Trade on the Trail, Part Cinco

This week was a big one for trade on the trail.

"Clinton Pledges to Revisit Trade Deals" says the Financial Times:

"I think it is time that we assess trade agreements every five years to make sure they’re meeting their goals or to make adjustments if they are not,” she said in a speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which stages the first caucus vote in the presidential nomination process next January. “And we should start by doing that with Nafta.”

"We have to change our economic course just as we have to change course in Iraq and change course when it comes to healthcare,” she said.

In addition to the five-year trade reviews, Mrs Clinton said she would appoint a federal trade enforcement officer who would monitor compliance with trade agreements.

She also pledged to expand the trade assistance adjustment programme, which retrains manufacturing workers who lose their jobs when employers relocate to other countries.

She would extend the TAA to redundant service sector workers, whose jobs have mostly been “offshored” to India, and to workers whose employers have relocated to countries that have no trade agreements with the US, such as China.

Women's Wear Daily does a good job of laying out all of the candidates' positions. Here are some highlights:

Fred Thompson: "I was one of the strictest advocates of imposing restrictions on the Chinese for their behavior of exporting dangerous materials to countries and tying some of our trade policies to what they did in that regard...They still have not done enough...but in terms of turning our backs on free trade, that's not the direction to go."

Rudy Giulliani: "We can't say that because these agreements weren't perfect, because they have problems, we're going to turn our backs on free trade...We're a country that depends on exports and we're also an entrepreneurial country."

Hillary Clinton: "The Bush administration has filed roughly the same number of enforcement actions under our trade agreements that were filed during one year of the Clinton administration...That is unacceptable. When I'm president, we're going to start enforcing them again and we're not going to enter into them unless we think they're going to be good for American workers."

Barack Obama: "We wholly agree with the labor movement that labor and environmental provisions have to be included in the core of labor agreements. Business has said historically that it couldn't be done until now," the [Obama] aide said, referring to an agreement Democratic leaders reached with the Bush administration to include stronger labor and environmental provisions in four pending trade agreements.

Mitt Romney: "has pressed Congress to act immediately on two pending trade deals with Colombia and Peru, a campaign spokesman said."

(Disclosure: Global Trade Watch has no preference among the candidates.)

Continue reading "Trade on the Trail, Part Cinco" »

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The Offshoring of Hope

Did you hear about Obama's new book, "The Offshoring of Hope"? According to MSNBC:

Obama said he would vote for a Peruvian trade agreement next week, in response to a question from a man in Londonderry, NH who called NAFTA and CAFTA a disaster for American workers. He said he supported the trade agreement with Peru because it contained the labor and environmental standards sought by groups like the AFL-CIO, despite the voter’s protests to the contrary. He also affirmed his support for free trade. “I am not going to say on a blanket basis that I’m going to vote against trade agreements,” Obama said. “We cannot draw a moat around the u.s. economy b/c china is still trading, India is still trading.”

Funny thing about that... neither the AFL-CIO or Change to Win is supporting the agreement. And Peru FTA critics are not calling for a moat around the economy. In fact, leading Peru FTA opponents announced legislation to make permanent poor countries' duty-free access to the U.S. market.

Waaaayy back in 2005, Obama voted against a virtually identical bill - CAFTA, which nearly half of Costa Rica's population voted against despite Bush's misleading threats of economic reprisals. In his piece for the Chicago Tribune on CAFTA, Obama argued:

I meet these workers all across Illinois, workers whose jobs moved to Mexico or China and are now competing with their own children for jobs that pay 7 bucks an hour. In town meetings and union halls, I've tried to tell these workers the truth--that these jobs aren't coming back, that globalization is here to stay and that they will have to train more and learn more to get the new jobs of tomorrow.

But when they wonder how they will get this training and this education, when they ask what they will do about their health-care bills and their lower wages and the general sense of financial insecurity that seems to grow with each passing day, I cannot look them in the eyes and tell them that their government is doing a single thing about these problems. That is why I won't vote for CAFTA.

Hard to see the government has really stepped up to the plate since 2005. If anything, things have gotten worse, as Bush showed some Texas will and vetoed the Dems' most ambitious domestic policy initiative - expanding kids' health care insurance. It seems very strange to reward that veto with support for Bush's plan to expand NAFTA to Peru.

Hat tip to Sirota for the heads up.

UPDATE: JES' A REMINDER for the sake of context: Democrats came to office in 2006 by responding to their base and swing voters' demands for fair trade, and the latest polling shows this will be an important issue in the general election as well. And just take a looksie here to see how every important base group for the Democratic Party is opposing the Bush's Peru NAFTA expansion, which replicates and expands on NAFTA's harmful provisions. And the kind folks at CEPR have just laid out a reminder of the economics of our status quo trade policy, and why the Dems' working class base have not benefited from these policies.

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National Latino Congreso to Congress: Oppose Bush's NAFTA Expansions!

