Indispensable reading: Why We're Signing a Panama FTA

In case you wondered why the Bush administration would go through all the trouble to sign a trade pact with Panama (where, as we've been reporting, major FTA-related labor disputes are underway), you MUST read Peter Riggs' latest piece for Tax Justice USA. Here's a sneak peak:

The proposed bilateral trade agreement with Panama has skated through without much attention at all. But the agreement with Panama is highly significant. The problem is, the trade agreement with Panama isn't really about trade. It's about foreign investor rights, money laundering, and tax dodging. And the United States should in no way reward this notorious offshore tax haven with a "gold star" Free Trade Agreement...

Panama has two major areas of "economic comparative advantage" in the region. One, obviously, is the Canal. But the other is much more insidious-and major U.S. corporations are hoping that no one draws any attention to it.

Panama's other economic comparative advantages are in the area of tax and banking secrecy, and the ease with which U.S. companies can create subsidiaries in Panama for purposes of dodging taxes.

Panama is already home to a lot of U.S. corporate subsidiaries. How many? Tens of thousands of U.S. corporations have hung out a shingle-or should we say, set up an email box-in that country.

Panama boasts a total of 400,000 registered corporations-second only to Hong Kong as a home to corporations and corporate subsidiaries. Subsidiaries whose sole purpose, in many cases, is to help transnational companies avoid taxes...

A final consideration is this-with the text of the Free Trade Agreement as it now stands, Panamanian investors would get new rights in the United States, with no new disclosure responsibilities at home. We have a situation where it is very, very easy to set up a business subsidiary in Panama. Panama's "corporate" specialists advertise the country has having the most favorable and flexible incorporation laws in the world, in addition to some of the strictest banking secrecy laws available.

So the FTA will just encourage more U.S. businesses to pursue a strategy for tax purposes, designed solely to evade taxes in the United States. But then the text of the Panama agreement allows corporations and investors with a "substantial business presence" in Panama-that is, registered subsidiaries of multinational corporations-to use provisions found in Chapter 10 of the agreement to bring a claim against U.S. laws using an international investor tribunal. Panamanian-registered corporations would be able to bypass the U.S. courts system altogether in the case of an investment dispute involving the United States.

That's right, Panamanian corporations-as well as Panamanian subsidiaries of U.S. corporations-would be able to bypass the U.S. legal system, and take their claims to an international investor tribunal. Historically, these tribunals have proven much more sympathetic to corporate interests than they have to public-interest regulation.

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Peruvian labor unions skeptical that "deal" will have real impact

Last week, Inside U.S. Trade published an article (sorry, not linkable) on Peruvian labor unions expressing concern that the labor improvements to the Peru FTA mandated by the Deathstar Deal might be more mirage than reality. House Democratic leaders have conceded that the Peruvian government does not have to implement the necessary changes through legislation, but instead by "supreme decree" from President Alan García.

"[Labor union sources] said the commitment is limited because it does not change Peruvian labor laws through legislation, and because many of the problems regarding labor rights are related to a lack of capacity or political will for effective enforcement. For these reasons, one source said the decrees would only be a 'gesture' to the United States.

"These labor sources said real improvements in labor rights would be achieved by the completion of a new, consolidated general labor law. Negotiations on the law, conducted between employers, employees and the government for the past five years, stalled one month ago despite having finished about 90 percent of the substantive negotiations. One of the issues that remain unresolved involves the terms under which employees can be fired, sources said."

Also, just a few days ago, the Peruvian labor movement released a letter to the U.S. Congress (PDF, translated to English) expressing these concerns and explicitly asking members of Congress to vote "no" on the Peru FTA.

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USTR Stumping in Oregon

The presidential candidates aren't the only ones on the campaign trail talking about trade these days.  Evidently, U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab has decided it's a good use of her time and our taxpayer dollars to be stumping for the Bush trade agenda, calling NAFTA-expansion deals to Peru, Panama and Colombia "no-brainers" while she was in Portland, Oregon.

Crazy_nuts_copy Who is she kidding?  After having lived through over a decade of NAFTA, we know these types of trade agreements simply have not helped regular people. They've resulted instead in the off-shoring of American jobs and the suppression of domestic wages - not to mention providing outrageous rights to foreign corporations through NAFTA Ch. 11-type investment chapters, prohibiting "Buy America" or anti-off-shoring policies here at home and exacerbating our imported food safety problem.

Arthur Stamoulis from the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign sums it up by saying, "Any member of Congress from the Pacific Northwest would be nuts to support the Bush administration trade agenda."
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Deathstar Deal Meets Incan Mathematics

As the congressional recess begins, pro-Deathstar Dems including Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.), and others have traveled down Peru-way for a meet-and-greet with the local pro-FTA forces.  As Congress Daily PM reports,

In Lima, Rangel and Levin met Monday with business groups that favor the deal and with Garcia, sources said. Today's meetings included members of Peru's parliament and other government officials. The only group opposed to the deal that secured a meeting with lawmakers was the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers, a leading trade union, according to Luis Zuniga, president of CONVEAGRO, an agricultural consortium critical of the deal. Zuniga said he welcomed the efforts by U.S. lawmakers to push Peru toward implementing labor reforms in advance of consideration of the deal. "The problem is, those who want an FTA in Peru are the same ones who do not want labor laws to be reformed in Peru," Zuniga said through a translator.

And while some press in advance of the trip suggested that pro-Deathstar Democrats were going to require that some changes be made to Peruvian labor law before the U.S. Congress take up consideration of the pact, this too appears to be slipping.

According to Inside U.S. Trade, the deal that the pro-Deathstar Dems hammered out with the Peruvian government will let Peru off the hook for changing most of its laws, instead allowing the president of Peru to make a series of decrees that  "will likely not outlaw" bad labor practices, "but clarify that they do not serve to undermine labor rights." Overall, Peru will only address "six out of the 11 issues that House Ways and Means Democratic staff had identified as needing action."

Now, Congress Daily reports that "mock markups" on the Peru FTA could happen in early September.

So, let's get this straight. The Deathstar Deal made less than half of the changes demanded by fair trade groups to the Peru FTA (just to get them not to oppose it). According to these reports today, only about half of the changes demanded on labor rights by the pro-Deathstar Dems are actually being addressed by Peru, mostly through decrees and clarifications rather than by law changes. Now, for those more specialized in Incan mathematics than I, what percentage "good" is this deal?

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Ivory Tower Meets The Campaign Stump

Once, many of the issues we talk about on this blog were discussed mostly among Rust Belt labor unions or in street demonstrations. But tough questions are increasingly being asked in a variety of places, from the ivory tower to the campaign stump... and in both instances, the focus is on a change in the rules of globalization, rather than perpetuating the stale debate about whether "yes" or whether "no" on globalization. Witness Harvard's Dani Rodrik's new paper, articulating what he says is now the "new orthodoxy" on trade:

We can talk of a new conventional wisdom that has begun to emerge within multilateral institutions and among Northern academics. This new orthodoxy emphasizes that reaping the benefits of trade and financial globalization requires better domestic institutions, essentially improved safety nets in rich countries and improved governance in the poor countries.

