Obama administration pushes ahead with free trade agreements

Today the Obama aministration announced it may have the basis of a deal with Republicans in Congress to move forward with three free trade deals: Korea-US, Panama FTA and Colombia FTA.

A condition of passage which the administration imposed is passage of an expansion of TAA, a law that provides healthcare and compensation to workers displaced by offshoring due to free trade.

A few weeks ago, the administration announced new agreements with Colombia to bolster its law enforcement mechanisms to head of human rights violations against trade union activists. The agreement required Colombia to pass new laws boosting the number of law enforcement officials who would prosecute human rights violations. Those goals apparently have been met.

And a few months ago, the administration secured support for the Korea agreement from the United Autoworkers when it convinced the Koreans to accept new imports of U.S.-made cars.

Labor continues to express concern that as to the Colombia FTA, they are skeptical about how human rights protections will be enforced and whether or not any enforcement mechanism will exist in the agreement itself. Here's what one senior administration official said today on a conference call in response to a question about this issue:

What we anticipate from the "action plan" [reference to a side agreement with Colombia on human rights] all three trade agreements – Colombia, Panama and Korea – have some of the strongest labor enforcement chapters of any FTAs that we've done. So we're satisfied that we have frankly the same remedies available to us under the Colombia, uh, the provisions that were negotiated with strong bipartisan support in the May 10th agreement on Colombia.

But we believe that the Santos administration [Colombian president] has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to human rights reform for their own reasons, and we have every reason to believe that them inviting us to continue to work with them, inviting the International Labor Organization to work with them on stregnthening their labor enforcement regime, that we will have, uh, that they have the will first of all to continue to take this seriously.

Now the standard has never been that there would be a complete absence of violence. We think any death is one too many, but what we saw was the balance that will allow the U.S. to reap the economic benefits of Colombia, uh, this trade agreement, which are almost 100 percent to our favor since Colombia is a preference company, uh, country, while at the same time working with the Santos administration to address the concerns about protecting the rights of workers. We've struck a good balance. [my transcription]

Couple things. The unstated answer to the original issue is there would be no enforcement mechanism other than ILO procedures that are notoriously well-intentioned by rarely successful.

Also, one wonders how much violence is acceptable?

And to what extent is tying the TAA to free trade agreements a tacit admission that FTAs cost jobs. Certainly tying the two together is a good thing and likely meant to be a way for Demcorats who want to vote for FTAs to cover their left flanks at election time, but tying TAA to the FTAs raises the looming question just how many jobs do we expect to lose because of this package of FTAs?

Still, senior administration officials could not detail the specifics of how the FTAs would be passed, considering that House Republicans are vowing to block the TAA portion of the legislation. Would House Dems vote for passage without TAA? Do the FTAs even need House Democrat votes? The White House is also keeping mum about how it might respond if the FTAs pass without TAA legislation attached.

Labor and working families are going to have to put pressure on Congress, especially the Senate to disallow the FTAs from moving forward under these circumstances.

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  • I don't think these three trade agreements will have a similar economic impact on jobs in the U.S. What's the evidence for it?

    Posted by Marissa T., 07/01/2011 2:55pm (9 years ago)

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