NEWS RELEASE, October 7, 2007

National Latino Congress Unanimously Passes Resolution Calling on U.S. Congress to Stop Signing New Trade Agreements

Latino Leaders Say U.S. Cannot Address Immigration without Changing Course on Failed Trade Policy

Los Angeles, CA – Reflecting on the root causes of poverty and migration in Latin America, the National Latino Congreso has unanimously approved a resolution rejecting new trade agreements based on the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and calling on the U.S. to change its international economic policies, which so far are largely to be blamed for producing wealth and income inequalities abroad, as well as at home. In the case of Latin America, policies promoted by the U.S. have also resulted in the impoverishment and displacement of millions of rural inhabitants.

The resolution adopted on Saturday Oct. 6 by delegates of the Second National Latino Congreso , comes at a moment in which the U.S. Congress considers a new trade agreement with Peru, which largely mirrors NAFTA. The adopted resolution reads, in part:

“Therefore, be it resolved that the organizations present at the 2007 Latino Congreso, are strongly opposed to expanding the failed NAFTA and CAFTA through the “free trade” agreements between the United States and Peru, Colombia, and Panama, and will mobilize our constituencies to work in vehement opposition to their passage, and call on the U.S. Congress directly to reject these agreements.”

The resolution specifically condemns national lawmakers who are attempting to push anti-immigrant legislation while continuing to push for expansion of trade and economic policies that force families to emigrate in the first place. More than 1,000 Latino leaders present applauded the passage of the resolution, calling it an important step towards addressing the obvious link between current U.S. trade and economic policies, and migration.

Continue reading "National Latino Congreso to Congress: Oppose Bush's NAFTA Expansions!" »

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"No" campaign accusing Arias/ Electoral Auth of collusion

This breaking news has the "no" campaign accusing the electoral authorities of collusion with the Arias administration, in particular by allowing campaigning in the media (including about the Bush threats) in violation of the media blackout: 

Among the most serious violations: the "yes" campaign continued to distribute propaganda, organize rallies and placed a great number of TV ads within two days before the referendum, in violation of the Electoral Code (Art. 85(g)), which clearly establishes that "During the two days immediately before and the day of the referendum, it is prohibited to distribute propaganda of any kind related to the issue at hand," a requirement strictly adhered to by the "no" campaign...

Clearly, the national media became channels for the Arias administration and treaty promoters, openly distributing their propaganda; just one instance is the wide broadcast coverage given to [Bush's] U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab's statement, where she categorically denied the possibility of renegotiating the agreement, and also suggested that the country's Caribbean Basin Initiative benefits would be lost, if the Costa Ricans voted 'no' on the referendum.

All of the above violations were allowed to take place, without the TSE (the body responsible for organizing and enforcing the referendum rules) taking any steps to avoid their continuation. Costa Ricans are indignant over this attitude, and sees the tribunal as sharing the blame for the aforementioned abuses.

There are also accusations of other irregularities, including:

  • The massive utilization of "robo-calls" sent via cellphone voice and text message near the time of the vote, with messages like, "I thought the FTA didn't affect me. But Ana is going to lose her job. Let's help her. Vote yes."
  • "Yes" campaign material inside some polling stations.
  • The "yes" campaign offering $52.89 for a "yes" vote (This is about 2-3 days' wages for the average Costa Rican, earned on one day when all the business are supposed to be closed.)
  • Flower exporting firms told their workers not to show up to work on Monday if the "no" won, the implication being they would have to shut down.
  • Some polling stations only had red pens, even though only ballots marked with black ink were considered valid by the electoral authorities.

Read the press release here. We'll have more as it develops.

UPDATE, 5:30 pm: The Washington Post puts the real story front and center, in a piece by Manuel Roig-Franzia entitled "Costa Ricans Vote on Trade Pact: White House Pressed for Approval as Heated Campaign Closed":

Costa Rica appeared headed late Sunday toward approval of a trade pact with the United States after a count of 88.7 percent of polling stations showed 51.6 percent of voters in favor of the trade deal. The balloting follows a contentious campaign marked by a scandal that toppled one of the country's vice presidents and a last-minute push for votes by the White House. (emphasis added)

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Close CAFTA Vote Shows Failure of NAFTA Model

Here's our statement on the results, followed by the more recent numbers by region:

For Immediate Release:                   
Oct 8, 2007

Close Tally on CAFTA by Costa Rica in First-Ever Public Vote on a NAFTA Expansion Shows That Bush Administration's Continual Push for These Deals Hurts U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America

Even After U.S. Threats Aimed at Stimulating Public Fear of Reprisal and Big-Dollar Campaign Pushing ‘Sí' Vote, Result Is Marked by Razor-Thin Margin

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The depth of public opposition to North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)-style pacts was demonstrated Sunday by Costa Rica's massive "no" vote to CAFTA despite a intensive campaign led by the country's president, months of deceptive radio and television advertising in favor of the pact, and a threatening statement issued Saturday by the White House, Public Citizen said today.

