially as new debates about trade in services evolve. Becerra backed NAFTA as a House freshman, and has voted for several other trade deals. He has since acknowledged, however, that he was wrong to support schemes that may increase commerce but tend to concentrate "the benefits of that commerce in the hands of very few." That's encouraging. Even more encouraging is the fact that since his election to the House in 1992, Becerra has consistently opposed the "fast-track" model for negotiating trade agreements. When Congress grants fast-track authority to a president, it cedes to the trade representative most of its ability to shape policy, retaining only the right to accept or reject a final agreement. If Obama and Becerra simply develop a new approach to negotiating trade agreements, one that involves consultation with Congress, it will be much more likely that labor, consumer and human rights concerns will be addressed.

It is on those human rights issues that Becerra has been a particularly strong player in recent years. The Congressman delivered a national Spanish-language radio address last spring in which he defended the Democratic rejection of Bush's proposed Colombia free trade agreement on the grounds that, "Colombia still remains a dangerous place for those who advocate for worker rights. More than 2,500 labor leaders have been assassinated in Colombia since 1986. What would we say if labor leaders were being assassinated in our country every day, just for standing up for their rights as workers? That is what is happening in Colombia today." The message Becerra delivered was radically at odds with that of Republican and DLC free-traders. If he keeps delivering it as trade representative--along with other fair-trade themes he has articulated--Becerra could become the face of the change in trade policies that Obama promised, and that working people here and abroad can believe in.

December 03, 2008

Minnesota Makes Its Move

Minnesota_stpaul

Minnesota recently became the fourth state (joining Maryland, Hawaii, and Rhode Island) to take decisive action to promote fair trade policies at the state level. Minnesota legislators passed a statute requiring that the state legislature, in addition to the governor, give approval before the state may commit to any new international trade agreement’s procurement provisions. Minnesota adopted this change and established a Trade Policy Advisory Group to assist the governor and the legislature in understanding the impact of international trade agreements on the state.

This tide has swelled slowly over the past few years and is expected to increase as state legislators around the country are now faced with the responsibility of addressing job loss and major economic setbacks that have crippled budgets from California to New York. Rhode Island went even further as its bill requires legislative approval for commitments in services and investment in addition to procurement. These provisions are of great consequence because under NAFTA and similar agreements, not only can countries challenge state laws as barriers to trade, but corporations can also launch trade suits against state policies in trade tribunals. Foreign investors have used NAFTA' s Chapter 11 investor-state enforcement system to challenge domestic state court rulings, state environmental laws, local land use policies, public health measures and even the provision of public postal services.

States are wise to empower their legislatures to approve these decisions given the potential of the agreements’ provisions to limit any number of new policy options. Once a state has agreed to be bound to a trade agreement, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to rescind the offer. Therefore the consequences, pro and con, should be thoroughly understood by state legislatures before agreeing to the terms.

States that are not taking the opportunity to consult their legislature about these matters are liable to overlook important considerations that may cost the state heavily in years to come. Just a few procurement policies that have been used to stimulate local economic development and spur job creation that could run afoul of “trade” rules include: “Buy Local” preferences for local suppliers, anti-offshoring measures that encourage the use of in-state workforces, local services procurement, and even “green” procurement policies that require recycled content or renewable energy use over less eco-friendly options. Policymakers should be free to pursue these critically needed policies, without being handcuffed by the services, investment and procurement rules contained in trade agreements.

During the recent campaigns, Democrats and Republicans alike offered proposals to boost economic development with “Green Jobs” and American innovation. Yet little attention has been paid to potential conflict between these economic rescue efforts and current U.S. trade rules. If we are to rebuild our state economies, we’ll need all the tools and options available. If your state isn’t one of the four mentioned above, contact your local representatives and encourage them to take action.

December 02, 2008

Rep. Becerra Offered Trade Representative Post

This just in...

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