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Keep on (NAFTA) trucking?

Even though NAFTA was passed over ten years ago we are still seeing the underhanded attacks it has allowed on the regulatory state. The latest example comes with a recent announcement by the Department of Transportation of a program for truck companies based in Mexico (many of them U.S. multinationals) to do long-haul trucking outside of their current limited range.

Concerns have been raised for years about many of the inadequate regulation and oversight over these trucking companies'  safety and environmental standards. As our director Lori Wallach notes, “this situation highlights how NAFTA threatens essential public safety and environmental quality in ways totally unrelated to trade.”

The program was announced recently after having been negotiated mainly in secret. Transparency has long been a problem for trade negotiators, but it appears they have gone too far this time as the program may be illegal. Public Citizen has joined with a number of unions and environmental groups to sue the Department of Transportation, noting that the normal period of time given for public input into such programs was not respected this time. To find out more read our press release on the challenge (and a longer timeline and backgrounder on the case here and here) and stay tuned here as the story develops.

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Not voiceless, but ignored in DC

Despite the fact that it might not be the deciding factor for Congress, we are of the opinion that the interest of people in "developing" countries in the trade policy that affects them - potentially negatively - is noteworthy... even newsworthy.

While USTR and others continue to tout the myth that the Doha Development Round will unquestionably benefit the peoples of developing nations, many informed citizens around the world are unconvinced that the expansion of "free trade" is going to solve their development problems.

And rightly so. So why can't they get a word in edgewise? The trade news waves have covered the upcoming visits of major political figures from Peru, Colombia, Europe - but have overlooked a bold statement from those who will likely bear the brunt of the policy decisions made on the Hill: 243 groups from 90 (ninety!) "developing" countries the world over have issued a joint letter to Congress (PDF) asking that they reject the myth (and Fast Track) and reevaluate the terms of this trade model.

Rather than attempting to "speak for" people in poor countries, perhaps a short pause to respectfully consider what they've demanded with their own voice?

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New World Poll on International Trade

In a new poll by World Public Opinion, released in collaboration with The Chicago Council on Global Affairs that tracked attitudes of respondents in 18 countries and the Palestinian Territories, there is overwhelming support for environmental and labor standards in trade agreements.

This popular sentiment has been influential in transforming the trade debate from whether to include labor and environmental standards in trade pacts to how to include labor and environmental standards and this most recent poll proves it.

And as Bloomberg's Mark Drajem notes, (not linkable) "In the U.S., two-thirds of those polled said trade is harmful for workers' job security and 60 percent called it detrimental for job creation."

The specific questions in the poll are much more useful than standard polling questions, which really only test people's responses to corporate buzz words like "freedom" (as in free trade), rather than on the rules and effect of real world trade policy, which is anything but "free."

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Tufts: No Fast Track to Global Poverty Reduction

The good folks over at Tufts University's Global Development and Environment Institute have posted a new policy brief (PDF) showing that the WTO Doha Round's emphasis as a "development round" aimed at helping poor countries is more or less a sham. For instance:

If you were a typical poverty-level farmer or worker in the developing world making $100 per month (roughly $4 per day to support your family), your gains from a successful WTO negotiation would be a raise of sixteen cents a month – $100.16... Following negotiations supposedly focused on developing country needs, rich countries are projected to receive an embarrassing 25 times the per-capita gains of developing countries. That’s right: we get $79 each a year, they get $3.

Their conclusion? "Extending the President's trade promotion authority to complete an agreement so hostile to true economic development and so inefectual in reducing global poverty would be a sad mistake." That's pretty clear-cut, huh?

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Peru deal to be done in 3 weeks, says Peru's president; pledges to not renegotiate

The Peruvian press is reporting President Alan Garcia - who was just in DC for meetings with the Bush administration and Congress - as saying:

"It seems to me that in the next three weeks, there will be a formal agreement between the two main parties, and with that, we'll have an outline of what we will have to discuss before the congressional vote," said the head of state. Garcia expressed his conviction that the pact will have a "green light."

Garcia additionally said that he might be willing to change Peru's labor laws, but "not by revising or re-opening the FTA because that would postpone the ratification by four to five years."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after meeting with Garcia, said of the FTA: "The changes to reflect Democrats' preocupations will be crucial if you want to get many Democrats to support the pact."

