Friday, May 11, 2007

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There's a domestic deal on trade

I still need to look at the fine print, but this Steven Weisman story in the New York Times suggests that a deal has been cut on trade deals for the future:

The Bush administration reached agreement on Thursday with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and other Democrats to attach environmental and worker protections in several pending trade accords, clearing the way for early passage of some pacts and improving prospects for others.

The unusual agreement, which came after weeks of negotiations, would guarantee workers the right to organize, ban child labor and prohibit forced labor in trading-partner countries. It would also require trading partners to enforce environmental laws already on their books and comply with several international environmental agreements.

While the understanding was a victory for Democrats, it also represented a shrewd compromise by the White House. The agreement is the first major bipartisan economic deal to emerge since Democrats took control of Congress in January. It has immediate importance for four countries — Colombia, Panama, Peru and South Korea — that are seeking to enter into trade pacts with the United States.

But officials in Washington predicted that the agreement’s effect would go beyond those countries and could be a template for all trade deals, including a possible worldwide accord.

Administration officials are hoping that the agreement will cause many Democrats to support future trade deals. They hope that enough Democrats will join with Republicans, who generally support such measures, to make passage of the agreements probable, if only narrowly.

Pelosi's presence at this announcement suggests that the dynamics I discussed back in late March kicked in.


UPDATE: Here are links to the Financial Times and Washington Post stories. The Post highlights the key concession:

The key to the agreement, said those involved, was the Bush administration's reluctant assent to Democratic demands for more stringent labor rules. Under the new policy, enforceable labor provisions will be written into the texts of trade deals to protect the rights of workers abroad to organize unions and bargain collectively, while banning forced labor, child labor and workplace discrimination.

The Bush administration resisted such rules, reflecting the fears of business interests that they could boost the power of U.S. labor unions, opening a backdoor for them to rewrite U.S. law to their advantage. But the administration concluded that it had to swallow the labor rules lest its trade deals die in a Congress controlled by the other party.

The deal also includes an agreement between the White House and Congress to develop a "strategic worker assistance and training initiative" that would increase job training and financial assistance for communities that suffer job losses to overseas competition and automation. Democrats said those programs would go beyond existing benefits, but they provided few details.

This should make Dani Rodrik very happy. Predictably, it's pissed off both David Sirota and organized labor.

posted by Dan on 05.11.07 at 09:25 AM


Uh, Public Citizen is not exactly organized labor. It's a Nader spin-off. They work with labor.

posted by: Miracle Max on 05.11.07 at 09:25 AM [permalink]

Ah, I've just discovered you through the recent bloggingheads with Yglesias, which I enjoyed.

The trade issue is very important to me and one where I get very confused by the Dems rhetoric. The rhetoric seems to be very anti-trade, but then deals like this get made.

The protectionist rhetoric hugely turns me off (a libertarian-esque Repub). If I was certain they didn't really mean it, then I could possibly support the Dems. I can't tell when they are just throwing a verbal bone to their labor base, and when they actually mean it.

(Much the same way the Repubs often sound anti-immigrant, but don't really do much. I know to discount the occasional anti-immigrant sounding diatribe. I have a harder time knowing when to ignore Dem rhetoric.)

posted by: jim on 05.11.07 at 09:25 AM [permalink]

There is a saying in business that if it's not on the agenda it doesn't exist.

The Democrats kept free trade critics like Rep.Marcy Kaptor(Dem. Ohio) away from the table. They didn't even give her a chance to review the deal over trade matters before they announced it.

I'm distrustful of Democrats when it comes to free trade issues ever since Bill Clinton supported NAFTA.

I want people I trust, people like Marcy Kaptor, helping to set the agenda.

If this is another labor sell out, people like me will go back to voting Green. That could put the Democrats right back into the minority.

They are playing with fire by sending labor democrats to the back of the room to listen in ignorance that a deal has been agreed to.

posted by: wjd123 on 05.11.07 at 09:25 AM [permalink]

Conceptually this is a step forward. But does it actually make Congressional approval of pending trade deals more likely?

Press coverage has suggested it might help with the small deals pending with Panama and Peru -- small because these countries are not among America's large trading partners. With respect to the deal with Colombia, which is important for reasons other than trade as well, and the one with South Korea there appears not to be any sign that the agreement about labor and environmental rules will bring with it any increase in support on the Hill.

I'm not saying it's a bad thing to have reached agreement in these areas for future trade deals, but its importance for the ones before Congress now isn't clear.

posted by: Zathras on 05.11.07 at 09:25 AM [permalink]

Bush doesn;t want to enforce labor laws in the US, why think he will enforce them anywhere else.

Shameless window dressing, now back to business as usual.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 05.11.07 at 09:25 AM [permalink]

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