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The Old Left's new face in Congress

Anyone paying attention to the Democratic Party's new push for "A New Trade Policy for America?"

A couple of big shots in the party have been meeting privately with our Commander-In-Chief to hammer out an agreement that requires all future transnational trade agreements (e.g., those pending with Peru, Panama, Columbia, and South Korea) to include provisions that protect workers and the environment. (Here's a 1-pager outlining what those crazy left-wingers are pushing for). Well, it appears that Bush and Democratic leaders have tied the knot.

As the Center for American Progress (CAP) reports, the bipartisan compromise states:

Countries that sign trade agreements with the United States now must make fully enforceable commitments to respect the five basic international labor standards, as enshrined in the 1998 International Labor Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work....

These five standards, if you're not versed in ILO policies, include rights to organize and bargain collectively, and prohibitions against child labor, forced labor, and workplace discrimination. That ain't half bad, that is if you can enforce compliance, something that has dogged the ILO for years. Why should we believe anything is going to change now? The article continues:

The compromise also calls for a new Strategic Worker Assistance and Training, or SWAT, initiative to deal more effectively with the negative impact of trade on the livelihoods of some Americans and their communities. Finally, it lays down important markers on areas of national concern that are substantially affected by global trade, such as environmental protection, port security, investor rights, government procurement, and developing countries’ access to life-saving medicines.

Finally! Someone's looking after investors. Whew! Ok, so there's nothing here about protecting women's rights, traditional cultures, sexual minorities, people of color, prisoners, political prisoners, prisoners of war, the mentally ill, seniors, the un- (or under-) employed, or preventing inequities that drive illegal immigration. Hell, maybe we should just be thankful that the workers of the world are finally on the road to meaningful recognition and that environmental protection is riding shotgun. Too much too quickly is probably just asking for trouble.

Trouble is exactly what Bush and his new Democratic bedfellows allies are facing with this new agreement.

In the Left corner we have David Sirota at TomPaine.com. He raises concerns that the U.S. won't be held to the very standards that it's imposing on other nations, that Dems had to agree to give up a substantial degree of Congressional oversight of future trade deals in order to seal the deal with Bush. Although, Sirota notes, there's no way to know for sure because the details of the deal have been kept suspiciously shrouded. Others, notably the Teamsters and the United Steel Workers, contend that these protections still don't address what free trade agreements are so good at, sending jobs oversees.

In the right corner we have Dan Ikenson of the Cato Institute. He worries that trade agreements now on the table may fall apart, and that the inability of poorer countries to meet the stricter requirements will lead to new sanctions and tariffs that will interfere with the smooth functioning of the market. Some of those precarious trade agreements have already been signed but would require those countries to agree to the new provisions. South Korea's chief negotiator delicately put it this way:

There is no change in our government's stance that there is no renegotiation on the Korea-U.S. FTA [free trade agreement].

It seems that The Middle is compromising the Right and Left right out of the picture. With respect to the stakeholders in this deal - labor and big business - Bush and the Democratic leadership clearly decided it would be better to ask forgiveness rather than permission.

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“The Old Left's new face in Congress”

  1. Blogger marc Says:

    Hey I saw this today too, and at first didn't get beyond the initial "hey good news" impulse. It's so nice to see any moderate compromise that I nearly forgot the original problems. Wonderful analysis, thank you for this post.