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May 11, 2009

Louise Slaughter, Presente!

The Conference Board of Canada just released a report that looks at the impact of the fair-trade sweep in the last two U.S. elections.

It takes the anti-democratic analytical perspective that things said during campaigns don't matter. So we have the inevitable comparison that only Nixon could "open" China, and only Obama could "save free trade," apparently because he campaigned against NAFTA-style policy.

While it's a well-worn trope that Democratic Party candidates lie to their base in the primaries to win their support, the important difference this time was the specificity of Obama's critique of NAFTA, some of which you can read about here. To be certain, we have no idea what his eventual policies will be, but we do know that this is not your father's Democratic primary in terms of the specificity of the commitments. It is a new day in regards to the trade-policy orientation of the president.

As for the congressional politics, the notion that the legislative branch will just roll over on its commitments seems incorrect as well. All you have to do is look at today's Roll Call story for evidence of Congress' collective backbone, and that they won't take the Panama FTA lying down:

“I’m getting really pis*ed off,” said House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D), who represents a region of New York that has suffered under the North American Free Trade Agreement. “Obama’s got to get a he*l of a lot of stuff up through here, and to start out by bumming out about half of us doesn’t strike me as a wise move.”

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), co- chairman of the House Trade Working Group, singled out House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in his criticism of his party leaders’ desire to advance the Panama deal. The working group includes several prominent Members, including six committee chairmen and 17 subcommittee chairmen.

“As a Democratic leader, I don’t think it’s helpful to vulnerable Members to ask them to support a Bush-negotiated trade deal,” Michaud said. “As a Democratic leader, [Hoyer] should not be encouraging the White House to move forward on this.”...

During a meeting last month with representatives from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Slaughter spoke on behalf of about 20 Members in voicing concerns with the Panama deal. The USTR attendees seemed “receptive,” she said, but have not contacted her since the meeting.

“I carried on awful,” Slaughter said of the hourlong meeting. “We’re not just going to take all of this stuff lying down anymore.”...

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), one of the Members who attended the USTR meeting, said Slaughter repeatedly reminded USTR officials that she chairs the powerful Rules Committee.

“She made it very clear that she didn’t intend to move any of those bills,” Kaptur said. “I hope it gets someone’s attention over at the White House.”

The author of the report's obliviousness to a changed landscape within the Democratic Party shows through in the citation of the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement, which the Conference Board notes passed, but doesn't mention that a majority of the majority Democrats opposed.

The Conference Board report is off in a number of other regards. First, it says that Obama will ask for Fast Track (i.e. Trade Promotion Authority). I have not seen that anywhere, and I don't think it is correct. He may ask for some form of delegated authority, but it is unlikely to be Fast Track. In fact, the quote that the Conference Board cites indicates that Obama is looking to change the form of delegated authority by establishing new checks and balances on the process. As the campaign commitments cited above note, Obama has said he will "replace Fast Track." (Our recent book - "The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority" - offers a variety of alternative arrangements that could boost the legitimacy of trade deals.)

Finally, far too many Canadian sources are spreading misinformation about the Buy America/n provisions in the stimulus bill. As we've explained many times, the stimulus bill is ONLY an improvement for Canada. For the Buy America provisions related to federal grants to states for transit projects,  U.S. products have always been given a 25 percent price preference over products from Canada (and other trade-pact partner countries). For the Buy American provisions related to federal procurement, U.S. products (specifically iron, steel, and manufactured products for stimulus-funded projects) received a 6 percent preference, and now they receive a 25 percent preference. But... wait for it... so. does. Canada., and all of our other trade-pact partners. Pre-stimulus rules were more generous to Canada than Canada is to us under its WTO-NAFTA commitments, and the post-stimulus rules are more generous than the pre-stimulus rules.

So, friends to the north, don't hate, appreciate! (And don't worry, we know that our friends in labor and the environmental community are already far ahead of their government and elites on this question.)

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