Rodrik goes on to push this new orthodoxy further, articulating what he calls his "policy space" approach, allowing countries to negotiate around opting-in and opting-out more easily of international rules and schemes as their development and domestic needs merit. Citing the controversy around NAFTA's investor-state mechanism and the WTO's challenge of Europe's precautionary approach in consumer affairs, Rodrik poses the following challenge to the orthodoxy:

Globalization is a hot button issue in the advanced countries not just because it hits some people in their pocket book; it is controversial because it raises difficult questions about whether its outcomes are “right” or “fair.” That is why addressing the globalization backlash purely through compensation and income transfers is likely to fall short. Globalization also needs new rules that are more consistent with prevailing conceptions of procedural fairness.

And this focus on a change of rules hit the political arena today, with a major policy speech by former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).  See here. Among the important points, that thus far are only being articulated by Edwards among the top candidates:

  • For years now, Washington has been passing trade deal after trade deal that works great for multinational corporations, but not for working Americans. For example, NAFTA and the WTO provide unique rights for foreign companies whose profits are allegedly hurt by environmental and health regulations. These foreign companies have used them to demand compensation for laws against toxins, mad cow disease, and gambling - they have even sued the Canadian postal service for being a monopoly. Domestic companies would get laughed out of court if they tried this, but foreign investors can assert these special rights in secretive panels that operate outside our system of laws.
  • The trade policies of President Bush have devastated towns and communities all across America. But let's be clear about something - this isn't just his doing. For far too long, presidents from both parties have entered into trade agreements, agreements like NAFTA, promising that they would create millions of new jobs and enrich communities. Instead, too many of these agreements have cost us jobs and devastated many of our towns.

  • NAFTA was written by insiders in all three countries, and it served their interests - not the interests of regular workers. It included unprecedented rights for corporate investors, but no labor or environmental protections in its core text. And over the past 15 years, we have seen growing income inequality in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

  • Today, our trade agreements are negotiated behind closed doors. The multinationals get their say, but when one goes to Congress it gets an up or down vote - no amendments are allowed. No wonder that corporations get unique protections, while workers don't benefit. That's wrong.

So, our movement has made real progress when things like Chapter 11, Fast Track and the precautionary principle are even being discussed by politicians and academics in the context of trade policy debates. And hopefully Edwards' raising of these issues will put pressure on the other candidates to follow suit. In the meantime, you can help turn the nice words into action by clicking here.

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Machinists formally come out against Peru and Panama FTAs

We've posted a full letter from the Machinists - a leading AFL-CIO member union - to Congress demanding members' opposition to the Peru and Panama FTAs. You can find the PDF here. Here's an excerpt:

We are writing on behalf of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) to express our opposition to the Panama and Peru Free Trade Agreements. While we applaud the efforts to improve worker rights, these agreements fall far short of satisfying the concerns we have repeatedly raised with respect to a number of issues. In view of the significant losses that IAM members continue to suffer as the result of bad trade agreements, we give especially close scrutiny to any new proposals...

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New Piece on Peru FTA's Threat to Social Security

Alternet has published a piece by Lori Wallach and yours truly on the Peru FTA's threat to Social Security entitled "Why Democrats May End Up on the Wrong Side of the Social Security Privatization War." Here's a sneak preview:

"Congress rejected Social Security privatization in 2005 and should reject it again in 2007 -- whether it's for Americans, Peruvians or Canadians. The promise of a secure retirement shouldn't stop at America's borders."

This was the reaction of William McNary, a leading Social Security activist, after finding out that some Democrats are supporting a Bush NAFTA expansion for Peru that would give Citibank, a major Democratic donor, the right to sue the country if it reverses its failed Social Security privatization.

Fair trade activists already knew that an important part of the push to cover the planet in trade deals is to give foreign investors new "rights," including the right to sue governments for compensation when public interest regulations wind up hurting their bottom line.

But the latest Bush trade proposal goes even further. Buried in the Peru pact's hundreds of pages are provisions that could empower foreign investors involved in Peru's privatized Social Security system to demand compensation from the Peruvian government (in U.N. and World Bank tribunals) if the privatization were reversed.

To read the rest, please visit Alternet.

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CTC Statement on Peru and Panama FTAs

Here's the Citizens Trade Campaign Statement on the Peru and Panama FTAs.

Oppose the Peru and Panama Free Trade Agreements

The labor, environmental, and access to medicines amendments to the Peru and Panama Free Trade Agreements made under Ways and Means Chairman Rangel’s and Trade Subcommittee Chairman Levin’s initiative represent significant improvements to these important provisions. Despite these improvements, however, major problems of the NAFTA/CAFTA model replicated in the Peru and Panama FTAs were not addressed.

The amended text of these FTAs represent the first time that a trade agreement contains binding obligations to adopt, maintain and enforce the terms of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. However, regarding the labor provisions, concerns remain because the FTAs allow discretion for FTA dispute settlement panels to interpret and apply the terms of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work differently than the Declaration has been interpreted and applied by the ILO itself.

Moreover, in the end even the best provisions of the amended text of these FTAs dealing with labor and environmental enforcement would be dependent on the Executive Branch for enforcement. The current administration, with a consistent record of undermining domestic labor and environmental enforcement, is unlikely to enforce the labor and environmental provisions of these FTAs and the future enforcement of the new provisions will rely on similar discretion by future Presidents.

Citizens Trade Campaign believes that the United States should not adopt any new trade agreements, including the Peru and Panama FTAs, until there is a thorough assessment of the effects of existing FTAs and a new model for trade agreements is developed that can ensure future trade agreements minimally do no further harm to working families and the environment. We are eager to support future trade agreement that benefit the majority of U.S. workers, farmers, small businesses and consumers while promoting equitable development in our trading partners.

Despite the improvements, the failure to remove certain core NAFTA/CAFTA provisions means the proposed trade agreements do not pass the most conservative ‘do no further harm’ test. We look forward to working with Congress to build on the improvements made to date so as to ensure future trade agreements can obtain broad support.

Core NAFTA-CAFTA provisions in the Peru and Panama FTAs that CTC identified in late 2006 as needing to be addressed to avoid our opposition:

Continue reading "CTC Statement on Peru and Panama FTAs" »

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TAA Politrix

Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), also known as burial insurance, is a targeted federal program for trade-displaced workers: hardly anyone that needs it gets it, hardly anyone that is certified as eligible for it ends up receiving it. Wage insurance, one aspect of a retooled TAA package under consideration, is even sadder, as Thea Lee of the AFL-CIO put it in March testimony to Congress:

Wage insurance does not help workers get good jobs. On the contrary, the most frequently invoked rationale for wage insurance is that it promotes “rapid reemployment” by encouraging workers to look for, consider, and accept lower-paying jobs they would not otherwise take.[1] Getting workers to take bad jobs does not fit within any good jobs strategy we would propose.

In fact, getting workers to take bad jobs is not a worthy objective at all. Our national focus cannot be rapid reemployment to the exclusion of job quality, because this would argue for the elimination of all assistance for displaced workers. It is undoubtedly true that eliminating all assistance for displaced workers would result in more higher-skilled workers finding reemployment more quickly at Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, but this would hardly be a desirable outcome for higher-skilled workers, for the lower-skilled workers they displace, or for the economy as a whole.

