Shah-nge you can believe in

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

Bloomberg is reporting that the Obama campaign has named Jason Furman of Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project as a paid advisor, joining University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee. Unpaid advisors include mainstreamers Larry Summers and Alan Blinder, and heterodoxers Jared Bernstein from EPI and James Galbraith from UT-Austin.

I'll comment on this line-up in more detail in the future, but it's worth noting that Goolsbee has been willing to question how so many non-trade issues got wrapped up in trade policy, Summers has increasingly been talking up inequality problems, and Blinder of course has been virtually ejected from the mainstream for deigning to mention that service jobs are being increasingly offshored. And while Chris Hayes is despairing at some of these names that are blasting in from the past, he reports that Furman promises to read up on Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Mike Michaud's TRADE Act, unveiled last week.

Okay, and for absolutely no reason other than I love comedian Bob Odenkirk, I include the HBO's Mr. Show video below. About one minute in, Odenkirk's snot-nosed, donut-ordering nincompoop tells the clerk to "Keep the change" (pronounced "shah-nge"). I have been annoying my wife and friends for weeks by saying "Shah-nge you can believe in" anytime we discuss the presidential race. It is not a reflection of my political views but of my emotional immaturity that I post this:

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Book Recommendation: The Uprising

I was lucky enough to catch David Sirota's book tour when it swung through Washington, which he makes clear in his new book "The Uprising" is his least. favorite. town. ever. (Wow, I've never done that period thing before - makes me feel good to join a common blogger convention! Did I do it right?) He's been making the rounds, telling activists and whomever else would listen that, yes, Virginia, there is a politics outside of electoral politics.

2003968309244839153_fs Documenting these small p politics is what "The Uprising" is all about. While David's last book, "Hostile Takeover" was more of a wonk-policy piece, this latest book leaves the theory and the legislation to one side and tackles what motivates people to get involved and stay involved in movements that fundamentally challenge the status quo. He dissects the failure of the anti-war movement to end the war, the spectacular organizing that our friends at WashTech are doing with tech workers in Seattle, as well as the fusion electoral efforts of our other friends in the Working Families Party in NY state.

David doesn't shy away from something that hasn't been talked about so much since the days of NAFTA and the Seattle WTO protests, which is the possibility that both right and left groups have a common interest in an uprising against entrenched and unaccountable elites. Towards this end, he hangs around with Lou Dobbs and the Minutemen (not at the same time) on the border to see what makes them tick, and what about current politics pushed them into more insurrectionary modes of political action.

To the extent that the book has a thesis, it's that uprisings are a natural and necessary response to an era when the center of empire is unresponsive to popular demands and ceaselessly attempting to coopt all dissent into channels palatable to the powerful. As the Rolling Stones asked in "Street Fighting Man", "what else can a poor boy do but sing for a rock and roll band?..."

David's answer: take that righteous anger you feel at being shut out, and ensure that it moves in a progressive, movement-building direction. (tangent: is the RNC trying to say that BHO is a street fighter?? Look at the resume section.)

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Who's saying what about the TRADE Act


The TRADE Act calls for a strategic pause on trade agreements and a long overdue comprehensive review of U.S. trade policy.  This bill also outlines a new U.S. trade strategy-one that puts a priority on the interests of working class Americans, farmers, the environment, and domestic manufacturers, not just multinational corporations.

The AFL-CIO is proud to support the TRADE Act.  It is past time to restructure U.S. trade policy to work for working families - here at home and around the world.

Change to Win:

"This legislation will finally bring an end to the disastrous trade deals that have sent millions of jobs overseas and lowered safety standards. It will set new rules for global trade that create good American jobs, improve working conditions everywhere, and make sure that the benefits of trade are shared with workers, not just corporate CEOs.

"The TRADE Act lays the foundation for creating fair trade agreements that will help working families achieve the American Dream in the 21st century economy."

National Farmers Union:

"Current trade agreements have consistently failed to live up to their promised benefits, encouraging a race to see who can produce the cheapest food and fiber regardless of production standards," NFU President Tom Buis said. "The TRADE Act defines a plan for a fair trade policy that will allow American agriculture to compete on a level playing field."

Friends of the Earth:

Friends of the Earth supports well-crafted trade policies that protect the environment and workers, enhance public health and safety, foster strong democratic institutions and improve the quality of life worldwide. Unfortunately, our world's precious natural resources face serious threats from the current free trade model. Past trade pacts, based upon the failed NAFTA/CAFTA model have not worked, and actually encourage industry to relocate in pursuit of the least stringent environmental and social standards. Trade agreements should support, rather than undermine, environmental protection. The TRADE Act encourages responsible behavior, providing a blueprint for a far better and more balanced way to conduct international trade.

Much more after the jump...

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Major trade bill dropped today: our statement

Here's our press release:

Public Citizen Supports Landmark Trade Expansion Legislation

TRADE Act Addresses American Public’s Demand for Change During Presidential Campaign With a New Way Forward on Trade, Globalization

WASHINGTON, D.C. -  Following a presidential primary season highlighting broad public concern about current trade policies, the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act introduced today by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) reveals a way forward to a new trade and globalization agenda that could benefit more Americans, said Public Citizen. The bill is supported by a broad array of labor, consumer, environmental, family farm and faith groups and more than 50 House and Senate original cosponsors.

“The TRADE Act is exciting because it describes concretely new trade and globalization policies that many Americans would support and shifts the debate toward future consensus about what we are for, rather than focusing on opposition to the current model,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division.

The legislation requires a review of existing trade pacts, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other major pacts, and sets forth what must and must not be included in future trade pacts. It also provides for the renegotiation of existing trade agreements and describes the key elements of a new trade negotiating and approval mechanism to replace Fast Track that would enhance Congress’ role in the formative aspects of agreements and promote future deals that could enjoy broad support among the American public.

“Corporate interests have hijacked past trade pacts to get special protections - patent extensions that jack up drug prices, subsidies for offshoring production and more. The TRADE Act tips the scales back in balance with a trade agenda that also suits workers, the environment and everyday consumers,” said Wallach. “The special interests who pushed our current trade pacts claimed that opponents of NAFTA and WTO were anti-trade, which was never true .We invite them to show their commitment to trade expansion by supporting the TRADE Act, which will build a new American consensus in favor of trade.”

According to a May 2008 Pew Research Center poll, 48 percent of respondents believe free trade agreements are bad for the country, including 42 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Independents. Only 35 percent of respondents consider them positive. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released in January 2008 found that 58 percent of Americans think “globalization has been bad … because it has subjected American companies and employees to unfair competition and cheap labor.”

These polls reflect many Americans’ negative experiences under our current trade model. Since 1975, when Fast Track was first enacted, the U.S. trade balance has shifted from a slight surplus to an unsustainable $709 billion deficit in 2007. A net 4.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost, and while American worker productivity has doubled, American median wages are only 1 percent above 1970s levels. Since NAFTA and the WTO went into effect, an array of domestic public interest laws have been successfully attacked while imports of unsafe food and products have surged.

“Presidential primary candidates from both parties responded to the American public’s demand for trade policy change, and both leading Democratic candidates committed to renegotiating bad trade deals like NAFTA,” said Wallach. “This bill provides the specifics of what a broad array of labor, consumer, environmental, faith and family farm groups representing millions of Americans expect for a future trade agenda.”

The TRADE Act’s sponsors, Brown and Michaud, highlighted how the legislation offered specific positive trade policy solutions to the public’s concerns.

“The TRADE ACT will help Congress and the White House craft a trade agreement that benefits workers, business owners and our country. We want trade, and we want more of it,” said Brown. “The TRADE ACT is a critical first step on a new path for trade.”

Added Michaud, “The TRADE Act is a tremendous step forward in fixing our broken trade policies by setting out a new course on trade that will benefit businesses and workers in the U.S. This legislation outlines what a good trade agreement must and must not include. In this election year, with trade such a major focus of the debate, it’s important that the American people and the presidential candidates hear our message on trade. This legislation will help shape the debate on trade for years to come.”      


Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit

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Tom Frank advice for Obama: Drop Fareed, Pick up Jamie Galbraith

Thomas Frank has some advice for Obama in today's WSJ:

For Mr. Zakaria, the truly enlightened Americans, the ones who understand the coming order, are apparently Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Company and assorted business chieftains. When Mr. Zakaria writes that Third World leaders "have heard Western CEOs explain where the future lies," he means it not as a sarcastic slap at those CEOs but as homage to their wisdom.

Average Americans, meanwhile, give Mr. Zakaria fits, what with their stubborn ignorance of foreign ways and their doubts about free trade. This attitude, in turn, has opened up "a growing gap between America's worldly business elite and cosmopolitan class, on the one hand, and the majority of the American people, on the other."

