Sunday, March 29, 2009

Nafta or Fair Trade ?

Trade Experts: Renegotiate NAFTA

by James Parks, Mar 18, 2009
Trade experts from throughout the Americas say U.S. trade policies
must be completely revised and existing agreements renegotiated and
agree with the Obama administration’s proposal to renegotiate part of
the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that allowed unsafe
Mexican trucks to drive on U.S. highways.

In a forum hosted by the International Labor Rights Forum, the Global
Policy Network and the Economic Policy Institute, trade union leaders
from the United States, Mexico, Central America and Colombia said
that existing and proposed trade agreements have failed to live up to
their promise and have actually made things worse.

Patricia Juan Pineda, counsel for the FAT, Mexico’s independent union
federation, told the forum:

During the negotiation of NAFTA, critics claimed that many small
businesses that maintain most of Mexico’s employment, would close and
that the agreement would create lower salaries and unstable work
conditions. Fifteen years later, many of the criticisms have become a
reality.

A big problem with NAFTA and the Central American Free Trade
Agreement (CAFTA) is that neither protects workers’ rights. Bama
Athreya, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum,
said:

Twenty-five years of experience promoting labor rights conditions in
trade agreements has shown us that we need better ways to measure
progress and better tools to hold governments accountable for
protecting workers’ rights.

Omar Salazar Alvarado, executive director of ASEPROLA, a Costa Rica-
based labor rights advocacy organization, added:

It’s a major mistake to believe that labor rights are protected under
CAFTA. The intention was always to protect trade and investments and
not labor rights. Today we have the possibility to correct this mistake.

Participants in the forum also called on the U.S. government to drop
consideration of a proposed trade agreement with Colombia. Francisco
Ramirez Cuellar, president of Sintraminercol, Colombia’s coal miners’
union and a human rights activist, puts it this way:

If the U.S. and Canadian governments approve the Colombia Free Trade
Agreement, they would be legitimizing the crimes against Colombian
labor leaders, crimes that occur on average once every three days.
Those that are responsible are basically the corporations and the
governments, the same groups that would be the first to benefit from
the agreement.

Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for union
members. The Colombian government has not vigorously investigated or
prosecuted the killing of trade union members. At the current pace of
investigations and trials, it would take 37 years to prosecute the
backlog of cases. And the caseload is growing—the rate of killings,
which had fallen for a few years, jumped sharply last year by 25
percent.

Meanwhile, as part of the omnibus fiscal year 2009 appropriations
bill, Congress banned unsafe Mexican trucks on U.S. highways. The
Bush administration ignored a congressional ban on Mexican trucks
operating beyond the 25-mile commercial zone around the U.S.-Mexico
border.

The Transportation Department’s inspector general reported on Feb. 6
that despite repeated assurances that the federal inspectors would
“check every truck, every time” it crossed the border, the
Transportation Department couldn’t determine whether such inspections
had occurred.

Teamsters President James Hoffa says the “driving public is put at
risk when trucks from Mexico that don’t meet U.S. standards are
allowed to roam our highways.

The Mexican government has not held up their end of the bargain to
meet U.S. standards. Mexican trucks are unsafe and Mexican drivers
are not required to meet the same criteria that American drivers must
meet to earn a commercial driver’s license. It’s long past time to
close the border to these unguided missiles.

Mexico is planning to increase duties on $2.4 billion of U.S. exports
of commodities like wheat, beans, beef, and rice in retaliation for
the truck ban. Jane Winebrenner writes in the Daily Labor Report the
Obama White House has asked for new legislation to create a new
trucking project that meets the concerns of Congress and the union
movement.

The expansion of Mexican trucking in the United States was negotiated
under the 1994 NAFTA.
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