Minnesota Makes Its Move
Mary Jo Kilroy: Fair Trade Pickup #42

Becerra Roundup

Obama's courting of Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) for USTR continues. Here's a news round up.

Here's Mark Landler from the NYT:

If President-elect Barack Obama appoints Representative Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California, as his chief trade negotiator, it would punch several political tickets at once for Mr. Obama.

Mr. Becerra, who has emerged as the leading candidate to become United States trade representative in the Obama administration, is known as a defender of workers’ rights and as a skeptic of trade agreements. That would please union backers of Mr. Obama, who spoke in the campaign about reopening the North American Free Trade Agreement...

Trade experts said the appointment of Mr. Becerra would suggest that Mr. Obama intended to make good on his campaign pledges to hold existing and new trade deals to tougher scrutiny.

Mr. Becerra, who entered Congress in 1992 and serves a district in Los Angeles, voted in favor of Nafta but now says he regrets it. In 2005, he helped lead the Democratic opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, emerging as an impassioned voice for the rights of workers. The deal passed the House by two votes...

Some analysts suggested that choosing Mr. Becerra would be a gesture to Mr. Obama’s Democratic base after a series of economic appointments — Timothy F. Geithner as Treasury secretary and Lawrence H. Summers as a top White House adviser — that were viewed as sympathetic to business.

“We’re comfortable with it,” said Thea M. Lee, public policy director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “President-elect Obama has signaled that he wants trade policy to go in a different direction. The choice of Congressman Becerra indicates that he is going to hold trade policy to a high standard.”

And David Sirota over at Open Left:

Beccera hasn't accepted yet, but if he does, my initial reaction is that this is a solid choice. No, it's not perfect - Beccera voted for the landmark China PNTR deal in 2000 and for the Peru Free Trade Agreement. But perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the damn good.

Getting a U.S. Trade Representative who is on record against the NAFTA trade model and with votes against CAFTA and Oman is a huge change from both the Bush administration and the Clinton administration. And it's not just a good pick because it's a change from really bad Trade Representatives, the selection itself is good - and way, way, way better than what it could have been. The selection suggests Obama is serious about reforming our trade policies, and it should be applauded.

Here's John Nichols in the Nation:

Becerra has a long history of engagement with trade debates. That made it particularly significant when, in 2006, he announced that "it has become very obvious that our system for devising trade agreements, so very important to this country's functioning around the world, has not only broken, but it has broken completely."

Becerra is not a resolute fair-trader like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders or Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur. Like Obama, he's a mixed bag who will still need to be prodded by activists, especially as new debates about trade in services evolve. Becerra backed NAFTA as a House freshman, and has voted for several other trade deals. He has since acknowledged, however, that he was wrong to support schemes that may increase commerce but tend to concentrate "the benefits of that commerce in the hands of very few." That's encouraging. Even more encouraging is the fact that since his election to the House in 1992, Becerra has consistently opposed the "fast-track" model for negotiating trade agreements. When Congress grants fast-track authority to a president, it cedes to the trade representative most of its ability to shape policy, retaining only the right to accept or reject a final agreement. If Obama and Becerra simply develop a new approach to negotiating trade agreements, one that involves consultation with Congress, it will be much more likely that labor, consumer and human rights concerns will be addressed.

It is on those human rights issues that Becerra has been a particularly strong player in recent years. The Congressman delivered a national Spanish-language radio address last spring in which he defended the Democratic rejection of Bush's proposed Colombia free trade agreement on the grounds that, "Colombia still remains a dangerous place for those who advocate for worker rights. More than 2,500 labor leaders have been assassinated in Colombia since 1986. What would we say if labor leaders were being assassinated in our country every day, just for standing up for their rights as workers? That is what is happening in Colombia today." The message Becerra delivered was radically at odds with that of Republican and DLC free-traders. If he keeps delivering it as trade representative--along with other fair-trade themes he has articulated--Becerra could become the face of the change in trade policies that Obama promised, and that working people here and abroad can believe in.

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