The strong vote against CAFTA likely will fuel growing opposition to another Bush proposal now before Congress to expand NAFTA to Peru. The Peru Free Trade Agreement (FTA) contains the same foreign investor privileges, service sector privatization, agriculture and other provisions that fueled Costa Rican public opposition.

"That nearly half the public in Latin America's richest free-market democracy opposed CAFTA despite the intensive campaign in favor of it should end the repeated claims that pushing more NAFTA-style free trade deals is critical to U.S. foreign policy interests in the region or helps the U.S. image," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch division. "This vote also debunks the claim that these pacts are motivated out of U.S. altruism to help poor people in trade partner countries, given that many of the people in question just announced that they themselves don't want this kind of trade policy. This policy, supported by the elite, will help foreign investors seize control of their natural resources, undermine access to essential services, displace peasant farmers and jack up medicines prices."

Continue reading "Close CAFTA Vote Shows Failure of NAFTA Model" »

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Despite massive fear-mongering, "No" vote gets nearly half

The results look to be sticking at about 52-48, with the yes winning. It looks like about 55% turnout, meaning about a quarter of registered voters chose "yes" and "no." This despite the massive fear mongering campaign by the Bush admin just hours before the vote, when there was supposed to be a media black-out on CAFTA. We'll be doing more commentary tomorrow. For now, the "no" campaign is still waiting for the final counts from the electoral authorities.

Vote Counts (of around 12:30 AM)





San Jose
































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Preliminary results

Reuters is reporting a win for the yes based on the preliminary results. About 20% of the polling stations in the urban areas have still not reported; while over 30% in the rural areas - where CAFTA opposition is higher due to predicted displacement of these workers - have still not been reported.

If the percentages for the yes and no for reported balloting stations holds for the region, this would be the vote result (based on a full turnout):


Estimated No

Estimated Yes













San Jose












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Map of Costa Rica with registered voters


Registered Voters

Number of polling stations













San Jose












If Voter Turnout (%) is

Then # voters turnout

Then winner needs

40% (minimum necessary)



65% (estimated)



100% (total turnout)




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Polls just closed...

The polls just closed less than 30 minutes ago in Costa Rica - the international observers from the Organization of American States has said that things have been mostly calm when they were interviewed at around 2 PM EST, although some observers were not accredited by the electoral authorities and were turned away - not clear what the story is there. The "no" campaign is denouncing irregularities in the process, including the absence of officials from the "no" campaign that are supposed to be watchdogging every precinct, and incomplete photo IDs of voters in the registries.

Apparently 3,000 people got  voter identification cards today, 700 of which were just requested today. (The last one apparently distributed less than an hour ago.) The OAS will publish a report on any discrepancies in the election over the next few weeks, and asked Costa Ricans to respect the outcome of the vote.

The results from 20-40% of the precincts will be in by 10:30 pm EST, with the majority of the results available by 1 AM EST tomorrow.

At about 5:30 PM EST, a leader from the "no" campaign predicted a 10% point win, and said that there had been 70% turnout. The "no" campaign also criticized the last minute wave since Thursday of government publicity (disguised as "interviews") in violation of the media blackout on the referendum.
The "yes" campaign refuted the prediction about an hour ago, saying it wasn't possible to know the result.

Radio Dignidad, associated with the "no" campaign, is running live coverage as we speak.

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The heat is on

Voting is underway. Yesterday's Bush bombshell dominated headline922660_2s, even though it's ridiculous and based on fabrications...

Costa Rica has 2,654,627 million registered voters, 1,061,851 million of which need to turn out (40%) in order for the referendum to be binding. The majority of that wins - a single vote difference in the 4,932 polling stations could make the difference. So, for the "no" vote to win, a minimum of 530,926 + 1 people need to vote that way (assuming the total of 1.04 m turnout). Since there were 150,000 people that marched in the "no" march last weekend, this means that each marcher would need to turn out a minimum of 4 of their friends and family members to vote "no".

If less than 40% of the voters turn out, CAFTA will be kicked back to the legislature, where the pro-CAFTA president's supporters have a narrow advantage. But polls are showing that 60% of registered voters intend to turn out, so that's unlikely.

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Bush admin continues interventions just hours before Costa Rica vote

Just when you thought the Bush administration was at its most shameful, it gets even worse. Just hours before Costa Rica goes to the polls to decide the fate of CAFTA, the Bush administration released yet another statement trying to intimidate Costa Ricans into approving CAFTA.

Quote one: "If the free trade agreement is rejected, the United States will not renegotiate the agreement." This is a ridiculous statement coming from an administration that has just over 470 days left in office. The majority of the presidential candidates of both parties voted or were against CAFTA, and most are on the record favoring a change in the NAFTA trade model. Republicans as well as Democrats, independents and swing voters from across the country tell pollsters they hate the trade status quo. Come January 20, 2009, it is highly likely that there will be someone in the Oval Office who will be open to a different kind of trade pact with Costa Rica, if the country is interested.

