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News ::
Massachusetts Congress Delegation inconsistent on FTAA and Fast Track
16 Jun 2001
While generally opposed to giving Bush "fast track" powers, this state's delegation needs some pressure to oppose FTAA.

Despite saber rattling and some firm commitments, the Massachusetts members of the US congress present anything but a solid front against the expansion of free trade throughout the hemisphere. For most of them, it seems that the only reality which has galvanized them to oppose “fast track” powers for the Bush administration is the fact that it is Republican, and they are uniformly Democrats.
People here and elsewhere in the Hemisphere recently lost a strong ally in support of human rights, labor and environmental conditions in trade agreements, when Representative Joe Moakley died last month. “We’d like to help out El Salvador to raise people up from poverty, but just opening up maquilas [sweat-shops] won’t help,” said Steve Lerose of the late congressman’s office. Moakley’s support for the people of El Salvador in particular was longstanding and well-documented, but none of the other members of his delegation seem to have taken on that mantle of his legacy.
Most of the representatives and senators have been unwilling to commit to a position on the Free Trade Area of the Americas, citing the lack of knowledge they have of its specifics. This stems in part from the highly secretive nature of the negotiations for it, including the fact that the text of the document has still not been made public, despite numerous members in the US legislature calling for its release.
Nonetheless, all of them have expressed concerns about the possible language of the treaty. Many mentioned the need to include labor and environmental standards, yet when a similar call was made when the North American Free Trade Agreement was being negotiated, nothing of the sort was included. According to Mike Prokosch of the Boston Global Action Network, members of congress who “Clinton could have gotten to vote for fast track” will now be more resistant, because of Republican control of the White House. Fast track powers for the Bush administration would allow the president to negotiate without much in the way of congressional oversight. In fact, a bill introduced on June 13th by Representative Phil Crane (R-IL) waives the need to include “labor and environmental” standards in the treaty. Prokosch characterizes Crane as “in the pocket of the garment industry,” which would explain his introduction of the bill.
In on odd twist on common sense, partisan division will be part of the impetus behind resistance to the FTAA and fast track, called “trade promotion authority” by Crane. “The Bush administration doesn’t deserve the trust to negotiate these agreements freely, based on domestic actions,” said Mike Prucker of Congressman Richard Neal’s office. This is generally the feeling among the representatives from Massachusetts, and the AFL-CIO actually sent out a call to all of them asking for a written commitment to oppose fast track, to which they all responded positively. “We are generally against the FTAA and fast track, unless something can be done about loss of manufacturing jobs here and labor and environmental concerns abroad,” said a spokesperson of Barney Frank, representative from the 4th congressional district.
In contrast, the senators from the state are less clear on their stance. “The Senate is a much more [pro-]free trade institution,” said Prokosch, evidenced by Kerry’s strong historical “support of free trade,” as Chris Wyman of Kerry’s office himself stated. Wyman went on to say that Kerry would like to “give the rest of Central America the same status as Mexico [has under NAFTA].”
This position stands in direct contradiction to the evidence that Mexico’s population has not benefited from NAFTA, and the people of El Salvador recently made their opinions heard, with a 50,000 strong march on May Day in opposition to the FTAA. Dave Grosser, with the local branch of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, is concerned about the possibility of an early implementation of the FTAA in Central America, something about which most of the Massachusetts representatives said they were ignorant. “They’re going to try to sneak it by, under the radar,” said Grosser, and it seems so far that this strategy has been successful.
The administration meanwhile is expected to push to get the powers to negotiate any free trade expansion treaties by September or October, prior to the World Trade Organization meeting to be held, in that bastion of democracy and freedom Qatar, in November. Yet there is opposition. Members of the House Frost and Pomery have been circulating letters to their colleagues to demand an inclusion of labor and environmental standards in any eventual treaty. Still, it seems that if legislators in both chambers are to be convinced to take a strong stand in favor of such provisions, their constituents will have to speak up. As long as people are kept in the dark about the situation, such action will be hard to organize. Moakley’s position that “trade is good but only if it’s responsible” will need to be taken seriously by Massachusetts’ representatives to the nation, and they’ll have to do more than just pay lip service to it.
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