As reported by both Postman and the PI’s Politics Team, Congressman Dave Reichert is challenging his Democratic colleagues in the state to join him in opposing House Speaker Pelosi’s attempts to prevent a vote on the Colombian free trade agreement this year. Reichert was one of 7 Republicans and 2 Democrats who traveled to Colombia with US Trade Representative Susan Schwab this past weekend. Here’s what he sent out:
Many times when Republicans were in the majority, my colleagues would call on me to go to my leadership to help the state, for instance when we learned of language that would allow supertankers onto Puget Sound. Today, I urge all of my colleagues in the Washington delegation – including Governor Gregoire – to join together and reject the Speaker’s effort to shelve this vital measure.
Reichert’s premise is that this trade agreement specifically helps the state of Washington because of how dependent we are on global trade. But this appears to be a questionable premise at best. Boston University International Relations Professor Kevin P. Gallagher, who has written a book on NAFTA, takes a look at this agreement:
The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade deal is one of the most deeply flawed trade pacts in U.S. history. It will hardly make a dent in the U.S. economy, looks to make the Colombian economy worse off and accentuate a labor and environmental crisis in Colombia. The Democratic majority in Congress is right to oppose this agreement and call for a rethinking of U.S. trade policy.
According to new estimates by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, the net benefits of the agreement to the U.S. will be a miniscule 0.0000472 percent of GDP or a one-time increase in the level of each American’s income by just over one penny. The agreement will actually will make Colombia worse off by up to $75 million or one tenth of one percent of its GDP; losses to Colombia’s textiles, apparel, food and heavy manufacturing industries, as they face new competition from U.S. import, will outweigh the gains in Colombian petroleum, mining, and other export sectors, it concludes.
There’s a lot more that could be added to this that Gallagher doesn’t mention. Anything that weakens the Colombian economy to this extent will end up with more migrants in search of work and an increase the number of people willing to participate in illegal coca production. The failures of NAFTA in Mexico are likely to be repeated in Colombia, as both nations remain mired at the sharp end of America’s failed drug war, a no-win situation that no trade agreement will ever rectify and will continue to end up with more people fleeing here to find work.
But he does delve into another problem with this agreement, one that many people here in Washington State are likely to find troubling:
The deal amounts to a rollback of previous environmental provisions in U.S. trade agreements. Unlike past U.S. trade pacts, this deal doesn’t provide any new funding for cooperation, clean up, or compliance.
Finally, the deal has a little secret also not allowed under the WTO. It leaves open the possibility that ad hoc investment tribunals will interpret social and environmental regulations as “indirect expropriation.” Under such interpretations, multinational firms themselves (as opposed to states filing on a firm’s behalf such as in the WTO) can file suit for massive compensation from foreign governments. Under NAFTA such suits have been filed against the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Indeed, Methanex Corp. filed a $1 billion suit against the state of California for banning a gasoline additive that was polluting water sources.
The Sierra Club has a page here on the Methanex suit and others that have been initiated within the NAFTA agreement. As Congressman Reichert continues to make efforts to demonstrate his “green” credentials, I’m curious whether he has concerns over whether environmental regulations that come out of Olympia could trigger lawsuits from corporations that are affected by them.
Finally, Reichert spokesman Mike Shields has some words defending our desired trading partner, Colombia:
Is it perfect? No. But it has made improvements and it is our friend and ally in that part of the world, particularly when they have a neighbor who is fashioning himself to be a Fidel Castro for that part of the world.
This is true. Chavez is most certainly fashioning himself as a Castro-like anti-American protagonist, but this gets back to what my main concern over this agreement is. The policies of the Bush Administration, both economic and military, are slowly isolating our Colombian ally while strengthening the hand of Hugo Chavez. And this trade agreement will likely move us further down that path as long as President Bush sees it as a reward for a government whose recent military encroachment on Ecuadorean soil earned widespread condemnation across the region.
UPDATE: Reichert has a column on this in today’s Seattle Times.