Wednesday, February 27, 2008

So What Is The Big Deal About NAFTA?

NAFTA is a big deal to many people. It is a big deal to the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Americans that have lost their jobs due to that trade deal. It matters to those that have jobs but with depressed wages due to the new "competition." Companies that have exploited the deal have made millions and billions by having to pay lower wages (and lower costs in terms of safety, pension benefits, human rights, etc) by setting up shop in other countries that don't care about their people as much. So, is this a big deal to Sens. Clinton and Obama?

From Jonathan Tasini at Working Life:

I was struck today, as I have been for the past several weeks, at the void created when John Edwards suspended his campaign for president. Today, it was on the issue of trade and globalization, courtesy of a piece in The Wall Street Journal entitled "Decoding Candidates On Trade."

Here's an important paragraph, with my bolded emphasis:

Neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama is likely to be able to do much about trade deals already in effect, despite their campaign rhetoric. Neither, even in the heat of the Midwestern spotlight, is talking about new barriers to trade. The Depression-era Smoot-Hawley tariffs aren't coming back. And the Democrats' trade hard-liner, former Sen. John Edwards, has dropped out of the race.


Edwards took a huge swing at corporate lobbyists by singling out the NAFTA-like Chapter 11 rights. As I explained (and Public Citizen has a much more detailed explanation): Let's say a company doing business in a country that has a party to one of these so-called "free trade" agreements believes a law violates rights or protections the company has under the trade deal. The company can take its case before a trade tribunal, which can, then, rule that a law--say an environmental law or labor--is illegal under the so-called "free trade" regime and award tax-payer dollars to corporations. And this tribunal operates behind closed doors, with no public input or scrutiny and none of the basic due process or transparency one would expect in open courts.

Edwards' position was really important. These Chapter 11 rights are one of the most odious provisions of so-called "free trade" deals. They allow companies to undercut our democracy--laws that are passed by the people we elect can be overridden by an unaccountable, unelected tribunal. Edwards stood up and, effectively, said he would not sign trade deals with these undemocratic provisions.

Neither Sen. Clinton or Obama have made that specific pledge. Too many people think that globalization is just a slogan to mouth without looking at the rules that are governing trade. The fact is: globalization is nothing new. We've traded ever since humans walked on the earth. We need to stop being enthralled by the slogan "globalization" and think about how we set up rules that govern those trading relationships.

Tasini is right on. What we need to look at is the framework in which we trade with other countries and how involved corporations are allowed to be in setting up the deals and working within the setup.

Edwards was a tremendous asset to the debate within the Democratic primary and now it is hard to hear a message for workers (whether American or otherwise) that would break the status quo of corporate dominance. Tasini hopes that the union support recently thrown Obama's way will influence him into transforming the way America looks at trade. I'm hoping for that too.