Congressman Wu: A Strong, Sustained Voice for Human Rights

"[Trade agreements] should not be viewed as a free pass to sacrifice fundamental values, but rather as a key opportunity to advance democracy, human rights, and the rule of law around the world." -- David Wu

By Arthur Stamoulis of Portland, Oregon. Arthur directs the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign.

Oregon Congressman David Wu further cemented his reputation as the nation's leading advocate for human rights in trade policy this month by calling for a “democracy clause” to be included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP is a trade deal currently under negotiation between the United States and eight other Pacific Rim nations. The latest round of negotiations were held last week in the Sultanate of Brunei, a country the U.S. State Department has repeatedly called out for “arbitrary detention; limits on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; restrictions on religious freedom; discrimination against women; restricted labor rights; and exploitation of foreign workers.”

According to Congressman Wu (pdf):

Strong and equitable trade relationships with countries along the Pacific Rim help grow businesses and create jobs here in Oregon. However, trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, should not be viewed as a free pass to sacrifice fundamental values, but rather as a key opportunity to advance democracy, human rights, and the rule of law around the world.

Congressman Wu called for the TPP to include human rights “readiness criteria” like that used by the European Union, MERCOSUR and in bipartisan trade reform legislation called the TRADE Act.

The TRADE Act currently has 148 House cosponsors, including a wide majority of all committee and subcommittee chairs. Widely recognized as a new model for international trade, the bill’s human rights provisions were written and championed by Congressman Wu and were hailed as a major milestone.

At the time, Witness for Peace Northwest said:

Representative Wu’s commonsense new language requires U.S. trade negotiators to abide by standards which prevent countries that exploit their workers and crush democratic participation from gaining special access to U.S. markets until they clean up their acts... Trade isn’t ‘free’ when workers in one country are persecuted for exercising their rights to free speech and assembly. The new human rights provisions in the TRADE Act acknowledge this.

Congressman Wu’s repeated call for human rights in trade policy is not only the ethical thing to do, it also makes sound economic sense for a Congressional district that has seen the 9th most job loss due to trade with China out of any in the country. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Oregon’s 1st District lost a net 14,600 jobs due to unbalance trade with China between 2001 and 2008, 3.76% of the district’s total employment. Congressman Wu voted against allowing China to enter the World Trade Organization.

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    I'm glad to see this. This is probably not that popular in a district where major corporate CEOs are prostrating themselves day and night before the communist thugs who run China and exporting our jobs to Chinese sweat shops.

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    The best economic growth opportunities Oregon now has and will have for next several decades are abroad. If we want our Oregon economy to grow as much as it can, we need to export more, and we will need trade agreements to open foreign markets to us. It is important for Oregon's economic future to sell more in places like China, India, and Brazil. Otherwise, we are stuck with the 2-3% growth rate of the US. If we shut ourselves off from access to the large emerging middle classes in these countries (think "consumers"), we will not prosper.

    For example, the The International Monetary Fund just issued its revised growth estimates for 2010 and 2011 (here). I’ve summarized some of the statistic from their Table 1.1, the percentage estimates of increased Gross Domestic Products (GDPs), below:

             2010       2011

    United States ....2.6% ......2.3%

    China ............10.5% ...... 9.6%

    India .............9.7% ......8.4%

    Brazil ............7.5% ......4.1%

    Mexico ...........5.0% ......3.9%

    Canada ..........3.1% ......2.7%

    I hope this "new model for international trade" can open these large, rapidly growing foreign markets to Oregon's goods and service as well as promote human rights.

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      So in other words we turn a blind eye to ethnic slaughter of Tibetans and Uighurs, torture and imprisonment of dissidents, use of prison labor to make goods in China? Meanwhile the middle class in the U.S. is asked to compete with third world wages, and jobs by the millions are exported to Asia.

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        (1) No one, especially me, is saying to “turn a blind eye” to anything. I’m just saying that we have other interests at stake, or, put another way, that the issue is more complicated.

        (2) On China especially and specifically, many issues are interwoven. You state only some negatives. There are positive developments in human rights, etc., in China as well. We, of course, would like to see more positive developments. How to foster them is the question, and not a simply one. Just think how well the embargo has work with Cuba.

        And, with China, there is always a need to consider relations in the long view, as they may play out over this century. China may (probably?) by the end of this century be the most powerful nation on the globe. Berkeley Professor Brad DeLong put it this way (here):

        “There is a good chance that China is now on the same path to world preeminence that America walked 130 years ago. Come 2047 and again in 2071 and in the years after 2075, America is going to need China. There is nothing more dangerous for America's future national security, nothing more destructive to America's future prosperity, than for Chinese schoolchildren to be taught in 2047 and 2071 and in the years after 2075 that America tried to keep the Chinese as poor as possible for as long as possible.”

        (3) The issue of competing with low wages in other countries is perplexing (and, I think, one of the big issues of this era). Putting issues of labor, environmental, and human rights standards to the side (as if they were solved), we would still have wages in China at about one-tenth US wages, in India at about one-twentieth, and in many other places at some fraction of what a US worker get paid. Investments in education and equipment are giving these workers the same skills and technology (sometimes better, newer) as a US worker. I do not see tariff barriers working over the long term. There will be, I think, long term pressure to equalize wages no matter what obstacles are put in the way. So I see it to our advantage to go after (as in selling our goods) these foreign wage earners as they become richer and more numerous. Trade agreements can help us do that.