Across the political spectrum, over at the National Review, TAA and its associated problems are seen in little better light:

Why does a worker who loses his job to foreign competition have any greater claim on public support than a worker who loses his job to domestic competition? Or, for that matter, a worker who loses his job as a result of technological change in his industry? Or the declining popularity of his product? Sen. Olympia Snowe (R., Maine) argues that we have an obligation to help the worker who loses his job to imports because free trade is a “policy choice.” But this is no answer at all. Allowing domestic competition is a “policy choice” too... An additional problem is that much of the extra money spent will go to federal job-training programs, which may not truly constitute “help” since they rarely have any positive effects on trainees.

So why are we even talking about this crummy program? Well, from today's Inside U.S. Trade:

Ways and Means Committee staff are discussing bringing the Peru and Panama free trade agreements, as well as legislation to reauthorize and expand the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, to the House floor to be voted on at or near the same time in the fall, sources said... In the absence of fast track trade negotiating authority, TAA could be used as leverage for action on one or more free trade agreements, sources said. A private-sector source said discussions of this possibility are underway in both the House and Senate. He said that consideration of TAA alongside the FTAs would likely make votes in support of trade pacts easier for many Democrats.

Oh, so that's why we are having this discussion: to facilitate further NAFTA expansions. This is not the first time a TAA-for-FTA deal-making gambit but has been attempted. But as we documented in a report from a few years ago, nearly every member who has made these kinds of deals in the past has been left out in the cold, including over TAA. And as the folks over at Inclusion have been making clear for a while, progressives should be working for universal programs for the unemployed/displaced, rather than trying to do stupid and ineffectual burial insurance programs for targeted groups of workers that are going to have a very hard time accessing even the meager help available from a government that doesn't want to give it to them in any case.

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New Report Reveals How Pending Trade Agreements Will Worsen Imported Food Safety Problem

Our new report is out! You can read the press release below and here, take action on the Public Citizen homepage, and read the report (PDF).

New Report Reveals How Pending Trade Agreements Will Worsen Imported Food Safety Problem by Increasing Food Imports While Replicating Limits on U.S. Food Safety Policy From Past Trade Deals

U.S. Food Imports Double Since NAFTA and WTO, Which Set Limits on Border Inspection, Safety Requirements; Analysis of New Data Details Safety Problems With Latin American NAFTA Expansion Targets That Are Major U.S. Seafood Importers


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Remedying serious problems with imported food safety will require significant reforms to trade policy as well as improvements in domestic laws, according to a report released today by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division.

The report, Trade Deficit in Food Safety; Proposed NAFTA Expansions Replicate Limits on U.S. Food Safety Policy That Are Contributing to Unsafe Food Imports,   documents the connection between trade agreements that limit domestic food safety policies to facilitate trade and the growing safety threat posed by food imports, which have doubled since implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements. Available projections for the proposed Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Peru, Panama, South Korea and Colombia show an increase in food imports, while the deals would also replicate past trade pact limits on safety standards the United States can require for imported food and how much inspection is permitted.

“We face a perverse situation in which Congress is rushing to address serious safety problems with the growing amount of imported food Americans consume while four more NAFTA-style trade deals are pending that will undermine Congress’ ability to ensure our safety,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “This is a trade problem that is not just about China, but rather goes to a trade model that prioritizes increasing the volume of traded food over safety.”

A steadily increasing amount of food on U.S. dinner plates is imported. Nearly $65 billion in food is imported annually – almost double the value imported when NAFTA and the WTO went into effect. More than 80 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported.   In the NAFTA-WTO era, seafood imports have increased 65 percent. Between 1995 and 2005, shrimp imports alone jumped 95 percent.   In 2005, the United States, formerly known as the world’s bread basket, became a net food importer for the first time, with a food deficit of nearly $370 million.

Continue reading "New Report Reveals How Pending Trade Agreements Will Worsen Imported Food Safety Problem" »

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Major report coming out today; CD gives teaser

This is from Martin Vaughan in Congress Daily:

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said last week he will soon introduce legislation to ensure that if faulty products are recalled, there is a way to pay for it. A spokeswoman said the bill will require importers to have insurance to cover that cost. Details remain to be worked out.

While the bill would initially have focused on tires and auto parts -- a response to the June recall of 450,000 Chinese-made tires by a New Jersey distributor -- its scope might ultimately be broader. "The influx of contaminated and unsafe imports from China -- ranging from toothpaste to tires, pet food to fish, has made it glaringly clear that we must better protect our supply lines -- and hold importers accountable," the Brown spokeswoman said.

Brown today will join Global Trade Watch Director Lori Wallach and Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund CEO Bill Bullard to release a report claiming that provisions in NAFTA and other trade agreements are partly to blame for making imported food less safe.

The report will include an analysis in particular of seafood from Peru and Panama, two countries whose free trade agreements with the United States might see congressional action this fall.

To maximize coverage in regional news outlets, the report is being unveiled at events nationwide including ones in New Orleans, San Francisco, Texas, and the Pacific Northwest.

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Hoyer on Deathstar timing

The latest from BNA:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) July 17 said he expected Congress to consider the Peru FTA in the early fall. Asked at his weekly briefing whether there was any chance for FTAs with Latin American countries to get to House floor before August recess, Hoyer said simply, "No."

"That does not mean, as [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)] has said, that we're not going to pass them. The speaker said we're going to do Peru and Panama [FTA] in particular. My expectation is early in the fall," he said.

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Department of Unintentional Truth-Telling

Just weeks after the Bush administration made clear that the main reason to pass trade agreements is because they are "deregulatory tools," the vice president of Panama, who is demanding that the Democratically-controlled Congress pass the Panama FTA, tells The Financial Times another unintentional truth:

...the deal would provide solid guarantees and a stable, predictable environment for US companies looking to use Panama as a base to capture regional markets. "It gives companies the sort of legal framework the [sic] look for when operating outside their home countries," he said.

Yeah, it's a perfect legal framework for companies looking for outrageous rights in an adopted foreign market that go far beyond democratically-set national laws and for companies looking to unload some of their U.S. workers in favor of workers that make a tiny fraction of the wage.

I guess the only thing left to be explained by the VP is why members of Congress representing constituents who stand to lose from that equation should vote instead for the interests of offshoring companies...

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The Skinny on May 10 Chronology and Labor

In confirmation of some previous reports, from today's National Journal's lobbying blubs (they get the date wrong, fyi, it's May 10):

It's not nice to surprise John Sweeney. The AFL-CIO president was on a conference call with union chiefs on May 11, explaining the federation's ongoing talks with House Democratic leaders on trade policy, when word came that this self-same leadership was at that very moment announcing a bipartisan trade-policy deal at a press conference. Worse, the deal didn't sound quite like the one that labor leaders thought they had agreed to. Sweeney's next phone calls were, you guessed it, to Capitol Hill.

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The Nation: Deathstar Deal "not a good start"

The Nation's William Greider has a piece criticizing the Deathstar Deal:

Democrats were rightly alarmed. Doing a deal with Bush and the multinational lobby suggested Pelosi and senior colleagues were ignoring the rebellious content of last Fall's election and prepared to put the new voices in their place. At a time when Bush's base is imploding, it did not seem smart politics to splinter the Democratic party on such a pivotal matter.

The leadership was pursuing business-as-usual, Washington style, in the name of accomplishing something, however flawed. In fact, they were embracing the same failed model for trade agreements that produced horrendous losses of US manufacturing production and jobs during the last fifteen years. The model includes the scandalous special privileges for multinational capital and corporations, the so-called "investor-state" provisions that began with Bill Clinton's NAFTA...

