By Arthur Stamoulis of Portland, Oregon. Arthur is the director of the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign.
The war in Iraq may have been the defining issue in the midterm elections last November, but in many individual races the economy -- and, more specifically, trade policy -- was the defining issue. According to the Democratic Strategist, thirty-seven “free trade” incumbents lost their seats to “fair trade” challengers in 2006.
Oregon House Speaker, and U.S. Senate candidate, Jeff Merkley seems to have learned from the last election. He has highlighted fair trade in stump speeches and campaign mailers, and last week, went a step further by speaking out passionately against the Peru Free Trade Agreement and denouncing Senator Gordon Smith for supporting it.
"Fair trade with Peru will ultimately benefit both of our economies, but this agreement doesn't get us there," he said. "We can't tie American workers' hands behind their backs. This NAFTA-based plan just doesn't cut it."
In a press release, Merkley pointed out that the Peru FTA contains several fatal flaws that would cost Oregon jobs, lock farmers and ranchers into a competitive disadvantage, and replace domestic products with imports at a time when the trade deficit is crippling the economy. He also faulted the Peru FTA for:
-Extending NAFTA's provisions that give foreign investors more rights than Americans to sue federal and state governments
-Enabling foreign investors to challenge American public health,environmental, zoning and labor protections in foreign courts
-Blocking government procurement rules that require the hiring of U.S. workers and "Buy American" provisions
-Setting limits on food safety standards that require the U.S. to rely on foreign regulators and inspectors
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that even Republican voters opposed free trade agreements by a two-to-one margin. In 2008, when “change” is the election theme candidates try to drive home, fair trade messaging will enable candidates enable candidates to differentiate themselves from proponents of the failed trade policies of the past -- helping campaigns to both turn out their base and win over swing voters.
More candidates should take Jeff Merkley’s lead in running on a fair trade and economic justice platform.