By Christine Goffredo International Team – Nicaragua
Last week President Obama stated:
“Let’s pass trade deals to level the playing field for our businesses…These are common sense ideas – ideas that have been supported by both Democrats and Republicans. The only thing holding them back is politics…That’s what’s holding this country back. That’s what we have to change.”
There are certainly a lot of issues holding up Congressional approval of trade agreements between the United States and Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. However, approving these agreements is not common sense and it is not what is holding the United States back. In fact, there are many compelling, common sense reasons not to sign these free trade agreements, including potential increases in unemployment, human rights violations against union organizers, and poverty, just to name a few.
Now that Republican and Democratic Senators have come to an agreement on the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, a vote on these free trade agreements is fast approaching. Rallies, letter writing campaigns and call-ins in the last few months by organizations and individuals across the United States sent a clear message to Congress that constituents are unhappy with these agreements.
Now is the time to increase the pressure and state our position loud and clear. Congress is currently on recess, making this a perfect time to contact your Senators and Representatives in their home states and tell them not to sign these agreements once they return to Washington.
Here is a short list of three more than compelling reasons to tell your Senators and Representatives to honor Labor Day by rejecting more free trade agreements until concrete changes are made to counter these problems.
Continued Violence in Colombia
In the last few weeks, four more union members were assassinated in Colombia, two from a banana workers’ union, highlighting the continued violence against union members and organizers in that country. The trade agreement with Colombia includes a “Labor Action Plan” in which the Colombian government has promised to work to curtail violence and impunity. This is not enough. According to a recent Huffington Post article, half of all unionist murders in the world happen in Colombia. This grave situation does not require commitments for future action; it requires action right now.
Learn from Example: Violence and Intimidation in El Salvador
In 2006, five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic entered into the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States. Lessons should be learned from this free trade agreement, as well as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
One lesson is from a case being heard by a World Bank tribunal in which the Canadian mining corporation Pacific Rim is suing the El Salvadoran government for $77 million in lost revenue for not approving Pacific Rim’s request for exploitation permits. Pacific Rim, using a Nevada-based subsidiary that has not been active in several years in order to fall under CAFTA jurisdiction, is relying on Chapter 10 of CAFTA. This chapter protects foreign investors by allowing them to sue governments that create policy or deny permits that conflict with a company’s “expectations of obtaining earnings…” (see Sister Cities article).
This case threatens the ability of the El Salvadoran government to protect its people from pollutants, the depletion of available water, and agricultural damage. It has also led to increased violence and intimidation in the region. Just this June, Juan Francisco Durán Ayala, a young anti-mining activist from the region, was murdered. His death adds to the three that occurred in 2009 within a six-day period. There have also been reports of death threats and other forms of intimidation against anti-mining activists.
This “foreign investment protection” chapter will be present in all three upcoming free trade agreements. To date, these regulations in NAFTA, CAFTA, and the Peru Free Trade Agreement with the United States have cost countries over $350 million in compensation to corporations. According to Public Citizen, all of these cases have dealt with “attacks on natural resource policies, environmental protection and health and safety measures.” They continue, “in fact, of the over $9.5 billion in pending claims, all relate to environmental, public health and transportation policy – not traditional trade issues.” The negative effects of this legislation for the people and governments of Mexico, Canada, and now El Salvador is clear. It is time to change these policies before Congress passes these new trade agreements.
Prior to signing the North American Free Trade Agreement, President Clinton and Congressional leaders promised job creation in the United States and Mexico. 17 years later, over 680,000 net jobs have been lost in the United States alone. Just last month, the Senate cleared the way for enhancing the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which gives financial assistance to United States workers that lose their jobs as a result of trade agreements with other countries. If it is true that signing more free trade agreements is in the best interest of the United States and will create jobs, why would the Senate be voting to enhance it?
The Economic Policy Institute estimates that trade deals with Korea, Colombia, and Panama will result in a net loss of 214,000 jobs, even taking into account the export jobs that would be created as a result of the agreements. This number is for the United States alone. Colombia, Korea, and Panama, who do not have Trade Adjustment Assistance programs in place, arguably stand to lose just as many if not more jobs—especially given Mexico’s experience with NAFTA.
Learn from Experience: Don’t Pass without Concrete Changes
It is clear from these three examples that the free trade agreements need serious changes. Unfortunately, all three agreements coming to a vote—Colombia, Panama, and Korea—fall under Fast Track passing rules because they were already in negotiation when Fast Track expired. This means that Congress will not be able to make ANY changes to ensure that more jobs are not lost, that more union members are not murdered, and that more communities are not threatened by harmful corporate practices.
Show your support for union members, workers’ rights, and jobs this Labor Day by urging your House Representatives and Senators to vote “no” on these trade agreements. Now is not the time for Congress to hastily pass these agreements. Now is the time to make changes—to make trade just.