If they are wise, the party leaders will let the Peru-Panama agreements die quietly without a roll call. The economic stakes are trivial, but the principle is not. What is the point of giving George Bush a cheap victory when half or more of the Democratic caucus will likely vote against their own leaders? Not a good start for a party trying to reinvent itself and restore its reputation with the public.

A truce now leaves the substantial issues on the table for the real fight later. Democrats in Congress seem divided almost along generational lines. Those who endured all the hard years in the wilderness as the impotent minority naturally want to legislate now that they can. The newcomers who want big change are understandably suspicious of incremental measures that continue down the wrong road.

For Pelosi and other leaders, the choice is about more than emotional loyalties to the old guard. The new crowd represents the party's potential for real growth and a working majority. Lose them and you lose the future.

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Slippery slope continues with Baucus Colombia statement

Reuters has the latest on the ongoing slippery slope that some of the Dems have set up by cutting the Deathstar Deal:

A senior U.S. Senate Democrat said on Tuesday he was confident of finding some way to overcome opposition in his own party to approving a free trade agreement with Colombia.

"We are going to find a way to get Colombia passed. It is very important," Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, told reporters.

Yes, THAT deal. The country with which labor and human groups said there would be NO acceptable deal, now getting the "very important" treatment from the top Senate Democrat on trade. Where does the line get drawn? We're still waiting.

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Steelworker forum shows sharp differences on trade

Yesterday and today's Steelworker forum gave the Democratic candidates for president a chance to pronounce themselves on trade. Here are their statements, from strongest to weakest. Without clicking on the links, see if you can match the gender pronoun-less position with the candidate!

  1. "[The candidate] criticized, but not by name, other candidates who have either voted for or supported foreign trade agreements such as NAFTA, or who have proposed "fixing" those trade agreements to stem the loss of millions of American manufacturing jobs. "You can't fix NAFTA... You have to repeal it and start over." Any candidate not willing to take that position should not be taken seriously."

  2. "[The candidate] told the crowd that a priority for [the candidate's] administration would be to reform trade agreement like NAFTA. "The last thing we need are more trade agreements like NAFTA."

  3. "[The candidate] avoided discussion of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which [the candidate's spouse], former President [Wile E. Coyote], backed and which unions blame for the loss of jobs. [The candidate] promised to make sure trade agreement provisions are kept to ensure fair trade... Unlike fellow Democratic candidates... who spoke to the conference Thursday and took questions from the floor, [the candidate] left without participating in a question-and-answer session planned by the union.

In other candidate news, Wonkette had a pretty funny write up of the Clinton machine and trade over here, Mitt Romney continues to dodge any meaningful discussion of anything including trade, and frequently rumored candidate Wes Clark puts himself on the really wrong side of history by not only covertly endorsing NAFTA expansion to Panama, but actually writing a column about it.

Answers: a) Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio); b) Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.); c) Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

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Let the watering down begin - Korea, enviro deal

Just weeks after the legal text of the Deathstar Deal has been released, the Bush administration is already backing away from the minimal concessions it gave to some congressional Democrats in exchange for their consideration of pending FTAs. Here's from today's Inside U.S. Trade:

The United States last week accepted two changes to South Korea’s obligations under a bilateral free trade agreement signed on June 30... Specifically, the U.S. ... signed a second side letter that environmentalists say appears to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would bring an environmental dispute settlement case against Korea...

Private-sector sources speculated that this environment letter was sought by Korea as a way to ensure that the U.S. will not seek dispute settlement against it for not enforcing the MEAs to which it is party...

These sources said Korea is likely in compliance with the MEAs already, but that the side letter could be a non-binding gesture by USTR designed to assure Korea that dispute settlement is unlikely in any case.

Environmental sources said the letter may be intended to give the U.S. government domestic political cover if it gets criticized for failure to launch an environmental dispute settlement case against Korea despite compliance problems.

Regular readers that a similar Bush administration side letter by none other than Bob Zoellick eviscerated the Jordan FTA's better-than-NAFTA labor standards. Is this latest Korea side deal a sign of more watering down to come? The pick-and-choose-on-NAFTA model members better hope not.

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Women's groups' on Peru and Panama deals

In the bustle of the last week we didn't get a chance to point out a statement issued by the U.S. Gender and Trade Network (USGTN) to Congress voicing rejection of the fast track process and concern about the May 10 trade "deal." But despite our delayed reaction, it is worth noting. The Gender and Trade Network, members of which include the Center of Concern, International Labor Rights Fund, and the American Friends Service Committee, among others, was joined on this letter by fourteen additional groups including the National Organization for Women (NOW), who took the opportunity to highlight the price that women and those they support are paying for our current, misguided policies.

The current trade framework provided in TPA and realized in the proposed agreements with Panama and Peru will continue a trade agenda that assaults women’s economic, social and political rights, supporting unequal structures of power, loss of livelihoods, deterioration in public health and shrinking policy space.

We, and our allies, seek a trade policy that puts social well-being and human rights at the center. Trade is not an end in itself, but a vehicle for social and economic development. Trade agreements in service of development foster sustainable livelihoods and decent work for all members of society, social cohesion and authentic democratic processes that enable all people to be social, political and economic subjects of their own lives and the life of their societies.

Threatening public health, increasing unemployment and worker exploitation, limiting access to essential services, and destroying local farm economies are just some of the grievances addressed in this gendered account of the shortcomings of our current model. Each of these recurring problems is an atrocity in and of itself. Together, they represent a system which is in danger of reversing myriad landmark achievements that have reinforced both women's rights and human rights the world over.

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New Direction?

The weekend announcement by Pelosi, Hoyer, Rangel and Levin that "Our legislative priorities do not include the renewal of fast track authority" and that they will oppose NAFTA expansion to Colombia and South Korea is very welcome, and Colombian workers and Korean farmers - and the U.S. Middle Class - can rest easier as a result. The AFL-CIO's statement and Steelworker statement reflect that excitement.

But as Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) points out after the jump, there are still "serious concerns" with the Peru and Panama deals that these Democrats pledged to support. As humanitarian relief groups and Latino groups have pointed out, these deals still have agriculture provisions that will give incentives to narcotrafficking and immigration. As retirement security groups in the US and Peru have pointed out, the Peru deal still has provisions that would benefit Citibank and lock in failed social security privatization. As environmental groups have pointed out, the NAFTA model's harmful investor rights provisions are still in place. And even business groups say the "new" labor provisions are unenforceable. And much much more.

Democrats have been in this quandary before. They supported a basically NAFTA model trade pact with Jordan - with some improved labor rights provision on paper - that has led to an explosion in Jordanian sweatshops. And many Democrats supported Bush's NAFTA expansion to Bahrain on the basis of policy promises that have already been broken. And note this from Inside U.S. Trade from last December, after many Democrats helped pass the Bahrain FTA:

Bahrain’s government issued an edict last month that explicitly bans strikes and demonstrations in several sectors of its economy, including areas considered vital to security such as civil defense and ports as well as in the oil and gas sector, educational firms and bakeries. Labor groups sources said the edict appears to violate provisions in the U.S.-Bahrain FTA that prohibit weakening labor laws to spur increased trade or investment...

Support for the NAFTA model helped cost Democrats Congress in 1994 and helped cost Republicans Congress in 2006. How's the voting public to understand Democratic support for selective NAFTA expansion? It says all the wrong things at a time when the public is demanding a total change of course.