Second, Perino says, "With respect to trade preferences provided under the Caribbean Basin Initiative which will expire in September 2008, the United States has never before confronted the question of extending unilateral trade preferences to a country that has rejected a reciprocal trade agreement. Voters in Costa Rica should be aware that many of those assuring Costa Rica of continued access to the U.S. market have consistently opposed measures that would open the U.S. market to goods from Costa Rica and other countries, whether through trade agreements or through trade preference programs. "

This is pretty rich. Several Andean countries rejected NAFTA-style trade deals, and Congress voted overwhelmingly (with the support of all the fair traders that have weighed in on Bush's interventions in Costa Rica) to extend their preferences this summer. And just yesterday, fair trade members of Congress announced a bill that would make permanent the tiny portion of Costa Rica's duty-free market access that isn't already.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who along with Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) wrote to Bush yesterday demanding that his administration cease their dishonest threats against Costa Rica, had this to say in response to the latest Perino statement:

Statement of Sen. Bernard Sanders On The Bush Administration’s Fear Mongering Attempts With Respect to the CAFTA Referendum in Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, October 6 – Senator Bernard Sanders today issued the following statement in response to White House threats regarding Sunday’s election in Costa Rica on the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

“As everyone knows, a vice president of Costa Rica was forced to resign because he was linked to a campaign of fear and distortion that was exposed in a memo.  Unfortunately, the Bush administration continues to carry out that campaign of fear.

“What President Bush seems not to understand is that his party, the Republican Party, no longer controls the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, and that many of the new leaders in Congress have a different view of trade than he does.

“In recent days, such congressional leaders as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, Senators Byron Dorgan and Sherrod Brown, and Congressman Sander Levin have made it clear that the executive branch of the United States does not have the authority to eliminate Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) benefits if a country rejects a free trade agreement in a democratically-held election. Cancelling basic CBI benefits with Costa Rica would require an act of Congress.  These congressional leaders made it clear that they would not support such a move, and that they opposed any linkage between CBI benefits and approval or disapproval of CAFTA.”

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Fair traders for trade and intact machines

Folks trapped in a flat world mindset may think all this hub hub about fair trade is some sort of disguised attempt to smash the machines and shut down the borders.

That’s so 1990s. Consider just two examples from this week.

Case study 1: Costa Rican voters will vote on Sunday in the world’s first popular referendum on a trade deal (CAFTA). Polls show the “no” vote with a 12 point lead, despite the Bush administration’s considerable bullying and threats. And the hundreds of thousands of people that have filled San Jose’s streets for the “no” campaign aren’t asking for a shut down of trade, but a renegotiation so that human, labor and environmental rights can be put in, and a lot of the bad NAFTA-style provisions taken out.

Case study 2: Just this afternoon, leading fair traders in the U.S. Congress showed yet again that they’re not anti-trade, they just want a different model of trade. Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) announced plans to introduce a bill to make permanent the tiny fraction of Costa Rica’s duty-free market access that isn’t already. These benefits would be extended to nearly two dozen countries, including desperately poor Haiti. This move puts the kibosh on the Bush threats that preferences would expire, which, as I argue here, were based on lies anyway.

In fact, there’s a growing sense that, in order to save our foreign policy, we’re going to have to move away from the NAFTA-CAFTA model, which has been a largely destabilizing factor in Mexico and had painful economic costs. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) articulated this well in his Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this week, as did Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in a moving floor speech:

Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Sander Levin (D-Mich.) echoed some of these themes in a statement today (you can read it after the jump), as did Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid earlier in the week. So did Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) in a letter sent just last night to Costa Rica:

There is a growing sense in Congress and among the American public that threatening our neighbors to our South with reprisals for seeking their own economic path after a generation of lost income growth is a strategy that has largely backfired and undermined the U.S. reputation in the region.

Indeed, whoever our next commander in chief ends up being, if they want to re-establish U.S. credibility in the region, they’re going to have to start paring back the harmful interventionist habits and the trade and aid conditionalities and rules that limit local economic development. 

Continue reading "Fair traders for trade and intact machines" »

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Devil worshippers taking over anti-fair trade campaign in Costa Rica

The CAFTA fight is on fire in Costa Rica, which this Sunday is scheduled to have the world's first ever binding popular referendum on a trade deal. Last weekend, over 100,000 fair traders filled the streets of San Jose, the capital city, calling for a "no" vote on CAFTA. As Tasini reminds us, that would be the equivalent of 7.5 million Americans protesting, and scarcely covered at all by the U.S. press.

The "yes" campaign, as we've written here, has been increasingly resorting to scare tactics, including using the threat of Costa Rica's U.S. market access disappearing if CAFTA is not ratified. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) already traveled to Costa Rica to make it clear that such threats were baseless. Similarly, letters from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee make clear that this is a ridiculous threat not based on law, history, or the intention of Congress. Here's a great You Tube video on this series of events.

