Last week the Obama administration signaled its intention to move forward with three trade pacts negotiated under former President George Bush, evoking the ire of a growing and influential chorus of critics vowing to defeat the flawed trade agreements.
“Free trade” agreements with Columbia and Panama could soon be sent to Congress for ratification, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said last week. Another “free trade” agreement with South Korea is being worked on as well.
These FTA's are a shift for Obama’s campaign rhetoric in which he sounded more like a “fair trader” than a “free trader” and critics have taken note.
Democratic congressional allies, organized labor and even Obama’s former colleagues in the Illinois state legislature are speaking out and fighting back.
"The basic premise of redirecting U.S. trade policy is that we must see evidence that our trade model is working before we pass new trade agreements -- whether with Panama, Colombia or South Korea," Brown said in a speech to the Washington International Trade Association.
He also announced that he would soon introduce legislation in the Senate that would indefinitely delay congressional consideration of any trade pacts negotiated under the Bush administration. In the meantime, he would direct the Government Accountability Office to study America’s current trade agreements. He is confident those studies will show that America’s trade policy has been an abject failure.
"It's hard for anyone to argue our trade policy is working," Brown said.
Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME), a member of the House Trade Working Group, echoed those sentiments, saying that it dumbfounded him that the administration would move forward with these “free trade” agreements with the U.S. economy in such bad shape.
“Why would we be moving forward on a trade agreement negotiated by President Bush during a time when our economy is struggling? This makes no sense whatsoever. It does not represent a new model on trade. It represents a recycled model that doesn’t work," Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) told POLITICO’s Ben Smith last week.
And Monday on POLITICO, James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, has a column imploring the president to reconsider his decision. Both agreements are fatally flawed and will simply lead to the export of more American manufacturing jobs, he said. Not only that, the Panama agreement would make it easier for American corporations to evade U.S. taxes, pointing out that 350,000 American companies currently have subsidiaries of shell companies set up in the nation to avoid U.S. taxes. The proposed Columbia agreement would cost America jobs and support a brutal regime that frequently takes violent actions against unionists in the country.
“American workers are relying on the Obama administration to make sure our country doesn’t enter into another NAFTA-style trade deal,” he writes. “That includes the Bush administration’s leftover Panama and Colombia pacts, which are now being pushed by the same special interests that promoted NAFTA, CAFTA and the WTO.”