Continue reading "New Direction?" »

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Lori Wallach on Bill Moyers tonight!


GTW's director, Lori Wallach, will be on Bill Moyers Journal tonight, discussing the May 10 "deal" and the impacts it will have on workers, consumers, the environment and more. Check your local PBS listings to tune in!

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Latino groups call for opposition to anti-Latino, Deathstar-ed deals

This from across the wires...

Members of Congress, Latino Civil Rights and Immigrant Groups Say NAFTA-Style Trade Pacts Fail Latinos in the U.S. and Abroad

Latino Organizations United in Opposition to NAFTA-expansions to Peru, Panama and Colombia; Call on Congress to Chart a New Course on Trade

Washington, DC — As the fight over immigration heats up in Washington, U.S. Congress must oppose proposed NAFTA expansion agreements with Peru, Panama and Colombia that are expected to increase pressure on millions of small farmers in those countries to attempt desperate migration to the United States, said Latino civil rights leaders and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in a press conference today.

Major Latino organizations including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC) and the Dolores Huerta Foundation today sent a letter to the U.S. Congress reiterating their opposition to the proposed trade agreements after the recent release of freshly re-negotiated texts of the agreements failed to address the key concerns of the Latino community in the United States and abroad.   

“It is unbelievable that in the middle of a contentious debate on immigration, Congress is being asked to pass trade agreements that are certain to increase the pressure on impoverished small farmers in Latin America to attempt to come to the United States,” said Brent Wilkes, the Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights membership organization. “We wrote repeatedly to the U.S. Congress requesting that the agricultural provisions in the agreement be fixed, and we are disappointed that the new text released this week for the FTAs doesn’t fix them.”

The agricultural rules included in the Peru, Colombian and Panama agreements mirror closely the agricultural rules from NAFTA that resulted in over 1.3 million lost jobs in Mexico’s rural sector.  Undocumented migration from Mexico to the United States has more than doubled since NAFTA was enacted in no small part due to failed trade policies.  In the case of the Peru, Colombia and Panama agreements, these same agricultural provisions will foreseeably result in the displacement of large numbers of peasant farmers — increasing hunger, social unrest, and desperate migration at a minimum; and according to a report of the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture, will lead to an increase in drug cultivation and violence. 

“We are calling on members of Congress today to realize that in order to fix the immigration problem of the United States, we need to look at the root cause.  If we don’t fix the failed NAFTA model of free trade, we’ll be fighting over immigration again and again,” said Gabriela Lemus, Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

UPDATE: Mark Drajem from Bloomberg reports on the pending Peru, Panama and Colombia FTAs:

Under the current fast-track treatment, Congress must accept or reject a trade agreement without change. Still, even with the changes worked out between the White House and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel of New York, supporters from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce don't expect a majority of Democrats to support either of those agreements.

The accords were dealt a blow today as the largest U.S. Latino groups wrote members of Congress opposing them, arguing that a flood of subsidized U.S. agriculture exports would push farmers in those countries off the land.

"This deal would continue to generate economic inequality and a deterioration of social standards both at home and abroad, and continue to make migration to the United States the only option for many working families in Latin America,'' the League of United Latin American Citizens and other Latino groups wrote in their letter.


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Bush administration using deal momentum to push Fast Track - for more than just Doha

The Bush administration appears to be considering making a concerted push for Fast Track - but for just more of the same NAFTA deals. Here's Martin Vaughan from Congress Daily with the scoop:

After a resounding failure last week to get the Doha round of global trade talks back on track, Trade Representative Schwab is arguing that whatever happens with Doha, the White House needs trade negotiating authority renewed to focus on smaller, bilateral deals.

"The United States has assuredly not given up on the Doha round," Schwab told reporters at a House event Tuesday. "Absent a breakthrough right now, it doesn't mean that trade promotion authority no longer is an objective . . . there are other ways of approaching it," she said.

"And the single most important thing to recall in terms of U.S. trade policy going forward," Schwab continued, "is when the Doha talks are in the doldrums, you're going to see us step up in the negotiation of bilateral and regional deals around the world."

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Oxfam criticizes Deathstar Deal as "too costly for poor people"

Oxfam America put out this release calling the Deathstar Deal "too costly."


International agency Oxfam America warned that even as amended today, the bilateral trade agreement
between the US and Peru will institutionalize an uneven playing field between the trading partners instead of establishing fair and equitable rules for trade that could promote development and reduce poverty. Although significant progress has been made in the text on intellectual property rules that have important consequences on the access of poor people to medicines, the trade deal still contains provisions that will undermine development, according to the organization.

“Trade can contribute to economic growth that leads to the reduction of poverty in developing countries
when trade rules are aligned with development and poverty-reduction goals, and we’ve seen some
movement towards this today on access to medicines,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “But we’re still a ways off from a trade policy with development at its core that can benefit not only the poor, but also our country’s economy, long-term security and prosperity.”

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"Deal" language made public; most demanded fixes not made

USTR released the Deathstar Deal's legal language, and is demanding July action. Meanwhile, most of the fixes demanded by fair trade groups are left unresolved. Here is our release on it:

June 25, 2007                                                       
Opposition Grows As Legal Text of Divisive Trade Deal Is Finally Made Public

Deal Between White House and Some Democratic Leaders Would Facilitate Passage of More Bush NAFTA-Style Trade Pacts by Majority of GOP and Minority of Democratic Majority

WASHINGTON, DC - The legal text of changes to several Bush-negotiated NAFTA expansion agreements released today confirms that the essential changes listed by labor unions, environmental, consumer, faith and family farm groups as necessary to avoid their opposition to the free trade agreements were not made, said Public Citizen today.

“Today’s text release confirms that Congress is about to face a vote on yet another Bush NAFTA expansion agreement, because now we can see that unfortunately none of the core NAFTA-CAFTA provisions linked to offshoring and downward pressure on wages so strongly opposed by most congressional Democrats and the American public have been removed even as improved labor and environmental standards have been added on,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “It’s like adding a new roof on a condemned building.”

Continue reading ""Deal" language made public; most demanded fixes not made" »

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Trading away social security in Peru

Thanks to the efforts of Todd and Lori here at GTW, as well as our friends at USAction and Americans for Democratic Action, wading through some serious legal weeds, yesterday we released a new report detailing the threat posed by the Peru FTA to Peru's social security system.

In brief, the FTA's foreign investor protection provisions could undermine any attempt by the Peruvian government to reverse the deeply unpopular attempt to privatize the country's social security system. Because ProFuturo AFP, one of the four major private social security providers in Peru is majority-owned by Citibank, a U.S. corporation, Citibank could sue Peru for extensive damages should the country attempt to re-nationalize the social security system.

Ironically, given the Death Star Deal fails to correct this (easily fixable) problem, it puts pro-deal Democrats in the awkward position of supporting the social security privatization that they so vehemently opposed domestically, as reported last week by Ian Swanson in The Hill.

The full report is available in both English and Spanish (PDF links).