A warning here, senator. This is not an idea that will endear you to the people of Montana, or Ohio, or Pennsylvania. Were you to integrate it into your stump speech, you might even deliver the South Side of Chicago over to John McCain.

One more reason to be leery of all this market idolatry: It's wrong. Take the aspect of the "new era" that Mr. Zakaria most admires – "the free movement of capital," the international loans and investments he worships as "globalization's celestial mechanism for discipline." In point of fact, the rise of China and India – Mr. Zakaria's own paradigm cases – was possible only because those countries shunned global commercial credit markets in the 1970s, allowing them to avoid the interest-rate shock of the early '80s.

How do I know this? It's all explained in a far more worthwhile new book, "The Predator State," by James K. Galbraith. At your next photo-op, Mr. Obama, I hope to see you half way through it.

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Maine rocks fair trade

This is some great footage from the Maine Fair Trade Campaign's recent convention, with none other than our own Lori Wallach, making the case for a different trade model. Fair trade champion Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) also riles up the crowd about 6 minutes in:

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Book Recommendation: Evil Hour in Colombia

Ever since we've started working on Colombia, I've been looking for a good single volume history of modern Colombian history. I read Marco Palacios' "Between Legitimacy and Violence," which reads a lot like many Latin American history texts assigned in college, with a lot of emphasis put on an CEPAL-like analysis of import and export trends shaping the political economy.

But for a great single volume at just over 100 pages that is up-to-date that will help you understand what you read in the newspaper, it doesn't get much better than Forrest Hylton's 2006 book, "Evil Hour in Colombia." It briskly surveys the 19th and early 20th century, but the bulk of the book is dedicated to the post-Violencia (1946) history, or the period that Colombia has been at civil war.

Evilhourincolombia Importantly, Hylton also shows how the paramilitary "demobilization" and the decline in killings and displacements in recent years are not the result of things getting better in Colombia, but rather of a more consolidated criminal control of the state apparatus. In other words, put Tony Soprano in charge of a government, and you'll have a criminally-enforced "peace." (As James Vega shows in a piece for The Democratic Strategist, such tactics can often just postpone more civil war.)

There are some shortcomings of the book, mostly having to do with the length. Some characters and their importance aren't explored in great detail. For insance, while Hylton sets out to correct the shortcoming of other histories that "give short shrift to radical popular movements," key moments in popular history like the struggle to create a unified Afro-Colombian movement in the 1980s through today, are scarcely mentioned. But these defects are more than made up for by the brilliant synthesis of material related to civil-military-narcotrafficker relations.

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Who will play that funky music in our electoral future?

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

We don't get into election analysis here beyond the trade issue. But a couple of months ago, my hometown pride swelled as the extra long primary season took candidates into parts of the country like my home Kentucky that rarely figure into national politics.

That was a few months ago. Given the way things have turned out in Appalachian states, however, I now hear the daily quips about from East Coast "liberal" friends, acquaintances and "fr-enemies" that range B00000drbv01lzzzzzzz_2 from ridicule to vitriol about the "backwater's" 15 minutes of fame. There has been a "discovery of the other among us" - the white working class (WWC) - as I get to hear any number of jokes about incest and hicks. Some politicos are choosing to pathologize the WWC, while some suggest than even the whiteys know not the full depth of backwardness that is within them. (And, btw, all the candidates need to leave the amateur sociology to the pros.)

Some of the more sophisticated analysts have taken to asking whether the WWC is even needed for electoral purposes anymore. Alan Abramowitz and Ruy Teixeira have written a paper entitled "The Decline of the White Working Class and the Rise of a Mass Upper Middle Class." This is a useful companion piece to Ruy's 2000 book with Joel Rogers entitled "America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters." They look at the work of Larry Bartels and Thomas Frank, and offer some commentary on an emerging GOP strategy to attract WWC voters authored by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. Among the main findings of the more recent paper:

Continue reading "Who will play that funky music in our electoral future?" »

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Book Recommendation: How to Rule the World

Mark Engler, a writer for Foreign Policy in Focus and bunch of other good guys, has a book out through Nation Books called "How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy." I can't recommend it highly enough.

Large Mark is a long time global justice activist and commentator who understands better than most the evolution of the movement during the Bush years. His book is in some ways a version of Jeff Faux's The Global Class War for a newer generation. (I'll review Jeff's book sometime soon too.) Whereas Jeff all but dismisses the global justice movement that arose in Seattle, Mark takes the movement as his principal political orientation.

The book challenges activists to think about the divisions within the ruling class, particularly in between what Mark terms neoliberal and imperial globalists. The first are represented by Bill Clinton, and the latter by George W. Bush. He counters leftists who suggest that the people behind the war and the WTO are the same unitary block or driven by the same logic. By pointing to Wall Street opposition to the war, and false arguments about "blood for oil," he shows this not to be the case.

He counsels us to avoid getting to a point of such extreme but understandable frustuation with Bush's war that we gladly swallow a snapback to Clintonian neoliberalism. While Mark doesn't provide a blueprint of how to do that, he talks about ways that the 3 poles of resistance - World Social Forum-style eclecticism, NGO incremental reformism, and state takeover - are responding and could be going even further. And he gives some due credit to the debt relief movement, which has been making impressive accomplishments in recent years... even under Bush.

This is required reading for anyone grappling with what mass-based collective action will look like in a post-Bush era.

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Oregonians Bring The Pain to the Death Squads

The Oregon Fair Trade Campaign rallies outside of the office of Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.), who has yet to take a position the Death Free Trade Agreement (aka Colombia FTA).

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Standing tall

Here's what's hot:

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Forward motion on debt and the IMF

I'm just getting back from vacay, but there's a few things I wanted to drag out of my email backlog and share.

First, in case you hadn't heard, the Jubilee Act passed the House. This is a major victory for the global justice movement, as it not only expands debt cancellation  for 24 additional impoverished countries, but also rolls back some of the conditionality that has been used to turn developing countries into basketcases.  The vote was 285-132, with many GOP joining the vast majority of the Dems in passing the legislation (only Reps. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), Chris Carney (D-Pa.), Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Nick Lampson (D-Texas) and Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) among Dems voted no - the first 5/6 are freshmen!)

I recently asked some friends who work on IMF issues to rebut the statement: "The IMF is dead." A few have responded. Mark Weisbrot also had a good column in the LA Times talking about how the IMF is dying, but is still not dead yet:

The collapse of the IMF creditors cartel has been a huge blow to U.S. influence. It was most pronounced in Latin America, where most of a region that used to be referred to as the United States' "backyard" is now governed by states that are more independent of Washington than Europe is.

The problem is that poorer developing countries, especially in Africa, remain dependent on foreign aid from the IMF (and the World Bank and other sources) to fund their basic budget and import needs. This can be harmful to their development and their people. In recent years, the IMF -- insisting that such measures are necessary to hold down inflation -- has imposed conditions that limit their public spending and, according to the fund's own internal evaluation, have prevented these countries from spending aid money on urgent needs, such as healthcare and education.

These countries need to join the rest of the developing world in breaking free of the IMF's policy conditions. The U.S. Congress may consider legislation that would pressure the IMF to use some of its huge gold reserves for debt cancellation and to limit the IMF's control over policy in poor countries. These would be important steps forward for the world's poor.

Our bud Rob Weissman had a similar piece at Huffington Post:

Although the Fund has promised that it would reform the way it imposes conditions on poor countries, a new report from Eurodad, the European Network on Debt and Development, finds that, over the last six years, IMF conditions have not changed in number or kind.

One thing has changed, however. Impressed by the IMF's repeated failures, middle-income countries have paid back their loans to the Fund, and are not taking out any news ones.

This in turn has two consequences. For now, at least, the IMF has lost its hold over most middle-income countries -- but it maintains its iron grip on the world's poorest countries. And, the Fund is experiencing a financial crunch of its own. It had depended on the interest payments from middle-income countries to support its budget.

Developing countries are not shedding tears over the IMF's financial distress. "At long last, the IMF is experiencing first hand serious budget cuts," says Cheikh Tidiane Dieye of Environment and Development in Africa (ENDA), based in Senegal. "The poetic justice of this is palpable. In Senegal, the IMF has mandated budget cuts for years. As a result, we have been unable to invest in health care, education and other essential services. If the IMF's loss of financial power is accompanied by a loss in political power, this could be good news for all Africans."

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Mark Penn. Wow.