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Rangel speak at IIE

House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) gave a speech last night to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Worth noting is the continued deliberations over what/how/if labor rights may/could/should/will be incorporated into FTAs and Fast Track. Follow the full verbatim transcript after the jump.

Continue reading "Rangel speak at IIE" »

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Obama: Making Trade Too Complex?

Yesterday, Barack Obama gave his first big foreign policy speech as a presidential candidate.

He says about trade:

We cannot negotiate trade agreements to help spur development in poor countries so long as we provide no meaningful help to working Americans burdened by the dislocations of the global economy.

This statement sounds harmless enough, but what exactly is it saying? What exactly is the connection between trade and development? The coded sentence may refer to WTO negotiations, which corporate lobbies have argued will help development in poor countries. But the civil societies of these poor countries do not agree, and the World Bank's own data (PDF) - when coupled with UN projections on government revenue losses - show that the poorest countries under the WTO's Doha "development" Round will be net losers.

And the greatest impact on U.S. workers from current trade policy is NOT those that are dislocated - actually losing their job - but on the entirety of the workforce that sees stagnant wages and rising inequality (PDF). Bob Kuttner of the American Prospect recently wrote that it would take $2 trillion to adequately retool the American social safety net to deal with trade's impact. Is that in one of Obama's position papers? We'll be waiting.

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Corporate groups agree: FTAs threaten U.S. sovereignty!

John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), actually brings some much needed attention to an issue corporations have often dismissed as fake arguments – current trade agreement rules undermine state sovereignty, namely our domestic ability to set policy priorities and regulate. We're glad that they've reversed their position!

Specifically, Engler says, "For state constitutions or laws to be subject to a foreign nation’s challenge would be unacceptable." Granted, he's talking about corporations' fears about proposed labor provisions in FTAs, but the basic argument holds true across a wide range of issues.

What's really unacceptable that the truly alarming threat to state sovereignty already exists in most NAFTA-style "trade" agreements and in WTO rules. After the break, see some examples of how "trade" rules threaten state laws or policies:

Continue reading "Corporate groups agree: FTAs threaten U.S. sovereignty!" »

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Everyone's Talking about Trade: Blog Roundup

Everyone is talking about trade these days.

Check it out:

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Corporate lobbyists hate Americans, part deux

Well, we've already heard from the U.S. Council for International Business and the Emergency Committee for American Trade, and they told us that they hate working Americans. Today, we found out (not that this is really a huge surprise or anything) that the National Association of Manufacturers does too! NAM will oppose any free trade agreement that includes new labor standards for American workers. This from Bloomberg's Mark Drajem - sorry, not linkable:

The National Association of Manufacturers, the largest industrial lobbying group, said it will oppose new trade agreements unless Democrats agree to exempt the U.S. from new labor provisions. [...] The business group is joining organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in objecting to proposals, pushed by Democrats in Congress, that the organizations say may force revisions in state and federal labor laws such as those that limit the ability of workers to strike.


Also, in a rare moment of candor, NAM president John Engler actually said this, as reported in the article: "In addition to the labor provisions, the manufacturer's group opposes Democratic proposals to change the intellectual property provisions of the pending agreements so that developing countries can make cheaper versions of generic drugs sooner, Engler said."

In other words: "Our profit is more important than your wages or life-saving medicines." Catnip anyone?

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Chiquita trades death for bananas

About a month ago, the New York Times described how U.S.-based Chiquita Banana reached a $25 million settlement with the Justice Department over allegations that senior executives in the U.S. signed off on over $1 million in payments to right-wing death squads in Colombia to "protect" Chiquita operations. Yesterday, the Miami Herald joined the fray with a nice article that included a glance back at Chiquita's long history of "controversial operations" in South America.

Chiquita Brands International's recent admission that it paid off a Colombian group on the U.S. terrorist list has spotlighted a practice once hush-hush in Colombia, Washington's closest ally in Latin America. Several other U.S.-based corporations, including Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and the Alabama-based coal company Drummond Co., face civil lawsuits alleging their Colombian operations worked with the same group to kill several trade unionists.

[...] A 1928 strike at [Chiquita's] Colombia operations was quelled by army troops who opened fire and killed as many as 1,000 protesters. It helped foment a 1954 coup against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz. Earlier this decade, Human Rights Watch linked Chiquita with companies that used child labor in Ecuador.

