Topical Resolution: Fast Track: Is This Democracy? No. 380
“Fast Track” or “Presidential Trade Promotion Authority”, a mechanism designed to expedite passage of trade agreements through Congress, will expire at the end of June 2007. The President then must request Congress to reauthorize TPA, a process which gives the executive branch the right to dictate trade policy and formulate trade agreements. Under Fast Track, the president and the USTR (United States Trade Representative) have the power to select our trading partner nation(s), negotiate a trade agreement, then submit the agreement to Congress for a simple 'up' or 'down' vote. Discussion time is limited to 60 days. No amendments are permitted. Therefore, under Fast Track our representatives in Congress have virtually no say concerning trade policy and the contents or language of trade agreements. The framers of the Constitution rightly gave the Legislative Branch the authority over trade to ensure that the Executive Branch did not have this power exclusively.
The record of “free trade” under Fast Track has been dismal: the unrealized promise of NAFTA; an annual trade deficit that has risen from $38 billion in 1992 to over $800 billion in 2007; the loss of millions of middle class manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and an increase in exploitation by U.S. owned companies in developing nations.
Global trade agreements do not simply regulate the exchange of goods; they increasingly facilitate international corporate investment. Agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA have functioned to increase the power and profits of corporations, to the detriment of workers’ livelihood and environmental sustainability. Trade agreements negotiated over the past two decades include control over services (such as provision of natural resources), over laws passed at the local and state levels (such as living wage laws, or environmental protections) and over intellectual property rights (including distribution of generic pharmaceuticals). Simply stated: trade agreements reach into all aspects of our lives and those of the populations of our trading partner nations.
Trade agreements can be written and negotiated to enforce labor practices and raise living standards for workers internationally. The pacts can establish food safety standards and environmental protections vital to survival of the planet. However, this administration has crafted trade agreements on the NAFTA model for the benefit of corporate investors. These are agreements which guard effectively against intellectual property rights infringements but have relegated standards preventing sweatshops and child labor to unenforceable side agreements. President Bush's first USTR, Robert Zoellick, went so far as to notify Jordan's Ambassador to the U.S. that the Bush administration would not make efforts to enforce labor and environmental standards stipulated in the highly promising Jordan FTA, negotiated by the Clinton Administration. They have made good on this promise. Can the Bush Administration be trusted to enforce the standards included in new trade agreements?
This spring, the Bush Administration and members of the Democratic House leadership unexpectedly announced that they had reached a compromise concerning trade issues. Talking points have been released and statements made by participants but even the most expert and vocal advocates of fair trade in Congress have not been privileged to read the full text of the “deal”. This lack of transparency is puzzling and disturbing. Not only is the request for reauthorization of Fast Track looming, but FTA’s with Korea, Peru, Panama and Colombia are at various stages of negotiation, each with its own set of complications. Claims are made that the “deal” includes International Labor Organization (ILO) standards and environmental protections, fully enforceable to the same extent as other provisions, such as carefully guarded intellectual property rights. Other long-sought components are said to be included, such as access to generic drugs for patients in poor nations. These claims have not been corroborated, nor is the legislative language available for analysis.
ADA urges Congress to insist on full disclosure of the components of the “deal” on trade reached recently by the Bush Administration and the Democratic leadership.
Democracy requires checks and balances by the branches of government. Fast Track is not democracy.
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Energy, Environment and Economic Policy Commission