Wowzers. WSJ (and the rest of the Western world) reporting on Hillary advisor Mark Penn meeting with President Alvaro Uribe to talk Colombia, and Penn is apologizing. Teamsters are hitting back, and Change to Win is hitting back. We'll stay tuned to see what happens, although both Hillary and Obama have said they will vote against the NAFTA expansion to Colombia, which Bush may try to submit to Congress as early as next Tuesday. (Saturday update: Uribe canceled Penn's firm's contract.)

Meanwhile, WSJ blog reports that Obama hits back against Uribe:

Sen. Barack Obama pushed back against criticism from Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who said Obama opposes the free-trade deal between Washington and Bogota because of election politics.

“I think the president is absolutely wrong on this,” Obama told reporters on his plane Friday morning. “You’ve got a government that is under a cloud of potentially having supported violence against unions, against labor, against opposition.” The Illinois senator has promised to rebuild America’s reputation abroad.

Nutcake In related news, Max Baucus gives us his definition of nutcake; and Bob Novak further deflates his credibility by suggests U.S. labor is controlled by Venezuela's Chavez (funny, I worked on Venezuela a few years back and remember quite the opposite).

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

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Trade on the Trail: Obama v. Uribe

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) made a speech to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO yesterday that called for an overhaul of our trade policy. Here's the key quote:

But what I refuse to accept is that we have to sign trade deals like the South Korea Agreement that are bad for American workers. What I oppose - and what I have always opposed - are trade deals that put the interests of multinational corporations ahead of the interests of Americans workers - like NAFTA, and CAFTA, and permanent normal trade relations with China.

And I'll also oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement if President Bush insists on sending it to Congress because the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements. So you can trust me when I say that whatever trade deals we negotiate when I'm President will be good for American workers, and that they'll have strong labor and environmental protections that we'll enforce.

Obama touched on two themes that are obvious but rarely spoken in polite political circles: one, there is a severe imbalance in our trade policy against the public interest in favor of corporations; two, that it's a mockery of human dignity to even consider signing a trade deal with a country that is the union murder capital of the world.

The bold statement didn't win him any friends in Colombia's right-wing government, which has attached its hellish political sails to the outgoing Bush administration. According to the AP:

Colombia's president sharply criticized U.S. presidential contender Barack Obama on Wednesday for opposing a trade deal with his country, calling the Democrat out of touch with the realities of the South American nation.

The White House is urging Congress to approve the agreement, which would remove most tariffs on American exports and cement Colombia's preferential trade status with the United States.

But Illinois Sen. Obama said Wednesday he would oppose the deal.

"I deplore the fact that Senator Obama, aspiring to be president of the United States, should be unaware of Colombia's efforts," President Alvaro Uribe said in a statement. "I think it is for political calculations that he is making a statement that does not correspond to Colombia's reality."

Okay, I realize that the news that was trying to be reported here was the Uribe and Obama spat. But to describe the monstrous (what is it about Barack that makes people use that word?!) 600-plus page FTA does far more (and far more harm) that the innocuous-sounding summary "would remove most tariffs on American exports and cement Colombia's preferential trade status with the United States."

For folks covering the campaign, this short blurbs are a great opportunity to move past the horse race and dig a touch deeper on the issue. Here's just a few thoughts for things to insert:

  1. If FTAs are just about tariff reduction, why are they hundreds of pages, while only a few pages deal with tariff reduction? What accounts for the opposition of such a wide swath of Americans and environmental and consumer groups who don't work on tariffs? Could it be the corporate privileges which allow foreign investors to claim taxpayer-funded compensation for having to comply with the same public interest laws which domestic firms must comply?
  2. What's up with this narrative - paid for by the super-expensive Uribe lobbying outfits - that the Colombia FTA would help our foreign policy initiatives? If voters across Latin America are electing candidates that reject our failed trade model, how is our Latin America policy helped by shoving NAFTA-style trade policy on the one outlier government in the region, and one that doesn't seem to mind playing favorites in our domestic electoral processes? Doesn't sound like much of a foreign policy to me.

Another issue to probe is what role the candidates envision for U.S. multinationals in the global economy. I had the great misfortune to read the cases brought by the estates of murdered Coca-Cola workers against the company. Among the highlights: In 2001, the International Labor Rights Fund and United Steelworkers of America brought a civil case for equitable relief and damages against Coca-Cola and its Colombian bottlers on behalf of the estate of a murdered Coca-Cola plant worker (Isidro Segundo Gil) and of five other plant workers who were tortured, kidnapped and/or otherwise injured. According to the plaintiff’s complaint:

“The claims in this case arise from Defendants’ wrongful actions in connection with their production, bottling and distribution of Coke products in Colombia. With respect to their business operations in Colombia, the Defendants hired, contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders of the Union representing workers at Defendants’ facilities. The individual Plaintiffs have been subjected to serious human rights abuses, including murder, extrajudicial killing, kidnapping, unlawful detention, and torture in violation of the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), 28 U.S.C. §1350, the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA), international human rights law, and the common tort law of the state of Florida. Further, Defendants, their alter egos and/or their agents engaged in a conspiracy to cause physical and mental harm to Plaintiffs in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq.”

In 2003, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed this case on jurisdictional grounds. In 2006, a similar case that is still pending was brought against Coca-Cola and its Colombian bottlers on behalf of the wife and estate of another murdered Coca-Cola workerThe number of unionized workers at Coca-Cola's Colombia plants dropped precipitously after these fear campaigns. As a result, we've seen heightened congressional scrutiny, corporate shareholder protests and university Coke boycotts.

This is the same Coke, ahem, pushing the Colombia FTA. How is doling out legislative victories to corporations that have provoked such animosity abroad helping the long-term interests of Americans? What do the candidates have to say about these crucial issues?

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

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Be courageous

Our friend Glenn Hurowitz has recently written a book and founded an organization both called Democratic Courage. It's all about giving our elected officials a needed shot of backbone, and he is reading from the book this Thursday at Books a Million in DC's Dupont Circle, as well as other spots near you (stay tuned here!) Glenn has to say about trade politics, which we'll cite later.

Here is one of the better definitions of courage I've seen, courtesy of Alain Badiou:

I would retain the status of courage as a virtue—that is, not an innate disposition, but something that constructs itself, and which one constructs, in practice. Courage, then, is the virtue which manifests itself through endurance in the impossible. This is not simply a matter of a momentary encounter with the impossible: that would be heroism, not courage. Heroism has always been represented not as a virtue but as a posture: as the moment when one turns to meet the impossible face to face. The virtue of courage constructs itself through endurance within the impossible; time is its raw material. What takes courage is to operate in terms of a different durée to that imposed by the law of the world. The point we are seeking must be one that can connect to another order of time.

This type of courage becomes all the more important in long reactionary periods like the one we find ourselves in now, fairly well detailed in a recent New York Times Magazine profile of corporations' victories at the Supreme Court. (The article discusses Public Citizen at length, although not all that accurately: the underlying premise that we're losing our lawyers is wrong - there hasn't been turnover in 4 years, and we maintain an excellent win-loss ratio that is quite a bit better than the U.S.' ratio at the WTO.) As Jeff Rosen writes in his conclusion to the piece:

What about the executive branch? It seems unlikely that John McCain, if he were elected president, would push back against the court: he has already pledged to appoint “judges of the character and quality of Justices Roberts and Alito,” rather than justices more devoted to states rights, like Scalia and Thomas. As for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both have sounded increasingly populist notes in an effort to attract union and blue-collar supporters, ratcheting up their attacks on corporate wealth and power, singling out the drug, oil and health-insurance industries and promising to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. But despite their rhetoric, it is not clear that either candidate would actually appoint justices any more populist than Bill Clinton’s nominees. “I would be stunned to find an anti-business appointee from either of them,” Cass Sunstein, who is a constitutional adviser to Obama, told me. “There’s not a strong interest on the part of Obama or Clinton in demonizing business, and you wouldn’t expect to see that in their Supreme Court nominees.”

Again, Badiou points out the task ahead (using terminology only acceptable in France): we are not just fighting for gains as we were in the 20th century, but literally (as in the 19th) defending the idea of social change itself.

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OK, so time to move on...

Yes, Hillary may have been for NAFTA before she was against it, but I'm pretty sure this applies to a large majority of the original NAFTA-boosters. And nevertheless, she voted for some NAFTA expansions, agreements that were almost word for word NAFTA or even worse, with Chile, Singapore, Australia, Morocco, Bahrain and Oman.

Obama has also denounced NAFTA in ads, in stump speeches and more, but he has also wavered, casting NAFTA expansion votes for the Bahrain and Oman FTAs.