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Sweat Free Communities on Deal: "fails in both substance and process"

Sweat Free Communities, , recently released this note on the Deathstar Deal:

SweatFree Communities Statement on Trade Deal Announced May 10, 2007
June 6, 2007

SweatFree Communities is a national network of community-based worker rights organizations that believe that we need a new fair trading system for the global economy to support the rights of workers, strengthen communities, and protect the environment. For this reason, we are opposed to the trade deal recently announced by the Bush Administration and House and Senate Democratic leaders to facilitate passage of pending Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Peru and Panama, Colombia, and Korea. Because only a broad summary of the provisions of the trade deal are available, a real assessment of its impact will have to await the release of the specific FTA language. However, enough public information is available to know that the deal – despite seemingly positive new labor and environmental protections – would further advance the corporate "free trade" model that has proved devastating to the world's workers. We still need a new direction for trade agreements based on the values and priorities of workers and communities, and the principles of democracy, equity, and social justice.

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Teamsters: Deal like "new tires on a car that does not run"

Here's a letter that the Teamsters sent to the Hill a few days ago:

June 12, 2007

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the 1.4 million members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, I am writing to express our opposition to the trade deal announced May 10, 2007, by Chairman Rangel, some members of the Democratic Leadership, and the Bush Administration to facilitate passage of more Bush North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) expansions. Not one labor union, small business, family farm, consumer, environmental or faith organization supports this deal. The Teamsters plan to strongly oppose the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) unless further changes are made to fully address the concerns with the Bush-negotiated FTAs that we enumerated to the Ways and Means Committee well before the negotiating process began.

It is time for the United States (U.S.) to push for trade policies that will create jobs here in the U.S., not passage of more bad free trade agreements. In fact, there should be a moratorium on all new trade agreements until the United States adopts the policies necessary to restore our economy so that all workers benefit and so that our skyrocketing trade deficit is finally brought to balance. It is astounding to the Teamsters that Members of Congress would consider passing the Peru or Panama FTAs -- or any FTA -- without fully addressing the serious problems of the NAFTA- Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) trade model or the impact our current globalization policies have had on workers everywhere. The public strongly demanded a new American trade policy during the 2006 election. Adding even the best labor and environmental standards to agreements containing the same NAFTA foreign investor, procurement, and other provisions that have proved to destroy U.S. jobs and push down wages is not a new American trade policy. It is more of the same policy the majority of Americans rejected.

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DLC think tank confirms key facts on Deathstar/trade policy

Our very own Lori Wallach was on the "Your Call" show on KALW 91.7 FM (San Francisco's NPR affiliate) with host and guest Ed Gresser of the Democratic Leadership Council's Progressive Policy Institute.

I won't go into too much detail about what Lori said, because you can find most of it on our main site, but I think it was useful to hear from Ed on the Deathstar Deal. Listen to the whole show, but these facts that Ed made were particularly cogent:

  • That there's no reason to trust the Bush administration on labor and environmental enforcement actions.
  • That NAFTA and other NAFTA expansion agreements over the last 12 years have not had meaningful or enforceable labor and environmental standards.
  • That trade unionists in Colombia are regularly targeted for assassination, so the country is not ready for a trade deal with the United States.
  • That the South Korea FTA is bad for U.S. manufacturing.
  • That trade policy is sharply dividing Democrats.
  • That the Democrats' recent losing presidential nominees have not campaigned on fair trade policies.
  • That the U.S. unemployment rate is low.
  • That child labor is pervasive in many developing countries - and even in parts of the United States.

Continue reading "DLC think tank confirms key facts on Deathstar/trade policy" »

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Foreign Policy Freelancing

Just for fun:

Reported today in Reuters, referring to the Colombia trade pact,

"We're working with the State Department, the Treasury and USSR (U.S. Trade Representative's Office) on conditions where people might be in position to support it," said Rangel, whose committee has initial jurisdiction over trade agreements.

Our trade policy is clearly antiquated when we're negotiating standards with the United Soviet Socialist Republics.

Also, last week - in the Congressional Record: May 22, 2007 (House), Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) defended the trade deal laid out by the Bush administration and a few members of Democratic leadership as a template for trade relations with NORTH Korea (?!):

"There are obstacles and other issues that have to be dealt with in our trade agreements. This is just part of the special ones that often have to be dealt with. They certainly will be with Colombia, with North Korea, [issues] that are not spoken to in this template that will be very specific."

UPDATE: Congresswoman Schwartz's office has assured me that she mispoke and that a correction was immediately submitted to the Congressional Record.

But her statement might be truer than she thought. A little known provision in the pending agreement references an industrial zone, Kaesong, that according to the Wall Street Journal's "Washington, Seoul Face a Thorny Issue" (no longer available online), "combines South Korean capital with North Korean labor" (i.e. multinationals using slave labor). Read more about this at the Huffington Post in David Sirota's "Bush, Congress Consider North Korea 'Free' Trade Pact."

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Skunks at the garden party

The National Journal's weekly mag had some great coverage of the Deathstar Deal, none of which is linkable, unfortunately. But here are some high and lowlights. NJ reports that the May 10 announcement appeared to be a "triumphal moment"...

But some skunks appeared at [the] garden party -- and Democratic ones at that. In a highly unusual scene, several Democratic members stood behind the cameras on the opposite side of the room and glared angrily. These members, part of a key faction within the House Democratic Caucus that since the 1980s has consistently fought trade-opening initiatives as a sellout of the nation's jobs and economic future, made clear that they opposed [senior Dems'] bipartisan initiative without saying a word. And since then, the opposition has intensified and spread among Democratic lawmakers.

"It was quite disappointing to see that our leadership talked to the White House and Republican leadership before they talked to the Democratic Caucus," Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who strategically positioned herself in [senior Dems'] line of sight at the May 10 event, said in a later interview. "Things happened by sleight of hand. When that happens in this place, it means that the situation is rigged.... The press conference was handled secretly. It was a closed event."

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Bruce Stokes: Deathstar only a "symbolic victory"

Bruce Stokes gives his take on the deal in his latest National Journal column (it's unclear who is he is talking about with the capital L Left, since I know of no progressive group that has endorsed the deal, but his point about the merits is worth reading):

Conservatives who complain that the deal was a victory for organized labor that will open the floodgates to protectionism have it all wrong. The deal demonstrates the unions' weakness, not their strength. The Left expended enormous political capital to achieve what is largely a symbolic victory.

Under the Hill-White House deal, a foreign government that refuses to allow its workers to organize, to bargain collectively, and to maintain other minimum labor standards will make itself vulnerable to the reimposition of tariffs. Labor has long sought to embed this fundamental principle in trade law. But, at best, this achievement will empower Peruvian or Panamanian workers to begin a generation-long struggle to improve their wages and working conditions.

And it is unlikely that if a country violates the labor-rights provisions it will be subject to any quick penalties. The process for the reimposition of tariffs to enforce labor rights, under this deal, is modeled on similar language in the free-trade agreement with Jordan. But that provision has never been tested. And, as some on the left have already pointed out, it is unlikely that the anti-union Bush administration will agree to bring a case against the abuse of labor.

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Pelosi favors minority-of-majority approach to trade, say reports

Inside U.S. Trade is reporting that Speaker Pelosi is cool to suggestions that trade policy be passed only with a majority of the majority Dems supporting, such as a resolution on Fast Track suggested by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) to that effect. At a Friday press briefing, she said:

“I don’t think that that’s going to be the case,” she said in a press conference with the other members of the leadership when asked about the idea. “I would encourage my colleagues not to be proposing resolutions that say the majority of the majority does this or that.” Pelosi said she plans to discuss issues in the Democratic Caucus and jointly reach a position on how to proceed.

