AFL-CIO joins diverse group to fight unfair trade bill

A number of labor, environmental, religious and community groups held a press conference at Portland's Waterfront Park July 10 to announce the launching of a campaign to convince Oregon's congressional delegation to vote against legislation that would give President George W. Bush "fast-track" authority to negotiate foreign trade agreements.

The campaign, which is being spearheaded by the AFL-CIO, got a quick boost when Oregon Congresswoman Darlene Hooley announced her opposition to a fast- track bill introduced by Representative Phil Crane, R-Illinois. Fourth District Congressman Peter DeFazio is already on record as opposing fast-track trade authority.

House Resolution 2149 would give Bush the ability to negotiate trade treaties without modification from Congress. The bill would make it possible for the president to negotiate the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), an expanded version of the North American Free Trade Agreement, that would encompass 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere.

HR 2149 is an extreme version of fast-track legislation that effectively excludes labor and environmental standards from the "principal negotiating objectives" of future trade deals.

Hooley's announcement came in response to a question from an Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter, following the July 10 press conference.

At that press conference, Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt called on Oregon's congressional delegation to oppose any new trade negotiating authority for the Bush Administration without a guarantee that it will deliver agreements with strong labor and environmental protections, at least as good as those negotiated last year with Jordan, and that those protections be enforceable with trade sanctions as part of the central provisions of the agreements.

The Jordanian agreement, negotiated by the Clinton Administration and now ignored by the Bush Administration, specifies that the U.S. and Jordan will not compete by lowering labor standards or weakening environmental protections.

"Since fast-track means there will be no meaningful debate and no possibility of amendments when trade deals are brought to the Congress, we're asking our representatives to reject fast track outright or, as an alternative, to insist on full debate and agreement on the terms and conditions for future trade agreements - including labor and environmental standards - before they hand over negotiating authority to the Bush Administration," Nesbitt said. "We've learned too much about how damaging one-sided trade agreements can be to let this happen."

Bob Lindsey, a Salem area hazelnut farmer and the former mayor of Salem, agrees that fast track is a bad idea given that low fruit and vegetable prices caused by cheap foreign imports are already driving many Oregon farmers out of business.

"The impacts of any new trade agreements on Oregon's farmers need to be carefully considered. If Congress gives President Bush fast-track authority, however, careful consideration is the one thing we can be sure we won't get," Lindsey said.

"Giving President Bush fast- track trade authority would be one of the greatest threats to the environment we have seen during the Bush presidency," explained Brent Foster, global trade issues coordinator for the Oregon Sierra Club. "We have already seen a number of important environmental laws undermined by trade agreements such as the WTO (World Trade Organization) and NAFTA. Giving Bush fast-track authority would only ensure that future trade agreements continue to work against the protection of our water quality, air quality and wildlands."

Sister Lucinda Peightal of the Oregon Jubilee 2000 Network agreed, stating that, "Fast-track authority will help ensure that the FTAA would not be a trade agreement that was good for poor working people in developing countries. Instead, fast track would help guarantee that future trade agreements will continue to leave millions of the world's poorest people behind."

A national campaign against fast track has been under way for the past two weeks. July 17 was a call-in day to members of Congress, with the Oregon AFL-CIO staffing phone banks at several Portland union halls.

On Saturday, July 21, Oregon AFL-CIO Research and Education Director Lynn-Marie Crider will be one of four presenters at a forum on fast track that starts at 10 a.m. at Augustana Lutheran Church, Northeast 14th Avenue and Knott Street, Portland.

U.S. Representatives can be reached at: Earl Blumenauer, 503-231-2300; David Wu, 503-326-2901; Darlene Hooley, 503-588-9100; Peter DeFazio, 541-465-6732; and Greg Walden, 541-776-4646.

July 20, 2001 issue

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