Fair Trade Fight

Posted May 23, 2010, at 7:14 p.m.

The fight to improve current and future trade agreement continues, as it must, in Congress, and Rep. Mike Michaud remains on the front lines. Rep. Michaud recently protested a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report that claimed free trade agreements supported 5.4 million jobs. Rising to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives, Mr. Michaud said, “In response to the report, I have only one thing to say: not in my district.” The congressman went on to list some of the Maine businesses where manufacturing jobs have been cut because of competition in other countries.

The trade issue will remain in a gray area for many Maine workers. On the one hand, they have seen the state’s old-line industries such as shoe manufacturing decline here and thrive in the developing world. But that trend is part of a larger movement, one that cannot be stopped as long as capitalism is the economic mode of choice. The global marketplace cannot be ignored or snubbed, and those nations that choose to do so are destined to end up with second-rate economic status. As developing nations grow in prosperity, they will become markets for the products and services provided by U.S. businesses. It’s just that the transition between one economic model and the next is painful.

Rep. Michaud’s TRADE Act — which stands for Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment — seeks to establish a better framework for renegotiating existing agreements and sets standards for new ones. Specifically, it would require Congress to consider human rights, security, and environmental and social effects as it evaluates trade deals. It also would end the fast-track approval nature of trade agreements in Congress, which allow only for yes or no votes (more akin to treaties).

Under the TRADE Act, Congress could modify such deals. Also, new trade deals could not ban “buy American” provisions or anti-sweatshop policies, but tax breaks for businesses that outsource U.S. jobs would be banned.

The TRADE Act now has 143 co-sponsors, Rep. Michaud’s office reports, which means the White House would have a hard time passing free trade deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, which are pending from the last administration, without some deference to those co-sponsors. Support for the TRADE Act also is affecting the fledgling Trans Pacific Partnership, an Obama administration deal that includes Singapore, Chile, New Zealand, Brunei, Australia, Peru and Vietnam. Rep. Michaud is chairman of the House Trade Working Group, and has focused much of his work in Congress on issues relating to trade.

It is important to stress that Maine and the nation cannot expect the global marketplace to wane, and it cannot be seen as an enemy to prosperity. The future lies in international trade. But Maine must work to ensure that trade is equitable for both sides. Rep. Michaud’s efforts in Congress continue to reflect that goal.

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