For immediate release:
Labor Advocates from Oregon and Mexico Speak Out Against NAFTA Expansion
Event Outside the Portland Federal Building Highlights Reasons to Oppose Pending Bush Administration Trade Deals
Portland, OR — Trade advocates from both the Pacific Northwest and Mexico voiced their opposition to Bush administration proposals to enact new free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama and South Korea during a rally outside the Edith Green/Wendell Wyatt Federal Building this afternoon. They said that existing trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have hurt working people both in the United States and abroad and that the NAFTA model of trade should not be expanded into South America and Asia.
“Before NAFTA, people in rural Mexico were able to survive growing food for themselves and for sale in local markets. Since NAFTA, most people have been unable to compete with imports from the United States and many have been forced to leave their homes in search of dollars,” said Centolia Maldonado Vasquez, a community leader with the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations from Oaxaca, Mexico. “Before Congress decides to sign a new NAFTA-style trade agreement with Peru or Colombia, it should consult with Mexico’s indigenous peoples, farmers, small business owners and migrants about the impact that NAFTA has had on them.”
Just like NAFTA, pending free trade agreements require developing countries to reduce tariffs on agricultural imports and other protections for their domestic agricultural sectors. Because many staple foods grown in the U.S. receive large subsidies from the federal government, they can be sold on the international market for less than the cost of production, making it impossible for poor farmers in developing nations who receive no subsidies to compete. This pushes large numbers of people in agricultural-dependent rural areas off their land, compounding problems with drug production, poverty and undocumented migration.
“Many immigrants now living and working in the United States are here because they were pushed off their land by international trade policies that ruined their ‘free market’ systems,” said Andrea Cano, executive director for the Oregon Farm Worker Ministry. “Expanding NAFTA-style trade agreements into Peru and elsewhere will only compound problems with rural poverty and unemployment in those countries. These trade agreements that favor only big business are disastrous for working people on both sides of the border.”
The removal of tariffs also has a negative impact on working people in the United States. According to an analysis of U.S. Labor Department data conducted by the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign in late 2006, 68,000 Oregonians have lost jobs due to offshoring and increased foreign imports since NAFTA was enacted in the mid-1990s.
“We continue to see family-wage jobs in the United States move abroad to wherever labor is the cheapest and environmental regulations are the weakest,” said Gregory Pallesen, vice president for the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers. “This is obviously devastating to communities throughout the United States, and it isn’t particularly good for working people abroad either. Congress needs to put an end to this model of trade once and for all.”
“It’s not just folks whose jobs are shipped overseas who suffer from current trade policies. The offshoring of U.S. jobs puts a downward pressure on wages and benefits for all of us,” said Madelyn Elder, president of Communication Workers of America Local 7901. “The issue of jobs and stagnant wages is definitely a voting issue for many Americans. Congress is making a big mistake if it helps the Bush administration advance its trade agenda.”
Labor advocates highlighted their opposition to the Peru Free Trade Agreement, which is expected to reach the floor of Congress in early November. To date, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-4th) is the only member of Oregon’s Congressional delegation who has committed to voting against this trade agreement.
“These trade agreements are being negotiated without looking out for American workers. We need to decline to sign any new agreements, including the Peruvian agreement, and begin to fix the damage existing agreements have caused,” said Joe Kear, business representative with the International Association of Machinists, which represents workers at the Freightliner Truck Plant in Portland. “Half the workforce at the Portland Freightliner plant is on layoff, primarily because the work has left for Mexico little by little since the enactment of NAFTA. This past March saw the last commercial Freightliner truck produced in Portland, as production of the high-end Coronado model, once exclusively built in Portland, moved to be made solely in Mexico.”