Anti-worker CAFTA treaty may be nearing vote in Congress
Oregon's congressional delegation has been split on such trade treaties, with Peter DeFazio the only one who voted against all of them. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Greg Walden, and Senator Gordon Smith have voted for every NAFTA-style trade treaty to come before Congress, while Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives David Wu and Darlene Hooley have a mixed record on their votes.
Since it was signed by the presidents of five nations in May 2004, CAFTA — the grandson of NAFTA — has taken a long rest. Before it takes effect, the Central American Free Trade Agreement must pass an up-or-down vote in the U.S. Congress, and so far, President Bush hasn't put it on the agenda, likely because backers aren't sure they have the votes to pass it.
But that may be changing soon. A hearing on the treaty is scheduled for April 6 before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. Both Oregon senators are members of the 20-member committee — the only state to have both of its senators on the Finance Committee. So their responses to the agreement will be critical for the nation and for Oregon.
As of press time, there were rumors that the House Ways and Means Committee might also schedule a hearing soon after.
U.S. labor, environmental and community groups oppose CAFTA, saying that like NAFTA, it contains no protections for workers' rights or the environment, but lots of rights for investors, including avenues for corporations to sue governments to overturn laws that protect people but restrict trade or investment.
NAFTA caused a net loss of 9,720 jobs in Oregon between 1993 and 2002, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Thea Lee, trade policy expert for the national AFL-CIO, says CAFTA-backers may have scheduled the hearings to better test how much support they have, without risking the possibility of the treaty being defeated in a floor vote.
Few Democrats have said they're for CAFTA, and there's a solid cushion of Republicans against it, Lee said, adding that she's moderately optimistic that CAFTA can be defeated, though it will take work by constituents to persuade wavering members of Congress.
Oregon's congressional delegation has been split on such trade treaties, with Peter DeFazio the only one who voted against all of them. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Greg Walden, and Senator Gordon Smith have voted for every NAFTA-style trade treaty to come before Congress, while Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives David Wu and Darlene Hooley have a mixed record on their votes. Washington U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray have voted in favor of all such treaties, while Southwest Washington Congressman Brian Baird has voted for all but one.
To hear what their constituents think about CAFTA, Blumenauer, a Portland Democrat, has teamed up with Senator Smith, a Republican from Pendleton, to host a town hall meeting at University of Portland at 9 a.m. Monday, May 2.
Portland area anti-CAFTA activists have organized a forum at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 5, at the SEIU Local 49 Hall, 3536 SE 26th Ave. (off Powell). Speakers include the coordinator of El Salvador's resistance to the treaty; a Brazilian maquiladora activist; Bob Spicher of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, who will talk about how Wal-Mart fits into CAFTA-style treaties, which critics say pave the way for offshoring of U.S. jobs; and LC Hansen, president of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82, who will talk about how U.S. trade policies are forcing the privatization of critical public services.
CAFTA has so far won ratification in three other countries, despite protests from the citizenry. It passed in El Salvador in December, Honduras in February and Guatemala last month.
Passage has been held up in Nicaragua, where the Sandinista Party won control of Congress; the party has pledged to wait to see if the U.S. approves it before holding a vote. Popular pressure has also led to delay in Costa Rica, and there's some indication it may not pass there. The Dominican Republic was added to CAFTA after it was negotiated, and there it is likely to pass.
In the U.S., no trade agreement has failed to win congressional support since NAFTA passed in 1993, though Congress did strip President Bill Clinton of fast-track trade negotiating authority in 1994. President Bush won it back in 2002 and has negotiated a series of trade agreements since then, including NAFTA-style treaties with Chile and Singapore in 2003 and Australia and Morocco in 2004. Fast track means that once a treaty is introduced as a bill, Congress must vote it up or down within 90 days, without the possibility of amending it.
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