Between the Chiquita controversy, links between Colombian President Uribe's allies and the right-wing paramilitaries, and the consistent overlooking of trade unionist murders (65 percent of the world's trade unionist assassinations from 2003-2005 occurred in Colombia), one would certainly hope that no self-respecting member of Congress, regardless of party, would allow the U.S.-Colombia "free trade" agreement to pass, linking the U.S. even more closely to these atrocities.

For more on the links between the paramilitaries and the U.S.-Colombia FTA, see David Bacon's American Prospect article from this past January.

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In honor of Jim Jontz, fair trade hero

Jim Jontz, an indefatigable advocate for economic and social justice and the environment, was a mentor and inspiration to many. His passing is an enormous personal loss to all of those whose lives this gentle, brilliant man touched.

But, by nature of the quality of Jim's personality and what his life’s work accomplished, his mission and his values live on. As a member of Congress, Jim was an organizer extraordinaire - always providing strategy and a plan, often from a corner of the Rayburn room off the floor of the House where his allies awaited his wisdom between votes. As the first Executive Director of the Citizens Trade Campaign, the national labor, environmental, consumer, family farm and faith coalition, Jim was an organizer extraordinaire helping to visualize and then create the nation's powerful fair trade movement. As leader of several environmental organizations, Jim was an organizer extraordinaire delivering real victory for the planet and its inhabitants. In creating the Working Families Win project for Americans for Democratic Action, Jim was an organizer extraordinaire creating from scratch an impressive program that has transformed the tone of U.S. political discourse on economic and social justice issues.

Because he taught by example and mentored countless young people, he is survived by legions of those who aspire to replicate his tireless, passionate and fearless advocacy for what is right. Jim Jontz raised a "family" of advocates who join him in living Margaret Mead's proverb: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Please see Jim's obituaries by the Associated Press and at the Indianapolis Star.

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Dispatches from the Race to the Bottom - Peru edition

One of the big arguments used by Democrats and others that have been opposed to the weak labor provisions in the Peru FTA is that the elected president of Peru himself - former prez and dreamboat Alejandro Toledo - met with congressional Democrats last year and called for strong labor standards to be put on par with the FTA's protections for the investing classes.

Former World Banker Toledo's upright stance is in sharp contrast to the current, supposedlyToledo social-democratic administration of Alan Garcia. Witness this story from over the wires:

"The principal factor for the FTA not being signed is the labor controversy brought on by a verbal excess from President Toledo while in the U.S.," said the Peruvian chief of staff Jorge del Castillo.

Uhh, isn't the point of any governmental policy to achieve improvements in the quality of living for the population? When any government gets peeved when measures to improve livelihoods "get in the way" of some other supposedly important agenda item (i.e. the FTA, that  promises to do nothing of the kind) - there's at best a total confusion between the ends and means of policy and at worst a frightening disregard for democracy and sound government.

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Baucus: "there's not going to be a need for" Fast Track

Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has made headlines again with his statement today that "there's not going to be a need for TPA," as Fast Track is known.

According to Congress Daily's story (entitled, "Baucus To Apply Brakes On Presidential Trade Authority):

Senate Finance Chairman Baucus said today he does not see a need to renew presidential trade negotiating authority unless the Bush administration comes forward with specific agreements that need what it calls trade promotion authority, also known as fast-track. Speaking to reporters ... Baucus noted that pending trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama and South Korea will receive fast-track protection, provided all are signed before the current trade negotiating authority expires June 30. Beyond those four, the Doha global trade negotiations are languishing and the administration has no other bilateral deals on tap. "There's not a new pending agreement, thus there's not going to be a need for TPA. ... Once subsequent trade agreements start coming down the pike, then there's going to be a need for TPA," Baucus said. His comments appeared to mark a distinct change in tone from earlier statements he has made calling for renewal of trade negotiating authority as an important step to move the trade agenda forward.

This latest Baucus statement comes after the Montana Senate overwhelmingly passed an anti-Fast Track resolution.

And it's worth pointing out that Fast Track actually ISN'T necessary for trade agreements to be passed (witness 2000-01's Jordan FTA debate, along with hundreds of trade pacts passed during the Clinton years), and that it actually still is in the U.S. Constitution (that's right, the big one) that it's Congress' responsibility to set the terms of trade policy.

