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Trade On the Trail Tuesday

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe reported "Democrats ply wider range of economic woes: Free-trade focus shifts to consumer struggles." As a consumer group that has worked on trade since the early 1990s, I guess we didn't get the memo that the two issues were separate. In fact, our partners in the labor and fair trade movements have organized a whole series of events in Pennsylvania spotlighting consumers' concerns about imported toy safety (See here and here).

As we show in a recent report, trade deals like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have grave implications for consumer safety. The deals contain provisions that set limits on import safety standards and inspection rates. The report explains how WTO and NAFTA investor protection rules have eliminated the risks normally associated with relocating to a developing country while instituting a system where U.S. public interest policies can be and have been challenged in foreign tribunals as "barriers to trade," with U.S. public policies being ruled against at the WTO more than 80 percent of the time. Additionally, this consumer issue is also a jobs issue with 74 percent of U.S. toys being produced in China, while wages there are as low as 36 cents an hour – half that of other developing countries and 2.5 percent that of U.S. toy workers.

NAFTA and the WTO have become shorthand for a whole system of international economic governance that serves the corporate – rather than consumer – interest. Candidates should be questioned about what specific steps they will take to challenge the WTO, which not only offshores our jobs, but outsources our consumer protections.

We'll be back on Thursday with more Trade on the Trail!

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David S.

You are absolutely right, the two issues are facets of the same stone, along with a myriad of others.

Speaking of toys, one small change at the Consumer Product Safety Commission would make a huge difference in promoting safety: requiring that ALL recall announcements list the identity and contact info of offending suppliers. Result: better intelligence for honest importers & more pressure on suppliers and their American partners. As it stands, many recalls have no supplier IDs. As a result, offending suppliers are able to continue shipping other non-toy products (potentially with same leaded paint, lower grade materials, etc) to the US.

American consumers can turn back the balance of power from the MNCs IF we are willing to drastically simplify our lifestyles. Fewer lattes, fewer game consoles, more bikes, more books, more gardens... Any takers?

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