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Fast Track to Nowhere

It's not new, but the International Association of Machinists created a 10-minute film a few weeks ago decrying Fast Track and the NAFTA/WTO model that it has enabled. There are some excellent interviews with the likes of freshman Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.), and GTW's own Lori Wallach. If you're in the dark a little about what exactly this Fast Track thing is, it's a good introduction:

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U.S. Corporations: Keeping the Wages Flat

Fair trade advocates have long called for stronger labor standards in trade agreements. It's worth taking a look at who actually opposes such standards and who is for them. The good people over at Global Labor Strategies have just issued a new report, "Undue Influence," which examines this topic head-on as it plays out in China. Almost exactly a year ago, the Chinese government put forward a series of proposals to reform labor laws that, while far from being ideal, represented a step forward for worker's rights. Almost immediately, U.S. multinationals began to actively undermine the government's efforts - the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai even made a veiled threat that the law would lead to divestment from China as it would "negatively impact the PRC's competitiveness" (translation: Chinese wages might rise a little!).

Now, remember that normally we hear from the pontificating class in the U.S. that labor standards are an imposition that will harm poor countries' ability to develop. Yet here we have the government of a developing country push for strengthened labor rights with backing from citizens in that country and the people opposing it are U.S. multinationals (a similar situation happened in Peru where former President Toledo pushed for stronger labor provisions in the Peru-US FTA and was rebuked by the administration). So the next time you hear someone preach about the dangers of putting "standards" into trade agreements because they would harm people in developing countries, remind them who really supports and opposes that stance.

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Hillary Clinton's Change of Heart

Clinton (i.e. Hillary) wants to take a "little time out" on new trade deals.

Sometimes it's hard to tell your husband/spouse/lover/girlfriend/fiance/boyfriend/partner/etc. certain things about you, especially when it's a complete change of heart about something that they are very passionate about.

I wonder how Sen. Clinton is going to tell her husband about her new views on NAFTA and NAFTA-like trade agreements, especially when even she may not believe them. In Bloomberg today:

Senator Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, wonders why the North American Free Trade Agreement is "continuing to drive hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people from Mexico into our country," she said in an interview. "We just can't keep doing what we did in the 20th century."...

...Clinton promoted her husband's trade agenda for years, and friends say that she's a free-trader at heart. "The simple fact is, nations with free-market systems do better," she said in a 1997 speech to the Corporate Council on Africa. "Look around the globe: Those nations which have lowered trade barriers are prospering more than those that have not."

[re: lowered trade barriers=more prosperity, click here]

Maybe the Senator is looking at the data coming in from the NAFTA experiment, maybe she was watching in the 2006 midterms, when 39 fair trade candidates beat incumbents who stubbornly supported NAFTA-like trade deals or maybe she saw the polls. Whatever her motives are in her change of heart, it's something to watch as we (very slowly) approach the Democratic primary.

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Hundreds of groups say "no more Fast Track!"

And by "hundreds," we mean "seven hundred and thirteen." That's right: today our colleagues at the Citizens Trade Campaign released a letter signed by 713 national, state and local organizations, including labor, environmental, religious, civil rights and other groups, calling for Democratic leaders Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) not to allow any Fast Track renewal legislation to come to the floor.

The press release is up on the main GTW website, or you can check out the letter (PDF) for the full list of signers, which is over 15 pages long! The juicy excerpt:

We urge you to take all possible actions to ensure that the Bush Administration is not provided with the authority to determine the direction and terms of our nation's engagement with the global economy. There is no way to "fix" Fast Track, which only allows Congress any vote after agreements' contents are decided by the Executive Branch and entered into by signing. Congress needs a new mechanism to authorize the Executive Branch to conduct negotiations that gives Congress a steering wheel and, when necessary, a brake, on the negotiation process. Fast Track's expiration provides an opportunity for the new Democratic Congress to end the Administration’s disastrous trade agenda, and set a new course for trade policy based on our shared commitment to justice, fairness, and democracy.

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Portland's brush with bad trade policies

Oregon Public Broadcasting did a featured story on the first hand the affects of failed trade policies. In Portland, Oregon, 800 union employees of the Freightliner plant will lose their jobs on Friday. Meanwhile, Freightliner announces the construction of a $300 million plant in northern Mexico. OPB does a great job of connecting the closing with the more-of-the-same trade policies that have sent thousands of jobs overseas.

Click here for the full story:

[Machinist] Anthony Smith: "It seems like there are a lot of jobs that seem to be leaving. As soon as you get a decent job with a decent wage it goes somewhere else but, I guess that's just the way it is."

It seems to have been 'the way it is' for the last 15 years -- as one trade agreement after another has been passed -- and hundreds of thousands of jobs have left the U.S.

Up until recently, most economists maintained that agreements like NAFTA enrich the U.S. economy. But a growing number are now saying that the downside may be deeper than believed.

Former Federal Reserve Board vice chairman, Alan Blinder, now estimates 30 million jobs could be shipped out of the country in the next couple of decades. And not just manufacturing jobs -- any job that can easily be moved -- like that of a computer programmer, an accountant, graphic designer or film editor.

There is a rally on April 4th outside of the Portland Federal Building at noon to oppose Fast Track and the loss of Oregon jobs organized by the Oregon Fair Trade Coalition.

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Peru's response to Democratic Proposal: No Thanks

In response to the much trumpeted Rangel-Levin trade proposal, Peru's trade minister has simple response: thanks but no thanks.

According to the leading Spanish language newswire EFE, the Peruvian government said this on the Democrat's limited proposal to re-negotiate the flawed Bush trade pact:

Some Democratic Party leaders are demanding that the Peru FTA include more worker and environmental protections, and guarantees of access to generic drugs.