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South Koreans refusing to re-open FTA negotiations

Not more than a few weeks after the Peruvian government said it would not be re-opening FTA negotiations, the South Korean government is doing the same.

According to this AP story, beside the concerns of Koreans about the harmful agricultural and public health provisions of the FTA - not to mention the concerns of key members of Congress on labor rights, market access and more - a Korean government official told reporters that neither the Korean or Bush administration has made any real moves to renegotiate:

"Once a deal is done ... it's done. So, we repeatedly expressed our strong view to our counterparts that once a deal is done, then we cannot reopen it again," he told foreign reporters in Seoul. "We didn't receive anything formally or officially from the U.S. side yet."

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Ralph Gomory - IBM Exec and Fair Trader

In The Nation, William Greider's The Establishment Rethinks Globalization tells the story of one of the "Martin Luthers" of the trade debate. It's a fascinating read. This time, the focus is on Ralph Gomory, former IBM executive and now fair trader:

He decided, in retirement, that he would dig deeper into the contradictions. Now president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, he knew something was missing in the "pure trade theory" taught by economists. If free trade is a win-win proposition, Gomory asked himself, then why did America keep losing?

It makes you wonder how many other CEOs and business executives that still tout the "free trade" message have also come to the same economic conclusion that NAFTA-like trade policies put downward pressure on wages and hurt workers in America and around the world. Unlike Gomory, however, too many are willing to take advantage of this system rather than raise alarm bells about it.

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Corporate Lobbyists Hate Americans

Today, interesting news in CongressDaily's Balance of Payments - Trade Limbo (sorry, not linkable), a discussion of the labor standards negotiations for the pending trade agreements. In discussion of groups opposed to adding labor standards to the agreements, Martin Vaughan reports,

Several groups, including the U.S. Council for International Business and Emergency Committee for American Trade, have circulated papers outlining their objections to Democratic proposals on labor, and are making clear that they would prefer to see the trade agenda collapse than accept those demands.

Hmm, these corporate lobbyists must hate working Americans pretty bad that they would rather lose their own jobs of furthering a destructive trade agenda than allow other Americans more protections at their own jobs.

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Women and Trade

More-of-the-same failed trade policies are hurting everybody, but these bad trade policies have a disproportionately negative effect on women. Not surprisingly, women's organizations are increasingly weighing in on trade issues and signing on to change the direction of trade policy (PDF).

Check out this document outlining why more-of-the-same trade policies have proven harmful, especially to women, and why Trade Is A Women's Issue (PDF).

Especially disturbing is that under agreements such as NAFTA, with their unenforceable labor provisions, basically anything is allowable (emphasis added):

NAFTA has locked in a model of unenforceable labor and human rights in the EPZs [Export Processing Zones], wherein women face such threats as on the job discrimination, sexual harassment, and violence. Women workers in many factories in Mexico have reported rampant physical abuse and sexual harassment. In addition, mandatory pregnancy testing as a condition for employment is often standard practice.

Women have a strong interest in making sure this Congress changes the direction on trade policy. This is an important opportunity for women's organizations to broaden their focus from restricted motherhood choice, sexual harassment and workplace abuse at home to participate in changing a set of policies that allow this same unfortunate discriminatory treatment abroad. Participating in the trade policy debate provides a chance to make a real difference in the lives of women all around the world.

To learn more about gender and trade, visit the International Trade and Gender Network.

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U.S. foods deficit shifting political realities on trade

One of the big policy issues in debates about economic development (mostly for poor countries) surrounds the issue of food security and sovereignty. Food First and other groups have brought a lot of attention to what happens when agribusiness in both rich and poor countries undermine a country's ability to feed itself.

Believe it or not, food deficits are not just an issue for poor countries anymore. The United States too has been on the verge of an overall agricultural trade deficit (defined as most things that grow out of the earth plus animals minus lumber and fisheries) for several years - much to the contrary of the vision of America's role in the global trading system sold to U.S. farmers.

Continue reading "U.S. foods deficit shifting political realities on trade" »

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Rag-Tag Arguments over at the Forbes Business Bash

Journalists are an interesting bunch. We got a call from a reporter writing this piece for Forbes last week, who claimed to not really know the focus of the piece. Little did we know or she indicate that we would become the straw men in the standard claptrap argument about China's supposed "neo-liberal" success story.