“I have to take into consideration something broader than the majority of the majority of the Democratic Caucus” when deciding what legislation to advance, she said.

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Tom Hayden: Pelosi for New Deal or "Freshened" NAFTA?

Tom Hayden makes the call for a New Deal on trade in his SF Chronicle op-ed:

On May 10 Pelosi, White House officials and pro-corporate Democrats announced a surprise "bipartisan" agreement on trade, without revealing any details.

As the package is rushed to a vote, it appears to be a "freshened" version of NAFTA (the phrase is that of Mickey Kantor, trade czar under President Bill Clinton). This would fall far short of what the voters expected and most Democratic elected officials promised last fall. Pelosi faces strong opposition from most members of her caucus, labor leaders and environmental activists...

Then comes the ultimate question of whether the Democrats will continue their support of NAFTA-style trade agreements, or else begin to construct a kind of global New Deal as an alternative. Under NAFTA, the twinned issues of jobs and immigration intensified, with immigration from Mexico increasing 60 percent as 1.3 million campesinos  lost their jobs in a flood of cheap American corn.

A revived New Deal would have elected governments, rather than unelected corporations and banks, set the rules for fairness in the global market. The goals would be controls on financial speculation, an enforceable living wage, consumer access to affordable medicines, and the expansion of the Kyoto agreement into a full assault on global warming's devastating impact on poorer countries.

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Doggett speaks out, committees looking tight, more secrecy

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a long-time environmental champion on the Ways and Means Committee, said he was "disappointed" with the Deathstar Deal's provisions on multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). According to Inside U.S. Trade:

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) said this week in an interview with Inside U.S. Trade that he was disappointed that the FTA template limits the improved environmental provisions to only seven MEAs, pointing out that there were no such limitations when the principles for future trade agreements were first unveiled by Democrats last March. Doggett also said he was disappointed that the provisions on logging were limited to Peru and did not extend to other FTAs.

Inside U.S. Trade also reports that the pending FTAs may have a hard time even in their committees of jurisdiction - the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees:

U.S. industry supporters of the bilateral free trade agreement with Peru have privately expressed fears that a vote in the trade committees could be tighter than expected when the deal comes up, according to informed sources. In the House Ways and Means Committee, they fear they could lose three or four Republican members ... In the Finance Committee, some supporters are worried that Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) may vote against the Peru FTA, these sources said. ... For example, Conrad has not taken a position on the Peru FTA but has had several tough exchanges with the administration on trade issues, including the draft implementing bill on Peru, a Senate aide said.

Musicman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) of Senate Finance is also apparently concerned that the extreme provisions requiring the government to whip pirate CD vendors with the pelts of baby seals may not be quite as extreme as in CAFTA. (Or some such thing. I wouldn't understand, it's a protectionist thing.) And finally, now even the timeline of the final legal text of the deal is being kept secret:

One lobbyist said that some House members believe the details of that deal will not be worked out before August recess, which would mean the Peru FTA could not be considered before then, as business had hoped. Both Rangel and Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander Levin (D-MI) have been avoiding any concrete timeline on when the work would be done.

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Death Star Deal: what about agriculture?

Dennis Olson and Alexandra Spieldoch of the Institute for Agricultural Policy weigh in (PDF) on the "deal" —

Nowhere addressed in the trade deal is how to address the false promise consistent in free trade agreements that all farmers will find prosperity by increasing their export market shares. Of course farmers don't export, multinational corporations do. Instead of leading toward prosperity for farmers, free trade has driven an export-led corporate model of agriculture that has substantially increased the dumping of agricultural commodities onto world markets at below the cost of production. Small-scale farmers, who make up as high as 70 percent of the population in some of the poorest countries in the world, cannot compete with these below-cost imports. In many cases, these farmers can no longer support themselves on their land, and are forced to migrate to other areas such as the United States in search of a better life.

In addition to agricultural issues, they also touch on investment rules, IPR, GMOs and other issues in this brief commentary.

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Amy Goodman: The Masses Will Rise Up Against the Deathstar

Amy Goodman has written a column on the Deathstar Deal. In it, she writes:

If the Washington power brokers are betting on Americans not understanding or caring about arcane trade policy, they should recall the Battle of Seattle. In late 1999, when the World Trade Organization tried to meet in Seattle to impose global corporate trade policies, they were met by tens of thousands of protesters, from Teamsters to environmentalists, health-care workers to students to farmworkers. The meetings were shut down. Compound this potential backlash with the millions of hardworking immigrants now staring down the barrel of another bipartisan agreement. These are the people who took to the streets in the millions last year.

When the rules are rigged to allow money to move freely across borders, then people will follow. Falling wages south of the border, caused by "free trade," drive people north — no matter how high the wall or how many detention facilities are built to contain them. Make no mistake about it — trade and immigration are linked.

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An essay from me to you...

... can be found over at the Alternet site. It gives a run-down of the Deathstar Deal, and was written by Lori Wallach and myself.

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Inside the Deathstar

Reuters is reporting on several members' comments following a Democratic Caucus meeting today on trade. According to this report:

  • A member who had worked on the deal said "Democrats got everything they asked for from the Bush administration." This is the first public confirmation of the fact that the few Democrats that were in on the deal must not have asked for fixes on the over 80 percent of fair trade demands that were not addressed by the Deathstar Deal's terms.
  • "The deal also would apply to pacts with Colombia and South Korea," reports Reuters.
  • One member in on the deal said there will be "a hell of a lot more" Democrats supporting NAFTA expansion agreements after the Deathstar Deal than before. Meanwhile, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who has rejected the Deathstar Deal, said, "I would say that at least half (of the House Democrats), if not more, share my view."
  • A senior Democrat in on the deal also "defended the secretive negotiating process as necessary," while Kaptur urged Speaker "Pelosi to establish a special House working group on trade so that policy is not decided completely within the confines" of the Ways and Means Committee.
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Kaptur: deal is "irresponsible"

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio)'s statement on the "deal" can be found after the jump. Here's the takeaway:

It is irresponsible to continue to reword the same agreements and expect that our constituents are naive enough to accept it as real change.

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Rep. Hare leads a chorus of voices against the "deal"

After the jump, a slew of Congresspeople offer a range of reasons why the "deal" is no deal. For instance, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) says,

I fear there are remnants of the failed FTA-WTO trade model in the May 10 agreement which will only lead to further hemorrhaging of U.S. jobs and the erosion of American manufacturing and service industries.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) does a particularly thorough job of bullet-pointing any number of NAFTA-model provisions that the "deal" completely fails to address. Read more after the break.

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Ways and Means on CNN on "Deal"

An interview on the "deal" on CNN from last night, after the jump:

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Feingold Weighs In on the Hen House Deal

From Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.)'s statement entered into the Congressional Record last Thursday:

Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, last week, amid great fanfare, several Members of the House and Senate announced they had reached an agreement with the administration on language that facilitates the implementation of two trade agreements, and paves the way for the possible consideration of additional trade agreements as well as the extension of so-called fast-track trade agreement implementing authority.

No sooner had the announcement been made than questions were raised about just what the agreement was. A comparison of the representations made by the parties to the agreement revealed several potentially contradictory interpretations of the deal. And when details of the agreement were sought, it was discovered that there really weren't any, that what the parties had agreed to was a set of principles. We now understand that the actual details of the agreement may not be fully spelled out until legislation implementing the trade agreements is presented to Congress for approval. Until then, everyone is free to spin this agreement as they wish.

