Maine has been taking the lead on reforming our failed trade policy on all fronts through anti-Fast Track resolutions, sweat-free consortiums, and now economic impact studies. This week, Maine became the first state in the nation to pass legislation requiring economic impact studies of big-box projects before they are approved. LD 1810 requires cities and towns to evaluate the impact of big-box retail development on jobs, local businesses and municipal finances. These projects can only be approved if they will not adversely affect the local economy, which doesn't bode well for mega-retailers like Wal-Mart, which has lobbied the USTR (PDF) against some of these proposals.
In a press release from the Maine Fair Trade Campaign, Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance says:
"Too often communities must decide whether to approve big-box development without any objective information about the impact on the local economy. Maine is leading the nation by giving towns a tool for weighing the costs and benefits."
These initiatives have been proposed in several states, and the California state legislature passed a similar bill twice, which Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed in 2004 and again in 2006 (PDF). Laws requiring economic needs tests before approving big-box stores are just among some of the local zoning laws that could be potential threats under GATS rules. Luckily, Maine isn't succumbing to the chilling effect.
To find out more about this topic, check out our "Big Box Backlash" report on the WTO's threat to local zoning laws.