New World Poll on International Trade

In a new poll by World Public Opinion, released in collaboration with The Chicago Council on Global Affairs that tracked attitudes of respondents in 18 countries and the Palestinian Territories, there is overwhelming support for environmental and labor standards in trade agreements.

This popular sentiment has been influential in transforming the trade debate from whether to include labor and environmental standards in trade pacts to how to include labor and environmental standards and this most recent poll proves it.

And as Bloomberg's Mark Drajem notes, (not linkable) "In the U.S., two-thirds of those polled said trade is harmful for workers' job security and 60 percent called it detrimental for job creation."

The specific questions in the poll are much more useful than standard polling questions, which really only test people's responses to corporate buzz words like "freedom" (as in free trade), rather than on the rules and effect of real world trade policy, which is anything but "free."

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Obama: Making Trade Too Complex?

Yesterday, Barack Obama gave his first big foreign policy speech as a presidential candidate.

He says about trade:

We cannot negotiate trade agreements to help spur development in poor countries so long as we provide no meaningful help to working Americans burdened by the dislocations of the global economy.

This statement sounds harmless enough, but what exactly is it saying? What exactly is the connection between trade and development? The coded sentence may refer to WTO negotiations, which corporate lobbies have argued will help development in poor countries. But the civil societies of these poor countries do not agree, and the World Bank's own data (PDF) - when coupled with UN projections on government revenue losses - show that the poorest countries under the WTO's Doha "development" Round will be net losers.

And the greatest impact on U.S. workers from current trade policy is NOT those that are dislocated - actually losing their job - but on the entirety of the workforce that sees stagnant wages and rising inequality (PDF). Bob Kuttner of the American Prospect recently wrote that it would take $2 trillion to adequately retool the American social safety net to deal with trade's impact. Is that in one of Obama's position papers? We'll be waiting.

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Ralph Gomory - IBM Exec and Fair Trader

In The Nation, William Greider's The Establishment Rethinks Globalization tells the story of one of the "Martin Luthers" of the trade debate. It's a fascinating read. This time, the focus is on Ralph Gomory, former IBM executive and now fair trader:

He decided, in retirement, that he would dig deeper into the contradictions. Now president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, he knew something was missing in the "pure trade theory" taught by economists. If free trade is a win-win proposition, Gomory asked himself, then why did America keep losing?

It makes you wonder how many other CEOs and business executives that still tout the "free trade" message have also come to the same economic conclusion that NAFTA-like trade policies put downward pressure on wages and hurt workers in America and around the world. Unlike Gomory, however, too many are willing to take advantage of this system rather than raise alarm bells about it.

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Women and Trade

More-of-the-same failed trade policies are hurting everybody, but these bad trade policies have a disproportionately negative effect on women. Not surprisingly, women's organizations are increasingly weighing in on trade issues and signing on to change the direction of trade policy (PDF).

Check out this document outlining why more-of-the-same trade policies have proven harmful, especially to women, and why Trade Is A Women's Issue (PDF).

Especially disturbing is that under agreements such as NAFTA, with their unenforceable labor provisions, basically anything is allowable (emphasis added):

NAFTA has locked in a model of unenforceable labor and human rights in the EPZs [Export Processing Zones], wherein women face such threats as on the job discrimination, sexual harassment, and violence. Women workers in many factories in Mexico have reported rampant physical abuse and sexual harassment. In addition, mandatory pregnancy testing as a condition for employment is often standard practice.

Women have a strong interest in making sure this Congress changes the direction on trade policy. This is an important opportunity for women's organizations to broaden their focus from restricted motherhood choice, sexual harassment and workplace abuse at home to participate in changing a set of policies that allow this same unfortunate discriminatory treatment abroad. Participating in the trade policy debate provides a chance to make a real difference in the lives of women all around the world.

To learn more about gender and trade, visit the International Trade and Gender Network.

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There's still hope.

It Didn't End Well Last Time, but there's still hope this time.

An editorial in today's New York Times outlines the income inequality that has swept the nation, which is comparable if not greater to that seen during the Robber Baron era:

In 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, the top 1 percent of Americans — whose average income was $1.1 million a year — received 21.8 percent of the nation’s income, their largest share since 1929.

Over all, the top 10 percent of Americans — those making more than about $100,000 a year — collected 48.5 percent, also a share last seen before the Great Depression.

The Times is right on track noting that government policies do matter, like the minimum wage and progressive tax programs. However, the Times fails to address one of the core causes of income inequality - failed NAFTA-like trade policies (PDF) that keep wages flat, weaken labor unions' negotiating power and send high paying quality jobs overseas.

TPM Café has more on income inequality.

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