So now what? We could, like many other blogs out there from which I'm gradually losing my vision from reading endless comments, speculate about how much of a liar either candidate is or how this is some plot to distract from Obama's "Wright" situation. But instead, it might just be better to move on and ask "what's next?" No, really. I mean I'm as partisan as the next DC partisan, but let's not dwell on this and instead do what progressives do, look ahead to what can happen with our economy, with human rights and with our foreign policy through changes to our trade policy.

And that's what both Obama and Clinton have proposed: substantial changes and new trade policies that address a lot of the problems that exist because of NAFTA and NAFTA-style agreements.

I encourage onlookers to NAFTA-gate and Clinton's records release to take a step back and really ask:

  1. What do they say they will do when they get to the White House? and
  2. How can I make sure they stick to what they say?

This is what economic justice advocates should be thinking about now and every day until Inauguration Day. Instead of debating minute differences and comparing past positions to new better informed trade positions, think about where we are now and what's next for our trade policy. Discuss in comments.

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

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Whack-a-mole on the wheel-and-deal

Wow. This week, I'm happy to be a blogger-researcher and not a lobbyist. Today's Inside U.S. Trade talked about the high level of wheeling and dealing that is being talked up in the halls of Congress on the trade deal with unionist murder capital Colombia. Apparently, some Democrats

"believe now they they can extract significant concessions from the White House for passing the FTA. A Democratic lobbyist said these members have made it clear the concession has to be “enormous” to offset the negative fallout from passing the Colombia FTA, and the lobbyist said their demands have been further prompted by President Bush’s rejection of programs that were a priority for Democrats, such as the State Children’s Health Insurance (SCHIP) bill."

Sources are suggesting that TAA is not enough to cut a deal, and that it looks like Bush doesn't support the better TAA bills anyway. According to Congress Now:

Moleinside_zoom3_2 "I don't think dealing with the dislocation that comes from trade gets you one additional vote for a trade deal that is flawed," said Bill Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO, a fierce opponent of free trade agreements. "The problem with Colombia - overlay the economic concerns with the human rights issue, the murders, the death squads, the lack of prosecutions. TAA doesn't address any of that."

Unfortunately, Baucus and Grassley are reportedly watering down their TAA proposals as we speak, so that service workers are not covered. Other Dems are wheeling and dealing, but shooting a little higher. From IUT:

According to [a Democratic] aide, a more reasonable trade-off for the Colombia FTA could involve a second economic stimulus package focusing on the middle class, mortgage relief for home owners threatened by foreclosure due to the sub-prime mortgage crisis, increased federal funding for education and the passage of an SCHIP bill... [but] union sources also said they have been assured by the speaker’s staff that no deal is being struck that would allow the FTA to come forward.

While all this air time is getting sucked up by the Colombia FTA - a policy not yet in place - the negative impact of current policy realities like our China trade deficit is not being addressed. But that doesn't mean fair traders aren't having to play whack-a-mole on these other issues as well. According to IUT, AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council Executive Director Bob Baugh "ruled out that administration action on China would make the House leadership more inclined to let the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement come up for a vote. “We had assurances from leadership that trying to make linkages [to advance the Colombia FTA] is a false start,” he said."

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Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who

One of the funnier Monty Python scenes is in the Holy Grail movie, when a wedding (somewhat accidentally) turns into a blood bath launched by the knight Sir Lancelot of Camelot. The key line, as wedding guest after guest is murdered, is the bride's father, who does his fatherly best to salvage the occasion:

Please! Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion! Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who. We are here today to witness the union of two young people in the joyful bond of the holy wedlock. Unfortunately, one of them, my son Herbert, has just fallen to his death.

You can see it in this video, about 5:40 minutes in.

A little bit of this quirky logic is at work in Rahm Emanuel's latest piece for the Wall Street Journal, which tries to get people to stop arguing about NAFTA (which he rammed through Congress), and instead focus on other happy things like a new social contract. Pretty heady stuff coming from a guy who ignored the fair trade sweep that happened under his nose as DCCC chair last cycle, costing the party several pick-up seats while inadvertently winning others.

First, he pretends like the end-all of the trade debate is the core labor standards debate, which is far from true. He comes pretty close to suggesting that something like NAFTA that happened in the past (even if it was willfully executed by him and a host of other humans, much like Lancelot in the clip) should not be debated in the present. Pretty odd sentiment for a week when history is in, as the country tries to sort out who got us into the recession, and when Obama's forceful reflection on the history of racism in America is moving hearts and minds.

But more importantly, there is the suggestion that somehow we EITHER focus on the debate about a social contract, or we fight for fair trade policies. Friends, as much as we've been truly moved by the stories of manufacturing decline in our country, Public Citizen simply would not be in this fight if the issue stopped there. We have gotten involved because the very domestic social contract that we've spent decades fighting for - on auto and pharmaceutical regulation, on democratic process, on consumer safety - was threatened by a trade agenda that delved deeply into the domestic sphere, limiting our policy space on domestic issues. Rahm's four domestic suggestions are: expand education, health care, green jobs, and savings. Absolutely sign me up, but first take note that these policies are limited by the WTO and other trade deals, and (though important) will not by themselves solve the problems of our fundamental lack of balance and effective demand in the economy (which will involve balancing trade and making the world safe again for regulation).

If having to talk to people like us about this fact is annoying to Rahm and others as they promise (not the same as deliver, is it?) a new social contract, - if we're the obstacle here - there is a very easy and quick solution: rewrite the rules, and don't waste time expanding them any further. It's not that talking about them is a distraction from the "real" issues, it's that so-called "trade" is a part of a "neoliberal contract" that must be rewritten as we fight for the things we want.

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Freedom from Progress

Unlike many of the Capitol Hill staffers on this fair Saint Patrick's Day, we did not start the morning off with an 8 am beer. So here we are, at work, trying not to let vague feelings of ancestral oppression drive us to drink. But in an effort to come up with something kitschy for the big green day, I was looking around my desk for a hook, and found one in Ed Gresser's new book Freedom from Want. (Which, has a green cover... see?)

Freedom300 This slim volume by the former USTR official and Baucus staffer was put out by Soft Skull Press. For those of you who were graffiti heads in the 1990s, you'll remember that this is the same press that put on William Upski Wimsatt's Bomb the Suburbs. And books by graphic novelist Seth Tobocman, and even a book about the Seattle WTO protests. Which one of these things is not like the other? I am pretty sure Gresser is the only Soft Skull author to have high end Washington think tank book readings, at the Carnegie Endowment and I believe earlier in the year at the Naval Barracks as well. A little editorially confusing, and a little strange why a mainstream publishing house wouldn't publish such an impassioned defense of status quo trade policies.

The basic premise of the book will come as a surprise to anyone who reads editorial pages or fought the Peru FTA last year: namely, that mainstream American liberals applaud the global justice movement. The fact that there is still a near-total consensus among elites in favor of our trade policy is dodged by pointing out the rare exceptions: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a random quote by Gov. Howard Dean, also of Vermont.

Gresser's mission with the book is to convince the hordes of liberals under the sadistic control of the Citizens Trade Campaign that they should instead embrace the Clinton trade legacy because, in no particular order, countries have traded since the dawn of time, unemployment is low, people in developing countries prefer manufacturing jobs to agriculture jobs, colonialism was really a period of "Victorian Globalization" and freedom, FDR liked to trade with other countries, and Ed knows a distracting amount about Chinese and Greek classic civilization.

Indeed, the book is the 2.0 version of a USTR press release: dodging the major critiques made by the global justice movement in favor of obfuscation, only with tedious historical tangents (i.e. "For two centuries China has been the shape-shifter among the powers. Like the little god Proteus in Homeric legend...") , and chatty asides about the physical appearance of Clinton-era bureaucrats (i.e. "pugnacious, white-haired Bob Cassidy with his boxing-thickened ear").

Ed's book is a useful refresher on the kinds of lines that elite Democrats use when in office, and it will be particularly useful for the many younger folks in the movement who can't remember when we had a Democratic president. Unlike elite Republicans, who tend to ignore the global justice movement's critiques altogether, elite Dems do actually make an attempt to respond, and justify their favored policies with some reference (however strained) to social justice.

So there actually is a chapter on trade and the environment that addresses environmentalists' critique of the WTO dispute settlement system. But it drags you into the weeds pretty quickly in an attempt to create doubt about what environmentalists are saying. The enviro critique doesn't have to be disproved, just rendered sufficiently questionable that an uninformed activist might say, "Oh, I guess it's pretty complicated and the truth is probably somewhere inbetween." There's also the attempt to race and class bait, and suggest that global justice advocates are somehow against the poor at home and abroad because supposedly the sweatshop movement doesn't want there to be factories in developing countries and wants U.S. consumers to pay high prices for imported shoes.

