May 25, 2018
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Maine needs fair trade reform, Mr. President

By Don Berry, Special to the BDN

Mr. President, welcome to Maine. On behalf of working men and women, I welcome you to our fine state. As you may know, Maine is not only revered for its lobsters and picturesque coastline, its great North Woods and extraordinary lakes and rivers, it is also known for its exemplary work force. Often cited as one of the most productive work forces in the country, Maine men and women are hardworking, loyal, dependable and efficient.

However, while we tout a first-rate work force, Maine families are struggling — jobs are hemorrhaging from the state. Mr. President, you won’t have to travel far from Mount Desert Island to see another, less bucolic picture of Maine — one of shuttered mills and vacant Main Streets. Our unemployment rate nears 9 percent. Month after month, the Department of Labor certifies laid-off workers as eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance — their jobs lost due to outsourcing or increased imports.

Over 30,000 manufacturing jobs have fled the state since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. You wouldn’t have to travel but 50 miles west to see the closed ZF Lemforder shop in Brewer. Lemforder recently relocated to Mexico, costing 400 workers their jobs.

Unfair trade policy, skewed to benefit multinational corporations, and an elite class of investors have led to off-shoring of jobs, massive layoffs, a vast trade deficit, and unprecedented investor rights afforded to foreign corporations.

Mr. President, you campaigned on trade reform. You called for renegotiation of NAFTA and other trade deals, you pledged to reform the egregious investment provisions and to incorporate enforceable labor provisions. We ask you to follow through on your campaign promises.

Mr. President, U.S. trade policy is broken and no one knows this more than Mainers. The lack of prudent global regulation of commerce and massive trade and financial imbalances was a leading cause of our current economic crisis. The only way we are going to recover from this crisis is to also address our flawed trade policies.

Mr. President, trade reform does not equate to pushing more of the same NAFTA-style trade deals through Congress. Mainers are gravely concerned with your recent statements indicating movement to ratify the Bush negotiated free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Such action will exacerbate the U.S. trade deficit, further compromise our already weakening manufacturing base, and threaten a worse global crisis in the future.

The Economic Policy Institute warns that the U.S. International Trade Commission vastly underestimates the damage of a U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. EPI estimates a $16.7 billion trade deficit and a net loss of nearly 160,000 jobs in the first seven years — clearly the last thing this country needs as we seek to restore our economy and create jobs.

In addition, at a time when financial regulation is so desperately needed to avoid another global meltdown, the Korea FTA incorporates the most extreme financial deregulation of any FTA to date. The agreement commits its signatory countries to refrain from limiting the size of financial institutions, banning toxic derivatives or controlling destabilizing capital flights and floods! While Wall-Street lobbyists may line up behind such provisions, it spells disaster for the rest of us.

The three Bush hangover deals incorporate the worst provisions of NAFTA. They include the extraordinary investment provisions that subject our domestic environmental, zoning, health and other public interest laws to challenge by foreign corporations. They lack enforceable labor standards or adequate food and product safety provisions, and put bans on procurement policies, such as many buy-American, sweat-free and renewable energy policies.

Mr. President, Maine is a leader in fair trade reform. Maine workers, farmers, small-business owners, legislators and the congressional delegation have been calling to end the NAFTA nightmare and fix trade policy for years. Maine’s own Rep. Mike Michaud, who represents the very district you’re in, has put forward a blueprint for trade reform called the T.R.A.D.E. Act.

Mr. President, we are asking you to hold to your campaign promises of real and substantive trade reform. Upon your return to Washington, we would ask you to sit down with the T.R.A.D.E. Act and to use it as a template for future trade deals, including the Trans Pacific Partnership currently under negotiation. Congress should refrain from ratifying the Bush hangover deals until we have established a sound fair trade policy as demonstrated in the T.R.A.D.E. Act.

Welcome to Maine, the leader in fair trade reform. We are looking to you to jump on board!

Don Berry of Sumner is president of the Maine AFL-CIO.

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