John Kerry, presente!
New Jersey Takes a Closer Look at Trade Agreements

"I Will Absolutely Fight to the Death" Against the Panama FTA

Pop quiz: who said that? Was it a Panamanian worker with nothing to lose?

Nope. It was the chair of one of the most powerful committees in Congress. Yesterday, 55 House members sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi with strong language against the Panama FTA:

We believe the Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is not a new model on trade and does not represent the kind of change the American people are seeking. After eight years of a failed Bush free trade agenda, the current demise of our economy, and an ensuing massive increase in unemployment, it is difficult to justify to our constituents the passage of another badly flawed trade agreement. We fear passage of this agreement will set us back down the misguided course of past trade deals.

The letter was released in a press conference held yesterday with 13 of the members. It's a diverse group that includes nine freshman members and committee chairs Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.). All of these members are committed to not letting more Bush-negotiated NAFTA expansions pass, and they're not mincing any words. As quoted in CongressDaily, Slaughter said, "I will absolutely fight to the death to not get that bill [the Panama FTA] up here."

Also yesterday, a story emerged from Bloomberg that Obama may be backing off the Panama FTA until he can "offer a new 'framework' for trade." That's consistent with the fair-trade campaign promises he made on the campaign trail last year. Memo to President Obama: the framework already exists. It's called the TRADE Act!

It's not linkable, unfortunately, but today's CongressDaily addressed these developments with the headline, "Panama Agreement Hits Multiple Snags On A Brutal Day":

The odds got longer for a stalled trade accord with Panama on Thursday. Union opposition hardened, a bloc of 55 mostly Democratic House members as well as a key GOP senator came out against the deal, and the Obama administration signaled it might want to re-evaluate the agreement's role in a larger economic strategy.

After the jump, check out the full text of the release that accompanied the letter to Pelosi.

Populist, Progressive, & House Trade Working Group Members Join to Express Concerns with Panama FTA

Group sends letter to Speaker asking for renegotiation of Panama agreement

Washington, DC - Today a group of 55 representatives made up of members from the Populist and Progressive caucuses, the House Trade Working Group, and others sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) arguing that the proposed Panama Free Trade Agreement be renegotiated.

The letter was led by Populist Caucus Chairman Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), House Trade Working Group Chairman Michael Michaud (D-ME), Progressive Caucus co-chairs Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Populist Caucus Vice-Chairs Betty Sutton (D-OH) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Progressive Caucus members Phil Hare (D-IL) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH). House Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers are also co-signers. A full list of co-signers is listed below.

"Too many recent free trade agreements have been great for companies and bad for American workers," said Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter. "This recycled Panama FTA was written by the Bush Administration and it's my hope that the new administration would not take the easy route but would sit down and renegotiate the whole package in good faith, with an eye toward creating a deal that respects the environment, labor rights and domestic workers. The Rules Committee is not going to be a rubber stamp for bad deals."

"The Panama agreement reflects the trade model pursued by the Bush administration, not the change President Obama campaigned on," Populist Caucus Chair Bruce Braley said. "In these tough economic times, we need to reopen this trade agreement to ensure it will help create American jobs, protect workers rights, and uphold environmental standards. With the Panama Free Trade Agreement, we have the opportunity to chart a new course for trade or simply endorse more-of-the-same."

"At a time of severe economic downturn and when the government is asking the U.S. taxpayer to foot the bill for Wall Street's mess, the last thing we need to do is pass a free trade agreement that promotes offshoring, tax dodging, and special privileges for foreign investors," said House Trade Working Group Chairman Michael Michaud. "The Panama Free Trade Agreement takes us in the wrong direction at a time when our energies should be devoted to getting our economy moving forward again."

"We have an historic opportunity to work with the President Obama to develop a new model of trade not to simply take up an agreement negotiated under a failed model by President Bush," said Populist Caucus Co-Chair Betty Sutton.

"In the last year alone, the number of unemployed Americans has grown by 6 million," said Populist and Progressive Caucus member Phil Hare. "The President and Congress are working hard to get our economy back on track. We've passed a strong economic recovery package, foreclosure prevention legislation, and just yesterday, a credit cardholders' bill of rights. Why would we want to compromise this progress by passing a Bush-negotiated free trade agreement with Panama that could lead to the loss of even more jobs?"

"After thirty years of failed trade policy, the U.S. manufacturing base has been cut in half, the middle class is losing ground, and we're borrowing $2 billion a day from the rest of the world -- including communist China -- to pay for things we used to make here in America. And, this Panama FTA is more of the same," Populist Caucus Vice-Chair Peter DeFazio said. "This agreement was negotiated by President Bush. It is my hope that the Obama Administration will not perpetuate the free trade fantasies of the past three decades and instead sit down and renegotiate this package. This is an opportunity for us to stand up for the middle class and finally pass an agreement that benefits America."

In the letter, the members argue that because the proposed Panama agreement was negotiated by the Bush administration before the current recession, it is out of step with the needs of economic recovery. The co-signers argue that the Panama Free Trade Agreement should be renegotiated to more closely reflect our current economic needs, and should be used by the Obama administration as an opportunity to chart a new course for trade.

The full text of the letter follows with a list of signers at the bottom.

