Populist Caucus, allies speak out for fair trade

Members of Bruce Braley’s Populist Caucus were among 55 House members who took a stand against the Panama Free Trade Agreement today in an open letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

After the jump I’ve posted the full text of the letter, along with the list of those who signed. Here is an excerpt:

We believe trade agreements must meet basic standards protecting labor rights, environmental standards, food safety regulations, financial regulations, and taxation transparency. We are disturbed by Panama’s tax haven status and the use of this tax haven by U.S. financial institutions like AIG and Citibank. The U.S. is currently contemplating stricter financial regulations to protect our economy, but the Panama FTA will likely weaken any such effort. We believe the Panama FTA should be renegotiated in order to address these outstanding issues.

President Obama campaigned effectively on changing the trade model and his message resonated with the American people.  We believe the Panama FTA falls far short of that commitment and it is not in the best interests of the American worker, our economy, or our country.  We share your commitment to fighting for working families and believe you can be an effective advocate for our cause.

The House members who signed the letter mostly belong to the Populist Caucus, House Trade Working Group, and/or the Progressive Caucus. I noticed that Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) joined Braley (IA-01) among the 17 Populist Caucus members who signed. Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-03) was among six Populist Caucus members who did not sign. One Republican signed: Walter Jones (NC-03).

“Defending American competitiveness by fighting for fair trade principles” is one of the six key priorities for the Populist Caucus.

Later today, a U.S. Trade Representative announced that the Panama agreement “won’t be submitted to Congress for approval until President Barack Obama offers a new ‘framework’ for trade.” At Open left, David Sirota interpreted that announcement as a victory (albeit possibly only temporary) for the Populist Caucus, its allies and the AFL-CIO, which had already come out against the Panama agreement.

We’ll see whether the White House is willing to deviate significantly from the NAFTA model in this agreement. Whatever the final outcome, I am glad to see a large House contingent taking a stand for fair trade.

I still hope the Populist Caucus will get more involved in the health care debate.

Note: the House members who signed this letter include 17 of the 23 founding members of the House Populist Caucus–all except for Leonard Boswell (IA-03); Joe Courtney (CT-02); Mazie Hirono (HI-02); Linda Sanchez (CA-39); Peter Welch (VT-AL); and John Yarmuth (KY-03).

May 21, 2009

Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives

H-232, US Capitol

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Speaker Pelosi,

As representatives of the Populist Caucus, House Trade Working Group, Progressive Caucus and other Members of the House Democratic Caucus, we believe this is a historic opportunity to push forward a new trade model that will benefit workers and businesses.  We seek your support to work with the Administration to establish a new approach to trade.

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.

As you know all too well, the current recession has hammered the American family.  Unemployment, now at 8.9%, is expected to rise even more. Since the recession began in December 2007, 5.1 million jobs have been lost. It is noteworthy that the Panama FTA negotiations were completed in 2006, a full year before the recession began. Given the rapid demise of our economy, we are concerned that the FTAs negotiated under the prior Administration and in a different economic outlook, are out of step with the needs of an economic recovery. This disconnect between the Panama FTA and the current needs to restore our economy will make any vote on this FTA difficult to justify. Indeed, it appears to be the opposite of the “change” theme Americans voted for in the last two elections.

We believe trade agreements must meet basic standards protecting labor rights, environmental standards, food safety regulations, financial regulations, and taxation transparency. We are disturbed by Panama’s tax haven status and the use of this tax haven by U.S. financial institutions like AIG and Citibank. The U.S. is currently contemplating stricter financial regulations to protect our economy, but the Panama FTA will likely weaken any such effort. We believe the Panama FTA should be renegotiated in order to address these outstanding issues.

President Obama campaigned effectively on changing the trade model and his message resonated with the American people.  We believe the Panama FTA falls far short of that commitment and it is not in the best interests of the American worker, our economy, or our country.  We share your commitment to fighting for working families and believe you can be an effective advocate for our cause.

In light of the recession, we believe it is in the best interest of the United States for the President to work with Congress to chart a new course for trade. There should be a public discussion involving not just the United States Trade Representative but also Members of Congress about how to achieve a balanced trade agenda in difficult economic times. We ask for an open, honest dialogue and a new trade model and would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these issues further.

Sincerely,

Mike Arcuri

Tammy Baldwin

John Boccieri

Rick Boucher

Bruce Braley

Steve Cohen

John Conyers

Kathy Dahlkemper

Peter DeFazio

Rosa DeLauro

Mike Doyle

Donna Edwards

Keith Ellison

Bob Filner

Marcia Fudge

Gene Green

Raul Grijalva

Phil Hare

Alcee Hastings

Maurice Hinchey

Hank Johnson

Walter B. Jones

Steve Kagen

Marcy Kaptur

Dale Kildee

Mary Jo Kilroy

Dennis Kucinich

Barbara Lee

Dan Lipinski

David Loebsack

Stephen Lynch

Jim Marshall

Eric Massa

James McGovern

Mike Michaud

Grace Napolitano

John Olver

Frank Pallone

Tom Perriello

Chellie Pingree

Tim Ryan

Jan Schakowsky

Mark Schauer

Carol Shea-Porter

Brad Sherman

Heath Shuler

Louise Slaughter

Bart Stupak

Betty Sutton

Gene Taylor

Paul Tonko

Pete Visclosky

Maxine Waters

Charlie Wilson

Lynn Woolsey

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