In short, counter-information will be the name of the game to the extent that the 1990s cast of characters on economic policy are revived in a Dem-run D.C. It's tougher to confront this stuff than the simple Bush-bashing and Tom Friedman-dissing than has become de rigeur over the last 8 years. Our side needs to reflect on our own thoughts about working class strategy, about democracy and participation, and about rolling back neo-liberalism in favor of a system that allows policy space at home and abroad. In short, be prepared to hear arguments in favor of child labor cast in progressive-sounding rhetoric, fight the urge to gag, do your homework, and respond as forcefully as possible!

Finally, I'll fight the urge to post some Dropkick Murphy's, and instead get as close to Irish as I'll get today: a cover of U2's excellent activist anthem Sunday Bloody Sunday by slam poet / NIN-protege Saul Williams. Enjoy!

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Book Recommendation: Bad Samaritans

I'm pretty sure that I've recommended my prof Ha-Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans' book in the past, based on some advance chapters I had seen. Now that I've read the book fully through, let me double up on that recommendation and say that I think it is the finest and most accessible distillation of his ideas to date, and it's even getting grudging praise from the mainstream press. Thom Hartmann has a much longer review just published, but let me point out a few highlights:

  • This is a book about globalization that you could buy for your parents. Ha-Joon is a very witty guy who has appropriated the best of Thomas Friedman's anecdote-heavy style, and turned the conclusions on their head. For instance, in a chapter on whether the poorest countries should adopt neo-liberal trade policy and compete with the big guys, Ha-Joon darkly muses on whether he would win any parenting awards by subjecting his own son to grinding labor market competition.
  • The examples skew towards the U.S. and Europe, rather than more recently developed countries in Asia, which I think only makes it more accessible for the non-globe trotting audience here in the U.S. There are some great historical examples from the U.S., Europe and Japan about how the popular press and punditry hundreds of years ago (and even more recently in Japan) tried to discourage them from branching out into different production now thoroughly associated with the countries.
  • He doesn't dodge some of the difficult debates in economic development, such as whether democracy is necessary for development, boldly noting that the U.S. was not a democracy in the formal sense until 1965. He also doesn't pander to the anti-corruption line, as he explains that latest neo-liberal trap. Corruption may be wrong, but it's only in certain instances that it retards development.
  • Finally, Ha-Joon makes analysis of imperialism a lot less frightening to your middle-of-the-road reader. It's presented in a factual way related to power in the global economy, with all the best in British political economy as opposed to sectarian tradition (the chapter on FDI has a great line from the Keynesian economist Joan Robinson: the only thing worse than being exploited by capital is not being exploited by capital.) He also clearly exposes the parallels between the unequal treaties of the 19th century, and WTO policies today.
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The youth are getting restless

Progressive life in the U.S. can be rough. The two main political parties and many environmental and non-profit groups in the U.S. are not really structured to facilitate mass participation, university "activism" has turned towards the depoliticized navel gazing of much of "cultural studies", blogs are cool but limited and not immune from collective action problems plaguing other platforms for action, and the union movement has been generally on the decline for decades. How's a young person to tune in, turn on, and drop (metaphorical) bombz on the system?

United Students Against Sweatshops has filled an important void  in leadership development for young progressives. The coalition has offered many yoots their first exposure to labor and solidarity organizing, and perhaps and unfortunately their last exposure to open and honest debates about politics with a small p (as opposed to big P, as in Politico), as some of us in the early days of USAS grappled with. While the group has done pioneering work on overseas labor conditions (hence the name), it has also been at the forefront of making U.S. campuses more labor friendly, both by supporting cafeteria and TA unions, and changing attitudes of upper and middle class students.

It is vital that groups like USAS continue to flourish and grow, so that there are many many more people involved in moving our country forward. Anyone who wants to help with that vision is encouraged to turn out tonight for USAS' 10-Year Anniversary Celebration here in DC, or simply donate online to a worthy cause. You can do both or either here.

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How corporate lobbyists got-r-done

It's our unfortunate duty here at EOT to have to read some truly mind-numbing trade law analyses of domestic regulation. For instance, have you ever really thought about whether electricity is a good or a service? Yesterday, I had to read through a 1998 WTO document that goes through this metaphysical question in excruciating detail. Short answer: if your electricity comes from coal, well then the coal itself is a good. But once it becomes electricity, it's probably a service, because you can't plop a piece of electricity down on your dinner plate.

Since the Bush I and Clinton I administrations committed many energy-related services to the restrictive WTO service sector agreements, there's a good chance that many of Clinton, McCain and Obama's proposals on energy could run afoul of WTO rules. So if the political reasons to talk fair trade weren't compelling enough, there's plenty of good policy reasons as well.

You may ask yourself, how did we get to the point where lawyers sat around thinking of basic human rights to turn into "tradeable commodities/services"? To paraphrase Larry the Cable Guy, this 1992 intellectual history article by William Drake and Kalypso Nicolaidis shows how corporate lobbyists "got-r-done":

The very act of defining services transactions as ‘trade’ established normative presumptions that ‘free’ trade was the yardstick for good policy against which regulations, redefined as nontariff barriers (NTBs), should be measured and justified only exceptionally. Members believing there to be many justifiable exceptions thus had to defend what their counterparts label ‘protectionism.’… [the services trade lobby’s] body of work took on the attributes of a social science literature in which authors cited, critiqued, and built on each other's analyses. But unlike most academic debates, in which contending theories and assumptions remain contested, the services discussion produced broad and lasting consensus on core concepts and objectives. Community members were by now unanimous in their dedication to the common policy project of placing services on the GATT agenda, and this relevance test precluded meta-theoretical differences of the sort familiar to political scientists. Disagreements were confined to the issue of which GATT principles and processes were right for which transactions, rather than to the question of whether services should be treated as trade in the first place.

This gets back to my point about how savvy corporate interests are at incrementalism. You don't have to totally commoditize everything in a single day or single WTO round: just getting some definitions on the table can get the corporate animal spirits spirited up. Before you know it, public interest advocates are on the defensive, having to articulate why they thought regulation was necessary in the first place. And unfortunately, even many of our best politicians attempt to strike a "middle ground" between the previously unthinkable corporate takeover and the public interest, leading to a continual rightward drift.

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Global justice on the move, with global ambulance chasers right behind

I am pretty jazzed from a great weekend spent with the Citizens Trade Campaign, whose far-flung organizers from around the US came to town this past weekend for a national meet-up. These coalitions - from Oregon to Maine, from Texas to Minnesota and all parts in between - are truly the front-line for the campaign to overhaul our trade policies to align them with the public interest. There was a lot of fascinating presentations on the trade-linkage to immigration, climate change, labor, and higher education issues, which I think will be fueling a lot of interesting work in the year ahead. Indeed, the resolutions and other policies that this group will be pushing - especially at the state level - are part of those educational building blocks that will help us move towards our goals over the coming decades, which is what it will take to fundamentally change the way we approach global warming policy.

Incrementalism is also a feature of the other side's approach to the issue. As ITN documents in their latest issue, corporate interests have made some calculated gambles on a series of investment cases which - even if they don't produce an immediate win - chip away at the public interest by building very pro-corporate case history.

The first was a NAFTA case brought by a Canadian corporate cattlemen group against the U.S. border shut down following the episodes of mad cow disease in Canada. This coalition maintained that this US action - even though they had no observable investment in the US - violated their investor rights in the US. The NAFTA panel ruled against jurisdiction on the claim, even though they have done nearly the opposite in the SD Myers case where there was little or no overseas investment. And they also left the door open to challenge of the US food safety measure under other parts of the NAFTA agreement. So, lost the battle, but well positioned for the war. (Note that these precedents aren't binding on future panels, so unpredictability reigns!) 

The second item of interest is the advice being given to Internet gambling companies that are dismayed that the Bush administration bowed to pressure and removed gambling services from WTO jurisdiction. The global "ambulance chasers" - out to help corporations claim victimization and bilk all sorts of payments out of the corporate handout that is our "trade" policy - are advocating that these companies use bilateral trade and investment agreements to get compensation for not being able to serve U.S. gambling addicts their online fix. This is precisely the kind of corporate checkmate that our "trade policy" allows - first we get you at the WTO, then under CAFTA, then we let investors privately get you under other treaties, etc. - all the while getting payments from taxpayers. When are we going to see some elected officials willing to face down these jerks and kick over the chess table?