--

May 21, 2009
Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives
H-232, US Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Speaker Pelosi,

As representatives of the Populist Caucus, House Trade Working Group, Progressive Caucus and other Members of the House Democratic Caucus, we believe this is a historic opportunity to push forward a new trade model that will benefit workers and businesses. We seek your support to work with the Administration to establish a new approach to trade.

We believe the Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is not a new model on trade and does not represent the kind of change the American people are seeking. After eight years of a failed Bush free trade agenda, the current demise of our economy, and an ensuing massive increase in unemployment, it is difficult to justify to our constituents the passage of another badly flawed trade agreement. We fear passage of this agreement will set us back down the misguided course of past trade deals.

As you know all too well, the current recession has hammered the American family. Unemployment, now at 8.9%, is expected to rise even more. Since the recession began in December 2007, 5.1 million jobs have been lost. It is noteworthy that the Panama FTA negotiations were completed in 2006, a full year before the recession began. Given the rapid demise of our economy, we are concerned that the FTAs negotiated under the prior Administration and in a different economic outlook, are out of step with the needs of an economic recovery. This disconnect between the Panama FTA and the current needs to restore our economy will make any vote on this FTA difficult to justify. Indeed, it appears to be the opposite of the "change" theme Americans voted for in the last two elections.

We believe trade agreements must meet basic standards protecting labor rights, environmental standards, food safety regulations, financial regulations, and taxation transparency. We are disturbed by Panama's tax haven status and the use of this tax haven by U.S. financial institutions like AIG and Citibank. The U.S. is currently contemplating stricter financial regulations to protect our economy, but the Panama FTA will likely weaken any such effort. We believe the Panama FTA should be renegotiated in order to address these outstanding issues.

President Obama campaigned effectively on changing the trade model and his message resonated with the American people. We believe the Panama FTA falls far short of that commitment and it is not in the best interests of the American worker, our economy, or our country. We share your commitment to fighting for working families and believe you can be an effective advocate for our cause.

In light of the recession, we believe it is in the best interest of the United States for the President to work with Congress to chart a new course for trade. There should be a public discussion involving not just the United States Trade Representative but also Members of Congress about how to achieve a balanced trade agenda in difficult economic times. We ask for an open, honest dialogue and a new trade model and would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these issues further.

Sincerely,

Mike Arcuri
Tammy Baldwin
John Boccieri
Rick Boucher
Bruce Braley
Steve Cohen
John Conyers
Kathy Dahlkemper
Peter DeFazio
Rosa DeLauro
Mike Doyle
Donna Edwards
Keith Ellison
Bob Filner
Marcia Fudge
Gene Green
Raul Grijalva
Phil Hare
Alcee Hastings
Maurice Hinchey
Hank Johnson
Walter B. Jones
Steve Kagen
Marcy Kaptur
Dale Kildee
Mary Jo Kilroy
Dennis Kucinich
Barbara Lee
Dan Lipinski
David Loebsack
Stephen Lynch
Jim Marshall
Eric Massa
James McGovern
Mike Michaud
Grace Napolitano
John Olver
Frank Pallone
Tom Perriello
Chellie Pingree
Tim Ryan
Jan Schakowsky
Mark Schauer
Carol Shea-Porter
Brad Sherman
Heath Shuler
Louise Slaughter
Bart Stupak
Betty Sutton
Gene Taylor
Paul Tonko
Pete Visclosky
Maxine Waters
Charlie Wilson
Lynn Woolsey

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Comments

Farmer Brown

One Mister Larry Summers is the key pusher behind keeping our current failed trade policy in place. Why doesn't President Obama put his foot down on this nonsense and make it very clear that we're going to chart a new course on trade deals? He's the President not Larry Summers or some other Clinton insider! It's time to strike down the Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush Junior trade model and start with a fresh clean slate! On another note, I think the UAW is about to take a big blow with GM and Chrysler. The so called " Auto Panel " put in place by President Obama is made up of banking executives who have no relative experience in the auto industry or manufacturing. All they're really going to do is use bankruptcy to bust all the union contracts, divide up the american auto industry and sell it off to foreign investors who'll in turn move the entire operation to China leaving America without a domestic auto industry. Just imagine how many good union jobs are going to be lost so a small group of banking execs ( Obama's Auto Panel) and a small group of foreign investors(China) can further enrich themselves! I bet Larry Summers has a little skin in the game too. Why did President Obama put these clowns in his administration?? Yeah we're going to replace our domestic blue collar jobs with new green collar jobs???!!!! Yeah right!! The only green collar jobs you'll get will be mowing the estate lawns of all the super wealthy who've made a fortune from selling out our national domestic industries to foreign countries!! I find this very sad because President Obama made the case to our country that he'd put an end to the golden rule in Washington. You know, those with all the gold make all the rules! The rhetoric might be different with President Obama but the results are still the same.

Silvia

I did not have to read the whole writing...I just want to say, because you are against anything that has to do with Bush it does not not that the trade agreement with Panama is rotten. Panama has a lot of opportunities for the industry in the United States. The main obstacle is gone, Pedro Miguel Gonzalez. Why are you looking for the fith leg of the cat?

Congress, vote yes for the FTA with Panama!

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