But, hey, that's ok. While we don't speak up every time someone characterizes us as "business-bashing" or "rag-tag," this time it seemed important to correct a few matters for the record.

Continue reading "Rag-Tag Arguments over at the Forbes Business Bash" »

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Me and Giuliani Down on the NAFTA?!

The New York Sun has a report on Rudy Giuliani's opposition to NAFTA in 1993. Hot excerpt:

Giuliani_in_drag If some of Mr. Giuliani's other strayings from the free-market fold have explanations —complicated ones, but explanations nonetheless — it's a bit harder to make heads or tails of his opposition to NAFTA in 1993.

"I continue to be concerned about the effect it would have on the job situation in New York City," the mayor-elect said in November of 1993, quoted by Newsday. "It is somewhat a narrow perspective, but it's my most important narrow perspective, which is the people of New York City," he said. "I don't think it would help New York City."

In the current campaign, Mr. Giuliani hasn't made free trade a major theme. But he did address the topic briefly at the Club for Growth meeting last weekend, in response to a question from the audience. "We no longer have separation between a domestic economy and a global economy," Mr. Giuliani said. "It's one in the same thing. And I generally agree with the principles of free trade and I think and increasingly have become more convinced of those principles because I almost think they are inevitable. If we fight them we hurt ourselves, if we embrace them we kind of move to the future."

Continue reading "Me and Giuliani Down on the NAFTA?!" »

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On Moustachioed Elitists

The papers are a'tizzy over the baby steps that the Bush administration is taking to rectify the China trade imbalance. Witness the Times:

"But rather than posturing, the White House would do better if it educated Americans about free trade’s benefits, which include cheaper clothes, televisions and cars, all of which hold down inflation."

This line is becoming extremely common-place in the post election season, when scores of House and Senate seats flipped to the fair trade column. Aside from the numerous factual missteps in the piece (Dean Baker schools the Times over at Beat the Press, where a lively conversation about what inputs really go into Boeing's planes is taking place), the elitism of this kind of a notion is really striking.

Lebon_foto_2 It recalls 19th century "crowd theory" - witness Gustave Le Bon on the French Revolution:

Continue reading "On Moustachioed Elitists" »

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What does NAFTA have to do with marriage?


How often is it that NAFTA comes up in the New York Times featured weddings? Not very often. But this past week our very own Todd Tucker made it so. He is too humble to make note of it himself, but we at GTW would like to take this opportunity to draw attention to the happy occasion. Sunday Times, April 1st:

"The bridegroom, 28, is the research director of the global trade watch division of Public Citizen, specializing in the legal, economic and political consequences of trade agreements, including Nafta."

Congratulations Todd! The day will be remembered by Tuckers, Bousheys and trade wonks the world over.

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MyDD wades into NAFTA debate

A request for background on NAFTA from Matt Stoller over at MyDD.Com has unleashed a torrent of comments (including some plugs for good source material), which you can chime in about over here.

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State of Maine officially says: no more of the same!

Great news — the Maine House of Representatives followed the state senate's lead and unanimously passed the resolution opposing Fast Track! Maine's officially the first state to pass such a resolution. Check out what the sponsors of the resolution think about Fast Track (from the Maine Fair Trade Campaign's press release; sorry, not linkable):

Senator Rotundo explains, "Adoption of this joint resolution sends a strong signal to our congressional delegation and to the U.S. Trade Representative negotiators of our desire to have a voice in trade issues that impact states. The state's capacity to regulate areas such as gambling, licensing of health care professionals, and the health and safety of all its citizens is at stake."

"Fast Track has delivered bad trade deals that hurt workers, families and communities in Maine and around the country," said Representative Patrick, "Fast Track dismisses checks and balances in the trade policy-making process, and now is certainly not the time to give this administration another blank check to sign more bad trade deals. Congress must let it expire and work to replace Fast Track with a new mechanism that includes a process for obtaining meaningful input from state legislatures."

UPDATE: Here is the text of the resolution (PDF), and the MFTC press release (via IATP's Trade Observatory).

