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"I will absolutely fight to the death" against the Panama FTA

Eyes on Trade | May 22, 2009

"I Will Absolutely Fight to the Death" Against the Panama FTA

Brandon Wu

Pop quiz: who said that? Was it a Panamanian worker with nothing to lose?

Nope. It was the chair of one of the most powerful committees in Congress. Yesterday, 55 House members sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi with strong language against the Panama FTA:

We believe the Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is not a new model on trade and does not represent the kind of change the American people are seeking. After eight years of a failed Bush free trade agenda, the current demise of our economy, and an ensuing massive increase in unemployment, it is difficult to justify to our constituents the passage of another badly flawed trade agreement. We fear passage of this agreement will set us back down the misguided course of past trade deals.

The letter was released in a press conference held yesterday with 13 of the members. It’s a diverse group that includes nine freshman members and committee chairs Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.). All of these members are committed to not letting more Bush-negotiated NAFTA expansions pass, and they’re not mincing any words. As quoted in CongressDaily, Slaughter said, "I will absolutely fight to the death to not get that bill [the Panama FTA] up here."

Also yesterday, a story emerged from Bloomberg that Obama may be backing off the Panama FTA until he can "offer a new ’framework’ for trade." That’s consistent with the fair-trade campaign promises he made on the campaign trail last year. Memo to President Obama: the framework already exists. It’s called the TRADE Act!

It’s not linkable, unfortunately, but today’s CongressDaily addressed these developments with the headline, "Panama Agreement Hits Multiple Snags On A Brutal Day":

The odds got longer for a stalled trade accord with Panama on Thursday. Union opposition hardened, a bloc of 55 mostly Democratic House members as well as a key GOP senator came out against the deal, and the Obama administration signaled it might want to re-evaluate the agreement’s role in a larger economic strategy.

After the jump, check out the full text of the release that accompanied the letter to Pelosi.

Populist, Progressive, & House Trade Working Group Members Join to Express Concerns with Panama FTA

Group sends letter to Speaker asking for renegotiation of Panama agreement

Washington, DC - Today a group of 55 representatives made up of members from the Populist and Progressive caucuses, the House Trade Working Group, and others sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) arguing that the proposed Panama Free Trade Agreement be renegotiated.

The letter was led by Populist Caucus Chairman Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), House Trade Working Group Chairman Michael Michaud (D-ME), Progressive Caucus co-chairs Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Populist Caucus Vice-Chairs Betty Sutton (D-OH) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Progressive Caucus members Phil Hare (D-IL) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH). House Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers are also co-signers. A full list of co-signers is listed below.

"Too many recent free trade agreements have been great for companies and bad for American workers," said Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter. "This recycled Panama FTA was written by the Bush Administration and it’s my hope that the new administration would not take the easy route but would sit down and renegotiate the whole package in good faith, with an eye toward creating a deal that respects the environment, labor rights and domestic workers. The Rules Committee is not going to be a rubber stamp for bad deals."

"The Panama agreement reflects the trade model pursued by the Bush administration, not the change President Obama campaigned on," Populist Caucus Chair Bruce Braley said. "In these tough economic times, we need to reopen this trade agreement to ensure it will help create American jobs, protect workers rights, and uphold environmental standards. With the Panama Free Trade Agreement, we have the opportunity to chart a new course for trade or simply endorse more-of-the-same."

"At a time of severe economic downturn and when the government is asking the U.S. taxpayer to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mess, the last thing we need to do is pass a free trade agreement that promotes offshoring, tax dodging, and special privileges for foreign investors," said House Trade Working Group Chairman Michael Michaud. "The Panama Free Trade Agreement takes us in the wrong direction at a time when our energies should be devoted to getting our economy moving forward again."

"We have an historic opportunity to work with the President Obama to develop a new model of trade not to simply take up an agreement negotiated under a failed model by President Bush," said Populist Caucus Co-Chair Betty Sutton.

"In the last year alone, the number of unemployed Americans has grown by 6 million," said Populist and Progressive Caucus member Phil Hare. "The President and Congress are working hard to get our economy back on track. We’ve passed a strong economic recovery package, foreclosure prevention legislation, and just yesterday, a credit cardholders’ bill of rights. Why would we want to compromise this progress by passing a Bush-negotiated free trade agreement with Panama that could lead to the loss of even more jobs?"

"After thirty years of failed trade policy, the U.S. manufacturing base has been cut in half, the middle class is losing ground, and we’re borrowing $2 billion a day from the rest of the world — including communist China — to pay for things we used to make here in America. And, this Panama FTA is more of the same," Populist Caucus Vice-Chair Peter DeFazio said. "This agreement was negotiated by President Bush. It is my hope that the Obama Administration will not perpetuate the free trade fantasies of the past three decades and instead sit down and renegotiate this package. This is an opportunity for us to stand up for the middle class and finally pass an agreement that benefits America."

In the letter, the members argue that because the proposed Panama agreement was negotiated by the Bush administration before the current recession, it is out of step with the needs of economic recovery. The co-signers argue that the Panama Free Trade Agreement should be renegotiated to more closely reflect our current economic needs, and should be used by the Obama administration as an opportunity to chart a new course for trade.

The full text of the letter follows with a list of signers at the bottom.

 source: Eyes on trade