Boy, are the scaremongers upset now. First, the business groups in Costa Rica behind the anti-fair trade campaign started running attacks ads against Sanders and Michaud, in an editing style that would make Anton LaVey envious. (Click for the video, it's a hoot!) Second, the NAFTA-loving Wall Street Journal opinion page ripped into Democrats, accusing them of trying "to undermine the ... argument that might help get Cafta approved." (Too bad that "argument" was more like gloves-off foreign bullying based on lies.)

We've almost hit the trifecta. For the final act, the Bush administration, whose ambassador (a big time GOP fundraiser) has been making the false threat of preference expiration for nearly two years only to be caught in the act by Congress, concedes that "no one can say for sure" what will happen with Costa Rica's preferences.

The truth is, it's almost certain that Costa Rica will maintain its duty-free access, because the bulk of it was made permanent in 1990 or under the WTO in 1995, and the tiny part (less than 10% of its U.S. exports) first approved in 2000 that requires renewal will almost certainly be renewed next year, for reasons explained in this memo.

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100 Priests Against CAFTA in Costa Rica; Workers Against Bush Admin Interference

Just as we're hearing about the impressive uprising in Burma against the military dictatorship - being led by Buddhist priests no less - the priests in this hemisphere are also getting active. (Check out Gringos Against CAFTA for ongoing updates and great photos on this story.)

According to the Spanish AP (my translation),

March1_2 On Wednesday, nearly 100 Costa Rican priests let their opposition to CAFTA be known, in spite of the church hierarchy declaring itself neutral on the topic.

The religious leaders, represented by Father Ignacio Trejos, detailed their reasoning in an 8-page document entitled, "Ethical Evaluation of the FTA," as only 10 days remained before the referendum that will decide the fate of the commercial pact in this country.

"We have been asked by our Church to remain neutral on this important issue, which is the referendum on the FTA. This would mean no more or less than the total disfiguration [of our church], since the Church should always be on the side of the truth, justice and the social well-being," wrote Trejos.

Among the reasons mentioned for their opposition is that the pact was negotiated in secret without citizen input, and that there were no safeguards for the rights of oppressed peoples.

For the prelates, "The FTA is equivalent to a reform of the state by stealth, introduced from outside the country."

Costa Ricans area also upset about the Bush administration's ambassador interfering in the referendum, as Xinhua reports in Spanish (again my translation):

Continue reading "100 Priests Against CAFTA in Costa Rica; Workers Against Bush Admin Interference" »

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Sanders and Michaud show real solidarity in Costa Rica

As we've reported, Costa Ricans on October 7th will have an unprecedented opportunity to vote in a popular referendum on whether the country - Central America's oldest and strongest democracy, according to the State Department - will join CAFTA.

Recently, this drama has involved the resignation of top government officials who have been using threats and scare tactics to try to win support for CAFTA.

And then, over the weekend, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) went down toSanders_and_michaud_3 Costa Rica to let folks know that the scare tactics and the bullying are based on lies and hoaxes. According to Diario Extra:

  • The Bush administration has threatened Costa Rica with elimination of its current duty-free access in many products. According to Sanders: "That's absolutely false. Costa Rica will continue to benefit from the Caribbean Basin Initiative because it's a law and its existence depends exclusively on the U.S. Congress. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are talking about getting rid of this law."
  • Michaud pointed out that the Clinton administration promised a reduction in illegal immigration if NAFTA is signed, but that instead that NAFTA has caused a sharp increase in displacement and immigration.
  • Sanders said that, if the U.S. had a popular referendum on CAFTA, it would have gone down.

Now, that's people's solidarity and diplomacy. Hat tip to Sanders and Michaud!

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Roll Call: Weller aide roughs up journalist over CAFTA

We recently reported that Rep. Jerry Weller's (R-Ill.) political career is crumbling in the wake of questions about his conflicts of interest with Nicaraguan investments as he boosted CAFTA in 2005.

Apparently, the CAFTAgate pressure is starting to get to Weller, who recently announced his retirement and is married to the daughter of the former Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt. Roll Call is reporting that a Weller staffer pounced on a journalist who was inquiring about CAFTAgate:

Guatemalaweddinginside A staffer for Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) apparently took questions from a reporter a bit too seriously Friday, when he allegedly pushed the scribe down a flight of stairs.

Mike Flannery, the political editor at the CBS affiliate in Chicago, planned to file charges against the staffer, identified by the station as John Dusik.

According to a news report on the station’s Web site, Flannery followed Weller into a stairway at the local chamber of commerce in Joliet, Ill., after the Congressman delivered the speech announcing his retirement. After Flannery asked Weller about the Central American investments that have gotten the Congressman into hot water, Dusik apparently pushed Flannery — first off-camera and then again on-camera, causing a woman nearby to fall.

“There’s a large man, who begins shoving reporters around, including yours truly,” Flannery told the station. “He shoves me one way, then he goes after another reporter with CLTV. ... There’s an opening in the doorway, and I begin moving through that doorway, and he shoves me down the stairs; he shoves me into a railing on the staircase and also into a woman on the staircase who was traveling with Weller.”

Dusik later was arrested, according to the report. Weller, for his part, stayed mum during the incident and drove away without answering questions from reporters.