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Afro-Colombians reiterate opposition to Colombia FTA

Marino Córdoba, founder of the Association of Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), has a nice guest blog post at The Hill entitled "Why Afro-Colombians Oppose the Colombia FTA."  The whole post is worth a read, but the juicy tidbits include:

...At the end of 2007, angered by the strong opposition of the majority of Afro-Colombian communities to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA,) Uribe created a new Commission in Colombia that directly challenges our legal governance structure.

Cynically dubbed the Commission for the Advancement of Afro-Colombian People, it would undermine our communities’ ability to advance development strategies chosen by our people that comport with our needs and that help even the economic playing field... President George Bush and other U.S. Uribe allies, such as Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), and the vast array of lobbying firms hired by the Uribe government are now trying to tout this outrageous Commission as evidence that Afro- Colombian concerns are being addressed as they push to pass the FTA.

Córdoba says that thanks to a vibrant civil society movement in the 1980s, Afro-Colombians enjoy full legal recognition of their cultural rights and collective ownership of their lands (he specifically mentions Law 70 of 1993 (PDF), a rather remarkable piece of progressive legislation that I'd encourage anyone to read).  Yet this recognition has been undermined by paramilitary organizations forcing Afro-Colombians off of their land: "Tens of thousands of us have been forced to flee... clear[ing] the way for the entry of oil palm plantations, logging operations, and mining projects advanced by allies of the Uribe Administration."

The Colombia FTA's Chapter 10 contains the same poisonous investor rights provisions as NAFTA, CAFTA and the Peru FTA.  If the FTA is implemented, these provisions will only exacerbate the situation, empowering foreign companies to engage in resource extraction made possible by the illegal and often violent forcing of Afro-Colombians off of their land — land supposedly guaranteed to them by Law 70.

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Fun sleepover game: who would you rather have as president?

Bush didn't mention unionists' murders once on SOTU! He did draw that funny conclusion: "If we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere." Well, it's nice to know that he believes there can be such a thing as true populism. I wonder what he could be thinking about?

As we've shown time and time again, if avoiding populism is the goal, it's best to not pass trade deals that limit development policy space. Zapatista uprising - born with NAFTA. Chavez's rise to power - born with IMF structural adjustment policies. The same is true country-by-country, across the hemisphere. If take everything away from people but their chains, they're going to have less to lose in rising up against you.

Sadly, it's not only Republicans that buy this Bush line. Democrat Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), one of the CAFTA 15, also buys much of the same line, and is trying to get more Democratic support. Judge for yourself in this speech in Colombia whether he is up for it. In Meeks' endorsement of Uribe for the U.S. presidency, he presents us all with a major moral quandary: do we want Bush, or Uribe? It makes my head hurt something awful, like I'm reading some sort of poisonous zen koan.

Lotta nice fluff. Also no mention of union murders! If you want to get the other side of the story to the Colombia FTA - the side that does talk about the rampant murders there -  please take a moment and watch this video on the Afro-Colombian struggle there, and also this video "letter" by Chicago activists to Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama.

UPDATE 2:15pm EST: RuthG leaves us a better YouTube link for the Chicago letter, and Public Citizen publishes its detailed response to Bush's state of the union!

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"WTO-perfect": enemy of the perfect and the good

Given the massive asymmetries of power in the world today, how does progressive reform happen? Consumers and workers want to have a cleaner environment and better jobs, but the corporations calling the shots stand to lose out over the time horizon they consider relevant.

Jack Knight, one of the top political economists out there, argued that the spontaneous emergence of institutional or policy changes will tend to benefit the powerful. In those rare instances where an outcome not unfavorable to the less powerful emerges, it's through a complex bargaining process where the "little guy" can impose sufficient costs on the "big guy" to make his life miserable unless he changes, or alternately where the "big guy" can somehow be paid off in a big way to not fight the change.

Progressives and reformers in general who want to see change in their lifetime are always looking for openings in these regards. It'll take many lifetimes to re-build the union and consumer movement to where it needs to be, but some short-term successes can embolden us to keep our organizing going - even if they are clearly the sloppy outcome of bargaining processes where the deck is stacked against us.

So the writers' strike, for instance, is about imposing costs on the "big guy" to get him to bargain. But environmentalists around the world have found some clever ways to increase the rewards for change. (More on this in coming days.) The problem with our trade policy, unfortunately, is that it precludes many such strategies in the name of facilitating ever-expanded corporate trade. To paraphrase Voltaire: the "WTO-perfect" is both the enemy of the perfect and the good.

Such a partial strategy was targeted in the recent case where the EU successfully bashed Brazil at the WTO over its import ban on retreaded tires. According to Inside U.S. Trade, "Brazil claimed it needed to ban retreaded tires because they become waste tires more quickly than new ones, and that their disposal poses risk to the environment and human health." But at the WTO, you have to prove that such a environmental policy is "necessary," which means, among other things, convincing panelists who specialize in trade and not environmental policy that there is no less-market restricting option even conceivable that could be applied instead.

Continue reading ""WTO-perfect": enemy of the perfect and the good" »

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Democracy, science, class

An ongoing debate in legal theory related to trade policy is the use of the so-called "precautionary principle," variably formulated as "better safe than sorry" or "putting the burden of proof" on industry before it introduces new medicines, technologies or processes on the market.

Consumer and environmental groups tend to invoke this principle, based on the notion (however articulated) that corporations, left to their own devices and ability to sway policy outcomes, will advocate for courses of action that devalue human suffering or environmental damage in the name of making a buck. But some legal scholars don't like the precautionary principle. In The New Republic's Cass Sunstein's words:

The precautionary principle should be rejected, not because it leads in bad directions, but because it leads in no direction at all. The principle is literally paralyzing - forbidding inaction, stringent regulation, and everything in between. The reason is that in the relevant cases, every step, every inaction, creates a risk to health, the environment, or both.

Happily for Sunstein and comrades, the precautionary principle is not what prevails under our trade law. The WTO's Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards agreement - one of 17 that the WTO maintains - reads:

Members shall ensure that any sanitary or phytosanitary measure is applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health, is based on scientific principles and is not maintained without sufficient scientific evidence [emphasis added]

There's a lot of background on how to define what is "necessary" under international trade law, but suffice it to say that it's a lot more restrictive than how it reads here. Europe has been learning the hard way about how some of their food policies influenced by the precautionary principle have taken a beating at the WTO.

Continue reading "Democracy, science, class" »

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Rain on the scarecrow as the border blockaded

January 3rd, you know what that means? Only 40 more days until the Dee-Cee presidential primary vote! I can't wait! D.C. has always had a unique role in the nation for our role in the presidential primary process. Sure, there's SOMETHING happening in Iowa today, but it's not until a candidate wins the D.C. primary that they're truly considered anointed.

In all seriousness, voting in America's last inland colony is not today's top news. No, just wanted to remind everyone about the Iowa Fair Trade Campaign's excellent web resource on the candidates' positions on trade, available here.

There's been a lot of paeans to corn ethanol during this season, and with good reason: Iowa's farmers are taking it on the nose. As we've written before,

While the volume of U.S. corn and soybean exported increased as predicted by NAFTA’s proponents, the prices received by American farmers declined to the lowest levels in recent memory. While American farmers received $12.64 per bushel of soybeans (in inflation-adjusted terms) when the NAFTA predecessor Canada FTA went into place in 1988, that price halved to $6.30 by 2006. In inflation-adjusted dollars, farmers received $4.29 a bushel for corn in 1995, the year the WTO went into effect and a year after NAFTA went into effect. But a decade later in 2005, the bushel price was at a low of $2.06, and only started increasing with the recent ethanol boom  – a development that is threatened with derailment as Brazil and other agricultural exporters plot WTO challenges against U.S. corn ethanol subsidies. 

But don't take my word for it... after all, there's a reason that John Cougar Mellencamp is a political figure on par with Oprah in Iowa.

The corn issue in Iowa is connected to the corn issue in Mexico, which has been a lot in the news recently. (See our fact sheet for more.) In particular, the final phasing in of NAFTA tariff cuts in Mexico happened, and folks in Mexico were none too happy about it. (video in spanish)

As we've written about before, Latino civil rights groups are calling attention to NAFTA-style policies, which are destroying the Mexican countryside, which has led to massive displacement of people towards the United States.

As the AP reported,

Mexico's Roman Catholic Church has warned that the changes could spark an exodus to the U.S.

"It is clear that many farmers will have a difficult time competing in the domestic market, and that could cause a large number of farmers to leave their farms," the archdiocese said in a statement issued on New Year's Day.

Dozens of farm activists in Ciudad Juarez blocked one lane of the border bridge leading into El Paso, Texas, to protest the unrestricted imports of U.S. corn, as part of a 36-hour demonstration that started in the first minutes of the New Year.