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Because drug prices aren't high enough already

As predicted, the U.S.-Korea FTA (what should we call this thing? SKFTA? SKOFTA? KORUS, like USTR is calling it? Hmm...) will almost certainly lead to an increase in drug prices — apparently not just in Korea, but maybe in the U.S. as well. According to a PharmaTimes story yesterday:

As part of the FTA, Korea has agreed to abandon its policy of requiring drugmakers to negotiate prices with the government in order for their products to be placed on the national health care system's positive reimbursement list. This policy was reported to be a major stumbling block at the talks, with US negotiators regarding it as a potential barrier to trade. Korea has also agreed to extend its patent period on innovative drugs [...] the Korean Federation of Medical Groups for Health Rights has forecast that these concessions will increase costs to Koreans by 1 trillion won over the next five years, while US critics have warned that they could also increase drug prices in the USA.

Interestingly, doesn't the Korean price-negotiation scheme that U.S. negotiators nixed sound awfully like the Democrats' Medicare drug bill that the House passed in January?

For more on this issue in general, over at Beat the Press, Dean Baker frequently riffs on how patent protection for drug companies is, ironically, a kind of protectionist boondoggle for Big Pharma, despite being promoted by "free-traders" as a necessary part of new FTAs.

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Deadline? Shmeadline...

Many reporters, being misled by top WTO officials, have taken to announcing a June 30th deadline for the completion of Doha negotiations to make it under the Fast Track wire.


They're just plan wrong. In fact, the deadline has already passed. In order for the President to sign any trade deal he must give Congress 90 days notice.

So... June 30th - 90 days = March 31, 2007 or, in layman's terms - last week.

The issue is wildly misreported. Just a few of the hundreds (and maybe thousands) of examples:

  • In Reuters: "US President George W Bush has “fast-track” power to negotiate a trade deal only until June 30 but the talks have been mired in disagreement, mostly over farm subsidies and tariffs, and were even suspended for six months last year."
  • In the Washington Times: "The round of trade talks is facing a tight deadline because President Bush's trade promotion authority, which allows him to submit trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendment, is set to expire June 30. The administration says it needs the authority to be able to successfully complete the talks and reach bilateral trade deals."
  • In The Sydney Morning Herald: "Global trade talks must gather speed to grab the 'window of opportunity' that closes by end of June, World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy says." (Pascal Lamy= Director General of the WTO, and he doesn't know the real deadline?)

The fact is, the Fast Track clock has run out, and Doha cannot be negotiated under Fast Track.

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Maine Senate Tells Congress: No More Fast Track

This week, the Maine Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on Congress and President Bush to bury Fast Track once and for all, and replace it with a "more democratic and inclusive mechanism that entails meaningful consultation with states."

It's nice to see the state senate send this kind of message to the Maine congressional delegation, particularly to Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who sits on the Finance committee, which oversees trade policy.  That state legislators are slowly coming to realize that trade agreements no longer are limited to matters of federal jurisdiction, but instead have become a sneaky backdoor form of international preemption, could play a key role in the debate.

What's more, Maine's not the only state where state legislators are asking Congress to nix Fast Track and create a U.S. trade policy that actually benefits both trading partners and doesn't sacrifice democracy at the state and local level. Similar resolutions to Congress have been introduced in at least 15 states. The question remains – will Congress listen?

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There's still hope.

It Didn't End Well Last Time, but there's still hope this time.

An editorial in today's New York Times outlines the income inequality that has swept the nation, which is comparable if not greater to that seen during the Robber Baron era:

In 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, the top 1 percent of Americans — whose average income was $1.1 million a year — received 21.8 percent of the nation’s income, their largest share since 1929.

Over all, the top 10 percent of Americans — those making more than about $100,000 a year — collected 48.5 percent, also a share last seen before the Great Depression.

The Times is right on track noting that government policies do matter, like the minimum wage and progressive tax programs. However, the Times fails to address one of the core causes of income inequality - failed NAFTA-like trade policies (PDF) that keep wages flat, weaken labor unions' negotiating power and send high paying quality jobs overseas.

TPM Café has more on income inequality.

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What to do about China?

Today, Global Labor Strategies posted an excellent consideration of Chinese labor rights and China's role in the global economy, and what a progressive outlook on the Chinese economy might look like. The concluding section is particularly cogent:

Workers, communities, and countries throughout the world are confronting the challenges posed by the emergence of China as a global economic powerhouse. About 25% of the global work force is now Chinese. Indeed, China has become the focal point for many Americans' feelings of insecurities in the global economy. [...]