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ScareGate Outed in Costa Rica

The Los Angeles TImes has a great story on Costa Rica's upcoming CAFTA referendum, as well as the ScareGate tactics that the anti-fair trade side is using.

But that was before a memo written by CAFTA advocates was leaked to the public this month, fueling outrage here. The document, dated July 29 and written by two high-level government officials with close ties to Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, outlined a campaign of dirty tricks intended to sway voters.

The authors proposed smearing CAFTA opponents by linking them to leftist firebrands such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro. They called for a public relations campaign to "stimulate fear" among citizens about the alleged dangers of snubbing the deal.

They also advocated punishing local officials -- by withholding funds for public programs in their regions -- if their constituents repudiated CAFTA.

CAFTA opponents have cried foul while supporters have suddenly found themselves on the defensive over a measure that appeared headed to victory. Prominent CAFTA backers, including Arias, have distanced themselves from the memo, which was addressed to him and his brother, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias.

One of the authors, Second Vice President Kevin Casas, has resigned from the "yes" campaign and temporarily stepped down from his Cabinet post as planning minister while election officials investigate whether any laws were broken.

"It's a bombshell," said Luis Guillermo Solis, a political science professor at the University of Costa Rica who opposes CAFTA. "It's Watergate."

Solis predicted that the memo would spark a backlash among undecided voters and citizens fed up with corruption scandals that have roiled Costa Rica in recent years.

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Breaking News About Pro-CAFTA Electoral Manipulation

A very important document (PDF) just came over the wires that describes the dirty backroom politics of the "yes to CAFTA" campaign being run by President Oscar Arias. Costa Rica is the first country in the world to ever have a popular referendum on a trade agreement, scheduled for October. But while there have been innumerable restrictions put on the fair trade side of the campaign (the "no" campaign), the "yes" campaign is operating with the full resources and bully pulpit of the state. Says my colleague Stephanie Burgos from Oxfam about the document:

The document was published in Costa Rica by el Semanario Universidad (a weekly newspaper published a prestigious university) and both authors have accepted it as legitimate.  The authors are close advisors to the President: Casas is his vice-president and Minister of Planning and Sanchez is a cousin of the President and a Member of Congress.

Here are some key excerpts (my translation):

  • "The campaign around the FTA is becoming what it should never have been permitted: a fight between the rich and the poor, between the people and the government elites. Our opposition is formidable: universities, the church, unions, environmentalists, etc. And on the other side in favor of the FTA, there's only the government, the media, and big business. That's not a way to win."
  • The Congress needs to go into recess so that "our representatives" don't have to show up to work and can agitate for the "yes" campaign.
  • On local officials: "We have to make all of the mayors responsible for the campaign in their districts, and let them know, as crudely as possible, a very simple idea: the mayor that doesn't win their districts on October 7 is not going to receive a cent from the [central] government for the next 3 years."
  • Launching a media campaign, with the following tactics: "Get rid of the notion that this is a fight between the rich and the poor. This requires choosing the face in the mainstream media for the yes campaign and use almost exclusively the faces of workers and small businessmen."
  • And... "Stimulate fear. This fear is of four categories: 1. Fear of the loss of jobs... 2. Fear of the attacks on democratic institutions... 3. Fear of foreign intervention... and 4.Fear of the effect of a no triumph [on governability]."
  • "it's crucial that 'yes' be associated with democracy and stability... and that 'no' be equivalent to violence and disloyalty to democracy. Here's something very important: the campaign has stopped being rational and, as a consequence, about the actual content of the FTA. Thus, the argument of defending democracy is the only resource we have left to mobilize the emotion of the people."
  • "We must rub in all over the place the connection of the no campaign with Fidel, Chavez and Ortega, in very strident terms. It's possible that this kind of campaign will turn off some people, but it's almost sure that it will have a significant impact among the more simple people, which is where we have the biggest problems."

There's a lot more in the document, but what really grabs one's eye is how these kind of manipulations of public opinion and the truth of economic policy occur every single day all around the world, even in the United States.

[MONDAY UPDATE: Costa Rica's English language newspaper ran a story about this today, confirming the authenticity of the memo.]

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Postcards from Nicaragua - xoxo, Rep. Jerry Weller

BeachThe Chicago Tribune reports:

The rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean crashes onto white sand beaches below a lush hillside in southwest Nicaragua, a picture of tropical paradise by anyone's definition.

Who wouldn't want to live here?

Well, Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) does live here. He also had the foresight when buying the property to pass legislation to make his property rights unusually strong and his life much easier.

His investment got a boost from the narrowly passed Central America Free Trade Agreement, which Weller pitched in 2005 as a tool to enable businesses in his hard-pressed district to sell tractors and food to Latin America. CAFTA also includes additional legal protection for American investors, including those who have purchased lots from Weller.

What he didn't say was that, while he publicly pushed CAFTA, Weller privately was pursuing his land development, some 2,000 miles away. The House approved the trade pact in July 2005 by only two votes, 217-215.