They had pledged not to allow any U.S. grain into the country...

"The open battle against NAFTA begins," read a banner headline in the daily La Jornada.

In Mexico City, activists announced plans to march through the capital and hold a nationwide conference on Jan. 14 to plan further protests.

"This is going to be a complicated year, and there will certainly be a lot of demonstrations," said Enrique Perez, a spokesman for the National Association of Farm Distributors, one of the groups organizing the marches.

Mexico, the birthplace of corn, obtained a 15-year protection for sensitive farm crops when NAFTA was negotiated in 1993. That protection period ran out on Jan. 1. Mexico still grows almost all of the corn consumed here by humans, but imports corn to feed animals.

Mexican politicians from all major parties agree that a NAFTA renegotiation needs to happen. An area where there might be some common ground with the candidates for president, many who are talking about doing something that sounds an awful lot like renegotiation of NAFTA.

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NAFTA and WTO: job killer, or slave overseer?

Anyone who has spent time in social or political movements knows that language and slogans are often painfully fought out in overcaffeinated and excruciatingly long meetings in poorly lit rooms. When I was active in the sweatshop movement in the late 1990s / pre-9-11 2000s, the topic of discussions was whether our movement was "anti-globalization," "anti-corporate globalization," anti-Global Apartheid, "pro-people's globalization," or all or none of the above.

Immediately after 9-11, there were the long meetings about how and whether we should rhetorically connect the imminent war/invasion to the IMF/World Bank protests supposed to be happening in late September, 2001. And of course there is constant hand-wringing about the terms "free trade" and "fair trade," and what if anything any of these terms mean.

Such convos aren't really my cup of tea. If you like any of these titles, peg 'em on. But in doing the research on our most recent toy report, I got a bit of a labeling bug too, this time around whether we should call NAFTA or WTO a "job-killing" agreement:

The shift of U.S. toy production to China has been a long time in the making. 1972 was the first year that America imported Chinese toys, following President Nixon’s visit to the country.  China was first granted normal trade relations status in 1981, meaning it faced lower tariffs than a communist country would otherwise face. This status was renewed every year through 2001. By 1986, China was actively liberalizing its economy and lobbying for membership in what would become the WTO, and was rapidly expanding its U.S. toy exports. By 1991, China had overtaken Japan as the number one U.S. source of foreign-made toys. Throughout the 1990s, the Clinton administration passed nearly a dozen trade agreements with China,  which continued to edge out other countries for U.S. toy market share. By the end of the decade, China accounted for a majority of toys sold in the United States.  When Congress approved China’s WTO membership in 2000, Chinese-produced toys already accounted for nearly 57 percent of U.S. toy purchases – a figure that has increased to 74 percent (nearly $15 billion) since that time.

These facts illustrate a point we try to make regularly on this blog, that many of the industrial impacts in terms of jobs occurred as tariffs were lowered (in the GATT or preference programs for poor countries) prior to NAFTA and the WTO. So when movement folks say that NAFTA is a "job-killing agreement," they:

  • are saying in a roundabout way that the U.S. trade deficit continued to increase after NAFTA, and with NAFTA countries in particular. With trade policy that either mandated balanced trade (s/t that is NAFTA and WTO-illegal) or under trade that automatically balanced due to exogenous factors, there would have been jobs in tradable sectors here that aren't here now; or
  • NAFTA's (essentially) permanent reductions in tariffs and investor rights incentivized companies that wouldn't have done so otherwise to relocate production overseas, thus reducing jobs in tradable sectors that might have been here otherwise.

When most people say NAFTA is a job-killing agreement, they do NOT mean that the total number of jobs in the US somehow declined (unemployment has been fairly constant, except during the late 1990s thanks not to trade policy but to Alan Greenspan). They are making a point about jobs in TRADABLE sectors (ie. primarily manufacturing), and linking either in a macro sense to the deficit, or in a micro sense in terms of the incentives affecting individual business decisions. Indisputably, there are fewer union jobs and fewer manufacturing jobs than there used to be, and we've been in a trade imbalance scenario, so somehow that has to be explained.

So why do corporations even fight for these trade policies, if they had already offshored so much of their production prior to NAFTA and the WTO? I think the short answer is that it's an unholy alliance between a few exporters (think Caterpillar and agri-business), with a lot of industries that have already offshored production (think toys, apparel) and want to lock in duty-free access for their products coming back into the U.S. market, and with the whole of the multinational corporate lobby (esp. the services and pharmaceutical sector, but also the above) who want some insurance against progressive political change. There's no quicker way to get backdoor, international deregulation at the state, local and national levels of government than pushing these deals.

So perhaps a more apt metaphor for NAFTA rather than "job-killer" is "slave overseer" or "prison guard." The new neoliberal world order begun in the 1970s has prejudiced people both in the U.S. and abroad, and agreements like NAFTA and WTO from the 1990s and today merely serve as an enforcement apparatus to lock in and maintain this state of affairs.

The problem remains that people would probably rather see themselves as dignified workers losing a job rather than as prisoners or slaves. So, I'm taking suggestions - best metaphor wins!

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Christmastime for corporations (in Germany, err, here)

Just in case you were worried that the corporate masters weren't getting enough of a Christmas this year, what with record CEO pay and booming inequality, never fear. It looks like they may get to gobble up U.S. Postal System, liquiefied natural gas terminals, Mexican peasants, the right to avoid obeying the law overseas, and right to not give back to the community. Let's quickly review:

The Bush administration is on the cusp of formally revealing what they're going to give the European Union to "compensate" for their Internet gambling providers not being able to sell in the U.S. market. As we detail in our release here,

To compensate Europe for the removal of the U.S. gambling sector from WTO jurisdiction, the Bush administration reportedly proposes to bind U.S. storage and warehousing, and postal and delivery to WTO jurisdiction, among other service sectors. Compensation talks have been conducted behind closed doors without input from congressional committees whose jurisdiction would be compromised by the proposal.

What this could mean in practice is that there would be additional pressures to privatize and deregulate not only our postal service, but also our safety policy around dangerous LNG terminals. Oh, yeah, and this is just for the right to maintain a gambling policy that corporations don't like - a policy that treats foreign and domestic gambling firms THE SAME.

Exhibit Two takes us to Mexico, where corporations have reportedly used NAFTA's investor-state system to beat back the Mexican government's right to have a sugar policy for its small peasant producers, rather than allow U.S. high fructose corn syrup exporters and users (the soft drink companies) to run roughshod over a rare policy that keeps Mexicans employed in Mexico. Now, Mexican taxpayers will be ordered by a secretive World Bank court to pay what will probably be tens of millions of dollars to companies like Archer Daniels Midland.

As we wrote about the case back in 2005, Mexico's regulations of HFCS, which it will now be forced to compensate ADM for, were one of the few ways that governments could take active steps to keep farmers on both sides of the border from being squeezed by huge agribusiness corporations. It turns out that's it's inconsistent with NAFTA to help society's most vulnerable.

The final stop is north of the border, in Canada, where U.S. oil companies are using NAFTA to get around having to give back to the community where they are drilling by spending some research and development dollars there. This parallels Big Oil's efforts to  avoid having to pay taxes in Ecuador, where it is using a NAFTA-style tribunal under the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment treaty to not only not pay, but try to get out of being arrested for not paying. Luke Eric Peterson has the skinny on the Mexico, Canada, and Ecuador cases right here.

And in our ongoing Trade Musical Hits, here's Rage Against the Machine's "Testify," directed by Michael Moore.

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Your secret's out

As Alan Greenspan wrote in yesterday's WSJ:

The surge in competitive, low-priced exports from developing countries, especially those to Europe and the U.S., flattened labor compensation in developed countries, and reduced the rate of inflation expectations throughout the world, including those inflation expectations embedded in global long-term interest rates.

As we will document in a report next week, the U.S. toy and retail industry, after offshoring all their production, consistently used the threat of higher inflation to further lock in their privileges. This is total bunk, of course, since CEOs have mostly pocketed the difference from their overseas labor arbitrage: the average toy and industry retail CEO makes over 19,000 times what their Chinese workers make.

Here's the chain of events: U.S. corporations pushed for less accountability: they got it when Congress yielded its constitutional responsibility to set the terms of U.S. trade policy by passing the Nixon-hatched Fast Track in 1973-74,  and then in later years gutted the funding for consumer regulatory bodies like the CPSC. Corporations pushed for greater ease in offshoring their production to countries with low wages and weak regulation: they got it when successive U.S. administrations and sessions of Congress signed off on a series of harmful trade policies under Fast Track. At the same time, corporations wanted to lock in their offshoring strategy’s profitability and insure against democratic accountability in the future: they got this too when Congress signed off on the expansive investment, trade and safety deregulation rules of agreements such as NAFTA and the WTO which authorize challenges in foreign tribunals of domestic safety policies that could limit imports.

