Reuters reported on Wednesday that the leaders of six major U.S. business groups have called for President Barack Obama to back speedy passage of NAFTA-style “free trade” agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Wisely, the president has yet to send Congress any of the bilateral trade deals negotiated by former president George W. Bush with the three nations. In addition to pressing for passage of the three pending trade agreements, the groups urged Obama to pursue “major market-opening agreements with the Asia-Pacific and beyond,” essentially advocating for even more NAFTA-style FTAs.
In a letter to the president, the associations acknowledged that trade agreements can ship jobs overseas, and stated that "[T]rade agreements can have adverse effects on specific industries, workers and communities…”. Actually, this is true, and Obama knows it. On the campaign trail, President Obama repeatedly expressed opposition to NAFTA and promised to usher in an era of U.S. trade policy that would require respect for labor rights, environmental standards, and human rights. The Colombia FTA is especially controversial due to the repressive regime of President Álvaro Uribe. Colombia has a longstanding and egregious record of violations of labor and human rights, especially with regard to those of its indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples.
In addition to gaining a reputation as a notorious corporate tax haven, Panama has some of the most secretive, least transparent banking and financial laws in the world. This is exactly the wrong approach to the current global financial crisis. This problem would be made worse by the FTA.
It is up to Americans as taxpayers and voters to ensure that the new administration does not bend to the will of agents of corporate globalization, and instead works to fulfill its campaign promises.