Besides not mentioning his Nicaraguan investments during the CAFTA debate on the House floor, Weller did not give anywhere close to a complete accounting of them in his required 2005 financial disclosure statement. House ethics rules require representatives to disclose all property they own except for their personal residences...

He also was an outspoken advocate for CAFTA, which among other things improves conditions for investors in Nicaragua...

This is just another example of a few legislators' instincts to make laws that suit their personal interest over the public interest.

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CAFTA socks it to Aderholt

Our last update on the Aderholt-sock situation was a few months ago. Today, Inside U.S. Trade (as usual, not linkable) has this:

"Honduras this month rejected U.S. proposals aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement in advance of the public announcement of the injury investigation that could pave the way for the U.S. to invoke a Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) textile safeguard that re-imposes duties on Honduran wool, man-made fiber and cotton socks, according to a Honduran official... Honduras, the official said, was not receptive to any of the proposals and did not make any proposals of its own."


As we've described before both on this blog and in a 2005 release, this is mostly about a promise that Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) received from the Bush administration that they would seek to limit CAFTA imports of socks by phasing out tariffs over 10 years instead of immediately. Aderholt, in return for this promise, voted for CAFTA despite expressing concerns that it would kill jobs in his district just weeks before.

Now, to no one's surprise except maybe Aderholt's, CAFTA is killing jobs in the U.S. sock industry and the promise made to Aderholt remains unfulfilled, and seems like it will remain that way for a while. In the meantime, the jobs they're a-movin':

The Federal Register notice states that of all three sock import categories, Honduras’ imports rose from 6 percent in the year ending June 2006 to 8.3 percent in the year ending June 2007, while U.S. domestic market share in all three categories has fallen from 36.6 percent in the year to date March 2006, to 29.1 percent in year to date March 2007.

P.S. sorry about that groaner of a pun.

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On Trade, Democracy Is Speaking

Polls in developing countries are notoriously unreliable, although you occasionally find some good work coming out of universities. This latest poll from the University of Costa Rica shows that nearly 60% of decided voters will oppose CAFTA in the upcoming referendum there. Costa Rica is the only one of the 7 CAFTA nations not to have ratified the pact, and CAFTA critic Otton Solis came within a percentage point of becoming president (after being thought of initially as a long shot candidate). Keep in mind, the level of opposition to CAFTA is very high in all the CAFTA countries, it's just that Costa Rica - thanks to the lack of war and U.S. intervention there - has developed political institutions (including a very forward looking referendum mechanism) that allow popular views to be more clearly articulated.

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Gene Sperling: "[trade adjustment] assistance is the pre-nup of public policy"

Live from Yearly Kos - Panel: What it Means to be a Progressive in a Global Economy with Thea Lee, Chief Economists, AFL-CIO, Austan Goolsbee, professor of economics at the University of Chicago graduate school of business and Gene Sperling, senior fellow for economic policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for American Progress and moderated by Andrei Cherney, founder and co-editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

As you may have guessed at first both Sperling and Goolsbee sputtered off the talking point that globalization is inevitable (WRONG/BESIDE THE POINT: of course we could change the rules if the political will existed) and that technology has at least been a cause of the economic insecurities workers in this country feel - and the cause of the loss of jobs, etc. Sperling said that we can not ignore the huge productivity gains and consumer benefits (click to read about the Center for Economic and Policy Research's research that proves the losses in wages far outweigh the gains).

Goolsbee and Sperling insisted that we must shift the focus to what to do now about the inevitable globalization. Some ideas: universal healthcare, energy independence which will drive down gas costs and trade adjustment assistance (though Sperling said he would not instruct a presidential candidate to talk about this first - because it's the equivalent to the "pre-nup of public policy" and to workers it's "a great idea for what I do after I lose my job and am scared to death").

But when the questioning started these guys were just out of answers. Sperling said apologetically that he admits "the final word was not in on globalization." Goolsbee, when asked about the investment rules, shrunk in his seat and said that "this really backfired." Sperling added that progressives should be against international agreements that undermine our domestic environmental and health policies.

Goolsbee continued, "when domestic regulations are challenged on a widescale" in trade tribunals and the US loses, "that will be the end [of these provisions in trade agreements]."

You heard it from him. Tell a friend, tell your elected officials - don't keep making more NAFTA-style agreements that contain these expanded investor rights provisions that even according to NAFTA-advocates have "really backfired."

More about this breakthrough panel and more panels at Yearly Kos to come...

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Costa Rica Doing Better than Countries that implemented CAFTA

Umberto Mazzei has a pretty damning analysis of how Costa Rica is thriving without CAFTA, while Guatemala is suffering with CAFTA.

The message is overwhelming: [Guatemala] "sacrificed" itself to the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States for nothing. The CAFTA model, pushing the Central American economy toward the export of non-traditional goods to the United States, has been a pretext for imposing expensive foreign pharmaceuticals as opposed to cheap, national generic drugs, overwhelming the peasant farmer with subsidized imports, and granting extra-territorial jurisdiction to foreign companies.