Just in case this expansive strategic sense of Corporate "America" is getting you down, it also shows that our work to frustruate their efforts and advance our own interests can be similarly strategic. They've got a lot of pans on the fire: can we take over one of them? That's the spirit of this next song: Fugazi's "Oh":

number one in acquisitions
now there is no foreign soil
go global like a round thing
go global like a hole
to every money matchmaker
splicing green as fast as you can
let's break it down and start again...

you would never say you were out of time
coming with the fiction all the time
but there's a call coming on the other line
your secret's out

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Your civil rights are a barrier to trade

As we've written about for a long time, "trade" rules are increasingly limiting how our own taxpayer dollars can be spent, namely by banning or rolling back Buy America, green procurement, and human rights conditionality in competing for state, local and federal government contracts - the use of which is one of the very few ways that our elected officials can directly create jobs, and shape the morality of the marketplace.

In a rare sign of morality (or at least political savvy) from the corporate class that drafts these agreements, they've generally excluded minority preferences and set-asides from coverage from trade pact rules.

But this may be ending. According to Luke Peterson's Investment Treaty News, the best source of information on investor-state proceedings anywhere, a group of European mining companies is suing South Africa under a bilateral investment treaty between their respective countries. Their gripe? Having to hire black South Africans.

The investors posit ... that a series of obligations imposed upon mining companies, including hiring "historically disadvantaged South Africans", violates treaty undertakings by South Africa to provide fair and equitable treatment to foreign investors...

According to Mr. Leon [the corporations' lawyers], the key tenets of the new mining regime, including the Black Economic Empowerment requirements, "potentially conflict with South Africa's international law obligations".

Mr. Leon opined that bilateral investment treaties should afford foreign investors higher levels of financial compensation than would be available under South Africa's Constitution. He added that by signing and ratifying a series of bilateral investment treaties, South Africa "has, in effect, outsourced the adjudication of key elements of its public policy to foreign arbitral tribunals".

The "fair and equitable treatment" standard referred to by Luke, also known as the "minimum standard of treatment", is why corporations are pushing hard not only for bilateral investment treaties like the one between South Africa and the European countries, but also "innovating" on this practice by inserting them directly into "free trade agreements", as we do only here in America through NAFTA-style trade policy.

What does the standard mean? As Matthew Porterfield explains in this law journal article,it basically says that foreign investors (and any corporation that can claim "foreigness" by playing games with their corporate structure... think Halliburton's relocation to Dubai, folks) can be required to be treated more favorably than that allowed for under domestic law.

This obviously wreaks havoc on any progressive reform or legislative efforts here or anywhere in the world. If corporations can bypass the domestic political / democratic process and use foreign trade tribunals to define how they have to be treated anywhere in the world (regardless of domestic civil rights, environmental, or labor law), then the end is very nigh.

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Numerology, lingerie, and a half-hearted post

Dean makes a funny about numerology and David Brooks today:

David Brooks' column is full of nonsense on trade this morning. The point is to propagandize on behalf of current trade policy, which is taking a beating in popular opinion as of late. Brooks includes a wide range of factors which are somehow supposed to imply that the current trade policy is good.

Just to to take a couple of my favorites, Brooks points out from 1991 to 2007 the trade deficit grew to $818 billion from $31 billion. "Yet, .... during that time the U.S. created 28 million jobs and the unemployment rate dipped to 4.6 percent from 6.8 percent."

Let's see, according to my calculator, the sun came up 5,840 times during this period. Therefore, by Brooks logic, trade must facilitate astronomical processes. For those familiar with economic theory, the expected impact of trade would be on wages, not the number of jobs. And most workers have seen very small wage gains over this 16 year period as the bulk of the benefits of productivity growth have gone to highly-paid workers.

Brooks also cites a study by Robert Lawrence and Martin Baily that purports to show that 90 percent of the jobs lost in manufacturing are due to domestic causes. I have no idea what this is supposed to show. A trade deficit of 6 percent of GDP (now closer 5 percent) corresponds to at least 3 million lost manufacturing jobs. Does it make any difference for anything in the world how these lost jobs are divided between the loss of existing jobs or the failure to create new jobs? It certainly doesn't matter for any economic theory with which I am familiar.

Brooks also extols the fact that the people in this country have lots of kids -- that's great if you like global warming, otherwise it doesn't seem like such a great thing. Perhaps the best line is that the United States "benefits from low levels of corruption." This is probably because actions like having a CEO wreck a company, and then get a hundred million dollar severance package, are perfectly legal.

Tasini talks sweatshop lingerie:

When you slip on your Victoria Secret garb, remember this: it comes to you partly due to the wonders of so-called "free trade." And, in particular, that little Victoria Secret garment (I guess "little" is redundant in this context) may even hail from Jordan--which was supposed to be the poster child for how one forges the "right" kind of so-called "free trade" deal. But,  instead, Victoria Secret exposes the exact fallacy of so-called "free trade."

Billy Bragg takes on the corporate power mongers, in another in our series of Top 10 Best Songs About Trade:

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A good book to read: Dreampolitik

My friend Stephen Duncombe from NYU put out a book about a year ago called "Dream: Reimagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy." As you put together your post-Peru FTA reading list, I would highly encourage you pick this one up. Here is an excerpt of a review I wrote with my brother, arts activist and all-around Chicago guru Daniel Tucker.

Any progressive activist in recent years would be familiar with the following scenario: aDuncombedreambook group that has a history of working together is plotting out upcoming actions and campaigns. As they seek feedback on their plans from a wider circle of friends and colleagues, they run into someone – perhaps a public relations leader, perhaps a political communications professor… let’s just call them “framing gurus” for short – who vigorously insist on the centrality of messaging, sound-bytes, and narratives. While any activist group worth its street cred would undoubtedly concur with the importance of adequately representing your platform, such tactical considerations – when pushed to the extreme – can obscure longer term goals and strategies.

A related debate is taking place on the national level, where one of the most influential books for the Democratic Party in recent years has been George Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant.” In it, he argues that Democratic candidates could gain support by describing their platform in terms of broad social values that would activate “frames” in voters’ minds, rather just reacting to the GOP. A whole host of Democrats did just that, for instance by describing their opposition to Bush’s “free trade” policies in terms of being “for the future of the middle class.”

But activist Stephen Duncombe argues that much more than just framing exercises is needed if progressives are going to move beyond a few electoral victories and ad campaigns into a vibrant and sustainable movement capable of checking corporate power and pushing elected officials further to the left.

Read more on my bro's blog, and Duncombe's site is here. And since we're still focused on Peru, you can watch the Ways and Means Committee final mark-up right now.

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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.

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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."

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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. 

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Blumenauer's Constituents Protest Peru NAFTA Expansion

More than two dozen people protested the NAFTA-expansion to Peru in Rep. Earl Blumenauer's (D-Ore.) Portland office earlier this week. Four protestors, who refused to leave until Blumenauer committed to vote "No" on the Peru NAFTA expansion, were arrested. The Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC) has more details on the protest and a link to a video interviewing labor and campesino leaders who know passing this deal will cause irreparable harm in Peru.

Image_mini Ignoring the real concerns that were voiced at the protest - including the impoverishing impact of this deal on hundreds of thousands of Peruvian farmers - the Ways and Means Committee (presumably with Blumenauer present although there is no recorded vote count) approved the NAFTA expansion to Peru by "voice vote" at yesterday's "mock mark-up." Is Blumenauer helping the Bush administration pass a NAFTA-style agreement to Peru instead of standing with his constituents who want to see real change in our trade policy? Let us know your thoughts.

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Latino, immigrant and other groups tell Congress to reject Peru NAFTA expansion


Dear Members of the U.S. Congress:

We are concerned Peruvian-Americans, immigrant organizations and human rights advocates in the United States. We are writing to express our strong opposition to the Free Trade Agreement with Peru (FTA) and to request its further renegotiation for the following reasons:

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U.S. Social Forum this weekend, chock full of fair trade events

For our readers in the Atlanta region, come on out this week to the U.S. Social Forum, where there will be tons of fair trade workshops, including some facilitated by Global Trade Watch's own David Edeli. Click here for the full list of trade workshops.

Also, read a statement from fair trade activists participating in the Forum calling for a new direction on trade policy after the jump.

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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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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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