Given the parties that were involved, hearing the announcement was a bit like hearing that the foxes and wolves had reached a deal on guarding the hen house. For the most part, the people who were negotiating this agreement have a nearly unbroken record of supporting the deeply flawed trade policies of the past decade and more. From the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT, which created the World Trade Organization, to granting China permanent Most Favored Nation status, to the more recent agreements like the Central America Free Trade Agreement, the actors in this deal have all been singing from the same hymn book. While I don't question the good intentions of those who were involved, no one should have expected last week's announcement to produce significant changes to that hymn book.

Continue reading "Feingold Weighs In on the Hen House Deal" »

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Massa on "deal"

Eric Massa, candidate for congress in New York will be again challenging Randy Kuhl, a longtime Republican incumbent.

Massa knows that without Democrats charting an entirely new course on trade – fulfilling the 37 freshmen members’ promises to deliver on this issue - his chances in 2008 are slim, as the economic line between the parties blurs much like after NAFTA.

Massa writes on MyDD and DailyKos,

As many of you may have already heard, there is an effort to bring Peru and Panama into a "free" trade agreement with the United States. The specific language of these deals has yet to be released, so I will reserve my judgment on this specific case until it is available, however I firmly believe we need to start putting the fire out rather than adding more logs onto it. As Americans, we should demand open trade deals which ensure fair labor and environmental standards across the board, and if we can't enforce them then we shouldn't sign on the dotted line. We need to strengthen American Manufacturing, not weaken it.

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"I'd ignore a lot of people"

Reuters has a fascinating report:

A senior Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday defended a trade deal reached last week with the Bush administration, in response to criticism from some party members. "I think there's a lot of misunderstanding with the agreement," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, told PBS' Nightly Business Report. "I cannot see how anybody would be upset in the Democratic Party, except for one thing: they were not included when we had the press conference."...

In the interview, Rangel offered no apology for the deal that was struck and said the only thing he would do differently was to reach it "much faster. I'd ignore a lot of people that really was just wasting my time, and didn't intend to support it all."

For those of who are keeping track, here is the list of fixes (PDF) that fair trade groups demanded many months ago in order to not oppose the Peru and Panama FTAs. Here are the ways they fall short. And here are just a few of the on-the-record alternative policies that fair trade groups said would constitute a new direction on globalization they could support.

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Moyers on Deal Tonight!

From Moyers' people:

This week's closed door negotiations between the Democrats and the Bush administration have sparked a keen interest in a new free trade deal.  Tomorrow on Bill Moyers Journal (check local listings at, we ask: Is the new leadership in Congress failing on its promises to workers and cutting a raw deal?  And we know your members will want to tune in.

Following a Bill Moyers essay on the trade deal, Moyers speaks with John R. MacArthur, who offers insight on what this deal means for American workers and the future of unions in America.  Says MacArthur, "It's a union killing movement in the United States.  You cannot form a union in the United States anymore without risking your plant being closed, sent overseas, or other kinds of intimidation."

MacArthur is the author of "The Selling of 'Free Trade': NAFTA, Washington and the Subversion of American Democracy" and he is also president and publisher of Harper's Magazine,

After the broadcast, we will post the essay and interview in their entirety at, as well as make it available on iTunes free of charge.

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Sutton: The American People are counting on this new Congress

Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) reminds Congress:

The American people are counting on this new Congress to finally address the devastation of our failed trade policies and soaring trade deficit by developing a new trade model that will no longer leave American businesses and workers at a disadvantage. They are counting on us to enact a trade model that will not reward companies who move overseas or encourage them to outsource jobs and our future. They are counting on us to develop a trade model that will put an enforceable end to illegal subsidies and currency manipulation. They are counting on us to develop a trade model that will provide incentives to help our businesses and workers and our communities thrive. They are counting on us to develop a trade model that requires reciprocity of market access and ensures greater safety of products produced elsewhere and consumed here.

Read the full statement after the jump.

Continue reading "Sutton: The American People are counting on this new Congress" »

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Bush in charge of coming up with legal language for Sr. Dems, which still doesn't exist

According to Inside U.S. Trade, no one - not even the Democrats that announced the deal - have seen the legal language, because it doesn't yet exist:

Hare and Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH) said after the caucus meeting ... “We are still trying to figure out what the deal is.”

However, Levin said that all Democratic members have a copy of the “basic ingredients” of the deal, and that little additional information could be provided until the exact legal language of the deal has been worked out. USTR is now drafting that legal language.

Levin said he did not know how long it would take to work out that language. “There is a lot to be done before that happens,” he added. Levin also said a lot of work remains to be done on the FTAs before it is possible to set a timetable for congressional consideration.

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Senate Democrats: "nothing new is on the table except a $5 Rolex"?

Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) sent out some sharply worded words on the "deal."

According to a Congress Now story:

Dorgan said he'll push for three benchmarks to measure the success of the trade agreements:Net creation of jobs, Net improvement of wages, and Significant increases in foreign market access.

If the benchmarks are not met within five years, Congress would vote on a privileged joint resolution directing the president to terminate the trade deal.

"There are no guarantees here at all," Dorgan said. "Those that talk about being able to run this through the Congress like a hot knife through butter, I'm sorry that's not the way it's going to be. We're going to push and insist on a new approach, a new strategy that supports American workers and supports American standards."

You can read Brown's release after the jump.

Continue reading "Senate Democrats: "nothing new is on the table except a $5 Rolex"?" »

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Broder: Rahm predicts as little as 25% of Dems will support "deal"

According to David Broder in the Washington Post:

The key question is how many Democrats will support trade agreements negotiated by a Republican administration. When I asked Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, his answer was "maybe 60 to 90," substantially less than half the Democratic membership but perhaps enough to make a majority with Republican votes.

What Emanuel -- who in an earlier life as a Clinton White House aide worked to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement -- also said is that dealing with the effects of globalization requires much more than smart trade agreements.

America's education and health-care systems also need attention, he said, and so do our incentives for investment in modern technology -- if we are to be prepared for competition from India, China and other nations. He is right, and if the coming trade debate opens up all of those issues as well, so much the better.

60 votes would be 25% of the 233 (232 currently because of a vacancy due to a death) Democrats in the House. That's why some have been saying that the Deathstar Deal is a plan to split the Democratic Caucus, and pass the Peru and Panama pacts with a majority of the minority GOP and a minority of the majority Dems. (Of course, it will be up to fair traders to let their voices be heard now to make that a reality.)

Also, maybe I missed something, but what does any of this have to do with "opening up" the issues of
health care and other social needs? As Jeff Faux documents in his latest book, Clinton promised health care but delivered NAFTA. And as I posted yesterday, the labor "concessions" on the Jordan FTA became a starting point for negotiating downwards later on. We have a history now on trade policy - after decades, 90% of promises to use trade as a strategic lever to open up other issues have been broken. (Actually, there is a link between trade policy and health and education policy, but it's not what you might think from this piece.)

No, the choice before Congress is to totally change course on trade (which has been thus far rejected), or to live with the possibility that Deathstar Deal trade pacts are the ONLY major initiative that becomes law for the 110th Congress. Not a legacy many would want to be running on next year, assuredly.

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