Nevertheless, Araoz insists that Peru will not accept a re-opening of the pact negotiations, which were ratified by its legislature last year.

"We can talk about some additional thing in some side letter, we're in agreement on that, but we can't second guess our own Congress, which already approved it," she explained.

For the reasons why side deals are very very bad ideas and unenforceable, see Brandon and my Trade Wars: Revenge of the Myth paper. You can read more analysis of the Rangel-Levin proposal here.

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Taking important steps, but no acceptable Fast Track

Trade news today focused on the Charles Rangel - Sander Levin proposal to make certain limited changes to flawed trade pacts that the Bush administration has already negotiated. You can read the some teasers on the proposal here.

GTW director Lori Wallach had some analysis of the Rangel-Levin proposal:

Trying to ameliorate the problems in a Bush trade agreement is no small task, and from what can be gleaned from the available summary of trade principles released today by Democratic Ways and Means leaders, this proposal takes important steps towards that goal by demanding changes to some of the worst aspects of the Peru and Panama Free Trade Agreements. However, it excludes several serious issues that also must be remedied in these pacts.

But so far, the full proposal being sent to the Bush administration has not been released. Although it was summarized at a Democratic Caucus meeting, Democratic lawmakers did not have an opportunity to discuss the proposal at the meeting, as the session moved quickly to other business after the presentation was concluded.

Given the level of distrust that the American public has for this White House and the passionate opposition among the Democratic base for both Fast Track and President Bush, there is no prospect the new Democratic majority would provide the president with more Fast Track authority - which means in the future there should be no need for trying to limit the damage of Bush NAFTA-style trade agreements.

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No Amor for NAFTA, sez Amores Perros star

Dreamboat actor Gael Garcia Bernal no tiene amor para el NAFTA.

According to the Associated Press,
Bernal said, Bernal_2

After not achieving their commercial objectives at the World Trade Organization, [the EU and the U.S.] want to impose unjust conditions on us through regional pacts.

The interview with Bernal, conducted in Spanish at a release party for an Oxfam International report, also focuses on the impact of NAFTA on small farmers in Southern Mexico. Some quotes in English were also picked up over at the Organic Fair Trade blog, and a good run-down of Oxfam's report is available from Grand Rapids' Media Mouse blog.

Of course, not that the WTO escalation would be a walk in the park for Mexico. In fact, the World Bank - no hater of NAFTA-WTO style trade pacts - predicted that Mexico would experience net losses under the likely Doha Round outcome.

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Rodrik Slams the Demon Cheerleaders!

Harvard economist Dani Rodrik has some unambiguous words for who he calls "globalization's cheerleaders": they are the biggest threat to globalization.

In particular, Rodrik, writing in the FT, says,

Buffy_2 Because the greatest obstacle to sustaining a healthy, globalised economy is no longer insufficient country's growth prospects are significantly constrained by a lack of openness in the international economy. Even if the Doha trade round fails, poor countries will have enough access to rich country markets to achieve what countries such as China, Vietnam and India have been able to do. Closed markets may have been a fundamental problem during the 1950s and 1960s; it is hard to believe they still are. The greatest risk to globalisation is elsewhere. It lies in the prospect that national governments' room for manoeuvre will shrink to such levels that they will be unable to deliver the policies that their electorates want and need in order to buy into the global economy.

Because markets are already so open, Rodrik proposes that countries negotiate rather around increased policy space. Sounds like pretty smart advice to me.

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We're keeping our eyes on trade and globalization policy

Were you in on the biggest slap-down of corporate globalization to hit the United States since Seattle? No tear gas involved — if you voted in 2006, you probably helped deliver the biggest fair trade mandate in Congress of all time. Seriously, 30 Representatives and seven Senators who campaigned on changing our failed trade and globalization policies just replaced a parcel of NAFTA-loving, WTO-worshipping, Fast Track-fancying ex-incumbents.

And now, public citizens from New Hampshire to Hawaii, it’s time to help these newly elected members make good on change! This is the moment — we now have the power to ash bin the NAFTA-WTO model that has undermined democracy, livelihoods and the environment in the United States and around the world. And replace that failed model with rules for the global economy that work for the majority.

The stakes are very high. At home, inequality is at levels not seen since the Robber Baron era, as the average American’s inflation-adjusted hourly wages are only a nickel higher than in 1973, and no serious economist disputes that trade plays a major role in those trends. The public understands these dire trends: less than a third of Americans say they expect their kids to be better off economically than they themselves are. And, in poor countries, hunger and $1-per-day grinding poverty is increasing. Meanwhile, “trade” agreements invade our democratic space like some quiet slow motion coup de état — messing with everything (PDF) from food safety and medicine prices to basic environmental protections to immigration policy.

Growing anger about the painful lived experience of the failed status quo — and years of hard organizing work — have created a precious window of opportunity for change.

In that spirit, some friends at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division and I have inaugurated — the online community in which you are currently participating. Through this medium, I hope we can help each other stay on top of the top globalization and trade news of the day and strategize together about how we can unite and empower ourselves — the majority on the losing end of the trade-globalization status quo — to turn this mess around.

So, welcome to a new gathering place for people interested in understanding the globalization and trade debate beyond just the day’s headlines, and who want to fight for fair trade and global justice. Across America and the world, millions of working people, farmers, youth, activists of all stripes, artists and critical minds have useful knowledge and inspiring lessons to share.

Please make a regular part of your online diet, and check back regularly for new opportunities to collaborate with like-minded people on the journey to make a better world.

Lori Wallach
Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division

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