Some in the labor movement and Congress have begun to recognize that simply criticizing the Chinese state fails to address the dominate role of global corporations in the global economy. Roughly 66% of the increase in Chinese exports in the past 12 years can be attributed to non-Chinese owned global companies and their joint ventures. Foreign owned global corporations account for 60% of Chinese exports to the US. Indeed, if the US retail giant Wal-Mart were a country it would be China’s 8th largest trading partner. The "Chinese threat" is less about trade with China than it is about trade with Wal-Mart and GE. Global corporations move to China to lower labor costs -- and they use those lower labor costs as a lever to drive down wages and working conditions for workers in other countries, and even within China itself.

Obviously, the China issue is only going to get bigger, and it would serve progressives well to start thinking about what a fair and just vision of the global economy might look like with regards to the world's biggest labor pool. Global Labor Strategies has taken the lead in following Chinese labor issues, so those interested should definitely keep an eye on their work.

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And then there was SKFTA...

Bush administration officials' love for the cliff-hangers of "24" extended into the free trade realm this weekend, as U.S. and South Korean officials wrapped up negotiations on a free trade agreement between the two nations mere minutes before the deadline by which a trade deal could be considered under existing Fast Track rules.

Details of the agreement are still coming in; however, according to The New York Times and Congress Daily (sorry, not linkable), it appears an agreement was made on the contentious issues of automobiles. Another of the main issues, Korean beef protections, was left somewhat unfinished with the U.S. threatening that the deal will not go through without Korea opening its markets to U.S. beef. The issue of rice imports into Korea remained so controversial that it was eventually tabled and will not be part of the agreement.

Over at Salon.com's globalization blog "How the World Works," Andrew Leonard reads through some of the Korean press to pick out a couple of nuggets missed by the U.S. media. While the chapter on intellectual property is not yet fully public, it appears that yet again Big Pharma has won its battle to keep drug costs high. In addition, it appears the agreement will force open Korea's media market (which currently has strong domestic content laws) to let more U.S. films and television programs into the market.

Stay tuned here, as we'll make more details known as they arise, especially regarding potentially controversial investment, services, security, and other below-the-radar provisions and issues in this new NAFTA expansion into East Asia.

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Do we really want a trade agreement with this country?

How again is it at all conscionable that we are negotiating an FTA with Colombia, where the government stands aside while union organizers are murdered at a ghastly rate of 140 a year since 1991? USLEAP, the U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project, has just released a fact sheet (PDF) with some of these damning numbers:

  • Over 400 trade unionists murdered since Uribe took office in mid-2002
  • Only 7 convictions for these murders
  • Only 1 conviction for the last 236 trade unionists murdered, 2004-2006
  • Only 2 convictions for the 326 trade unionists murdered since 2003

Also according to the fact sheet, from 2003-2005, Colombia accounted for 65 percent of the world's murders of trade unionists. By these counts, approval of a U.S.-Colombia FTA would give frightening new meaning to "race to the bottom."

Update: There is a great op-ed in today's Baltimore Sun using these numbers. It's by Carol Pier, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, who doesn't mince any words:

If the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement enters into force, U.S. producers will compete directly against Colombian producers whose workers often cannot exercise basic rights without risking their lives. The United States will also have demonstrated a double standard in its "war on terror," rewarding with much-coveted trade benefits a country that stands by while its narco-terrorist paramilitaries crush fundamental human rights.
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U.S. loses in gambling case at WTO... again

Last Friday, the WTO ruled against the U.S. in a case brought by Antigua that various U.S. bans on Internet gambling are illegal under the WTO's General Agreement in Trade in Services (GATS). Whatever you think of Internet gambling or gambling in general, this is a pretty disturbing case that illustrates quite dramatically how the WTO isn't just about "trade" - and how in fact the WTO, in closed trade tribunals, has the authority to overturn our domestic laws that were arrived at through the democratic process.

Interestingly enough, but perhaps not surprisingly, the Web 2.0 techy sites are all over this issue, with articles popping up in Techdirt (via Slashdot) and Ars Technica, among others. Naturally, these sites tend to focus on U.S. gambling policy while missing the larger point of the fact that the WTO is dictating domestic law; for that angle, here's our press release from last Friday. We've also got a case summary and timeline (PDF) for those interested in the nuts and bolts.

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