Non-traditional exports in Guatemala have decreased instead of increasing—contrary to the objectives of CAFTA. In Costa Rica, which remains outside CAFTA, exports of new products and markets have grown. All indicates that the privileged share in an FTA with the United States is more a hindrance than a help.

This comes a few months before Costa Ricans vote in the world's first ever referendum on a trade deal.  If you're in DC next Wednesday morning, you might want to check out this debate between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Otton Solis, the fair trader who nearly became Costa Rica's president.

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Dead-end trade deal nears dead end

We recently received this brief paper on CAFTA's impact on Nicaragua from Ben Beachy at Witness for Peace Nicaragua, who summarizes its findings thusly:

The US sold CAFTA to the Nicaraguan public on the promise that the agreement would spawn a wave of new jobs, particularly in textile maquilas. That promise has proven empty. In the last six months, a rash of maquila closings and mass firings have meant the alarming loss of 3,880-4,120 jobs, while new textile maquilas have provided a mere 176 new jobs. Factory owners and managers point to the fact that U.S. clothing brands are rapidly shifting business to China's cheaper labor. Incredibly, just over a year ago CAFTA was passed as a gift that would allow Nicaragua to create jobs by further exploiting its comparative advantage in cheap labor. Such a model, beyond being inherently exploitative, is short-lived. As soon as free trade is redefined to include other, more desperate developing countries, the comparative advantage evaporates along with the jobs.

You can read the full paper as a PDF or after the jump (sans footnotes).

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Left wearing nothing but socks

As we warned over two years ago before and after the CAFTA vote, you simply can't trust the executive branch deal-for-vote promises on trade policy - over 90 percent over the last two decades have been broken.

Shocking, but some members didn't listen to lil' ol' us. The latest broken promise comes from Alabama on CAFTA, and it's shaking up the GOP base in the "Sock Capital of the World" there in a big way:

[Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.)] two years ago was convinced, at the last minute, to vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement based on assurances from the Bush administration that it would negotiate a change to phase out the [sock] tariffs from CAFTA countries over 10 years rather than immediately. That deal, which requires the approval of the affected countries, has not been signed.

94503_sock_on_wrist "The longer we wait, the worse off we are and the harder it is going to be for them to bring into enforcement what they promised," said Charles Cole of Alabama Footwear Inc. in Fort Payne. Cole was in Washington last week on behalf of the domestic sock industry, a key to the economy of northeast Alabama.

About 4,300 people, down from 7,500 in 2005, work in the industry in Alabama.

Cole said imports from Honduras alone are up 50 percent and domestic production has dropped 20 percent since CAFTA took effect, and jobs are being lost.

"We just feel like it's time," Cole said. "They, again, told us they were committed to taking action as was warranted, but we feel like right now taking some action would be better than words."

As Andrew Wolf and I documented last year (PDF), thousands of U.S. sock and apparel jobs have been lost thanks to CAFTA, which has barely been in effect for a full year. In addition to the thousands in Aderholt's district, CAFTA job loss has hit the districts of CAFTA-supporting Reps. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Ron Lewis (R-Ky.), John Tanner (D-Tenn.), and Harold Rogers (R-Ky.). And CAFTA opponents Reps. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.) made the CAFTA job loss in their districts a major issue in their slams on their corporate opponents last year.

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CAFTA member Honduras slashes minimum wage... in order to compete with low-wage Nicaragua

The National Labor Committee has posted an action alert that shows just how much CAFTA has not lifted all boats, but to the contrary is creating pressures to capsize the whole working class flotilla:

First it was Alcoa workers in Mexico who were pitted against lower wage Honduran workers.  (They were told by Alcoa that they "could hire two Hondurans for every Mexican.")  Now that Alcoa has busted a union organized at its wire harnessing plant in the El Porvenir Free Trade Zone in Honduras--immediately firing all 50-plus union leaders and organizers--local Alcoa management is threatening that if the workers continue to organize, the plant will be shut down and relocated to NICARAGUA, where "labor is cheaper and workers don't make so many demands or cause problems." Alcoa's race to the bottom strategy has spread from the U.S. to Mexico and now to Central America, where under CAFTA the workers are being pitted against each other to work for less and abandon their legal rights...

In a related CAFTA-esque step backward, the Honduran Government has just reduced the minimum wage in the South of Honduras (including the department of Santa Barbara) from $178 to $136 a month. This is a 24 percent drop in wages, from 74 cents an hour to 57 cents. The largest free trade zone in Central America, the recently completed Green Valley Industrial Park is conveniently located in Santa Barbara to access the 57-cent-an-hour wages.  San Pedro Sula, where the majority of the maquila factories are concentrated, is just 20 miles or so from Santa Barbara.  How long will it be before wages drop in the rest of Honduras? The last time the export factory workers’ wages were at or lower than 57 cents an hour was 5 years ago. Today's 57 cent an hour wage is, in terms of real purchasing power, much lower due to inflation.

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