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          There has to be some middle ground between our current Chinese trade policy and the long-standing Cuban embargo.

          Both represent the worst of American foreign relations, one based on old fears and one based on greed. Of course, only one of these is a clear threat to our future.

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          Dave, you are taking the line that capitulation to the Chinese in one-sided trade that is unfair and unjust to our own workers is going to bring in China to the world of human rights and civilized behavior. There is no evidence to support that. In fact what we have done and continue to do is causing progressive damage to our own economy, enabling a totalitarian country ruled by thugs to jump to world domination.

          It was, in fact, economic isolation that helped bring down the Soviet Union, and certainly brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa. The multi-national corporations like Intel build factories in China for the cheap labor but capitulate to the Chinese on their human rights abuses. And at the present time China is menacing its neighbors on territorial issues, enabling the nuclear program of North Korea. China continues to be an outlaw country that accepts no standards of human rights and it should therefore not have access to markets in our country or in any civilized country in the world. Because Intel or Nike has great corporate profits from their relationship with China does not mean the world is actually benefitting. Any international standards of human decency are fast disappearing as Western democracies surrender to Chinese domination.

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            Bill, you seem to be overlooking all the positive developments in China from their economic development, which has raised several hundred million out of subsistence poverty into the middle class market economy, to improvements in their legal and political participation systems. China is not now our enemy. Nor need they inevitably become our enemy.

            Thinking that China is or will be our enemy has a variety of negative effects: (1) It lends support to proposals from defense contractors for expensive weapons systems which we do not need. This bloats our budget, increases our deficits and takes funding from domestic (and other military) priorities. See Tom Barnett’s Esquire article “The Chinese Are Our Friends” here. (2) It increases the probability of a major war involving the US and a nuclear power. (China currently has few intercontinental missiles, but one is probably targeted at Portland). (3) It keeps the US from gaining China’s cooperation on a long list of global problems like climate change, pandemics, global terrorists, and nuclear proliferation. And (4) it keeps us from marketing (selling) our goods and services in what will be the world’s largest economic market.

            China is important. In 2006, calling for more Oregon educational engagement with China, Representative Dennis Richardson and I made a proposal to the Oregon Business Plan titled “Developing the China Connection Through Educational Programs.” That proposal ended (here):

            “The central strategic and security issue of the 21st century will be the emergence of China as a world power and how the United States and China relate to each other. If these two great powers can get along, many other problems are solvable. If not, nuclear war and societal chaos are not impossible. If we fail to act as boldly as we can-- breaking a few educational, geo-political and funding mindsets—-future generations will stand in wonder at our failure. History sets hard standards and will not be kind to us or to our children if we fail. We in Oregon have an historic opportunity to act on the stage of world history. Few get such an opportunity. With vision, resolution and cooperation, let us seize this opportunity and meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.”

            This is still true. I urge you to take a more balanced, constructive view of China and how relations with them can move forward.

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              My problem is not with China, but with a totalitarian regime that brutalizes and murders human beings, and exploits its own and workers around the world. It is wrong to conflate China with it's ruling elite. We need to take a policy that does not enable or enhance that regime, but holds it accountable. I have relatives that are Tibetan, and the murder and torture of their people, the occupation of their nation, and ethnic cleansing of their people is but one symptom of a regime that is a pariah. I hope the day will come when the Chinese people rise up and decide they will no longer be oppressed or oppressors. And I hope that day is coming soon when American working people say they will no longer allow their jobs to be stolen from them by greedy and immoral multinational corporations who are complicit collaborators with the Chinese Communist regime.

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              An addendum to my last post: I'm old enough to have praised Nixon's opening to China, Carter's establishment of diplomatic relations, and the general warming of relations and opening to the world that happened since the "Ping Pong" diplomacy of Nixon/Kissinger. I had the false assumption that the totalitarian and brutal murderous character of the Chinese regime would change if their society had economic betterment. That was a delusion. China is just as brutal and oppressive as ever, they now have the economic and military clout to carry out that brutality in a way that was unimaginable before. Today China is as aggressive and militaristic as ever, and has no regard for any laws of civilized behavior, even to the extent of exercising cyber warfare on the internet and against U.S. govt. facilities, in addition to their ethnic cleansing of minorities. Today thousands of Uighers and Tibetans are in prison, tortured, and murdered, and the civilized world says and does nothing, while Oregon based corporations give their tacit blessing to all of that for the sake of their bottom line and the profits of their stockholders. The West and its corporate culture has become a soul-less civilization that will capitulate to anything and everything for the sake of corporate profits.

              The Chinese regime is what it is, but we should recognize that our corporate CEOs are no better, and perhaps worse in their collaboration and the selling of the lie that this kind of economics will change the character of China's aggressive drive towards ruthless power.

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    Anyone know what the polling in this race is? I have not come across any polling more recent than back in July.

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      I have speculated that the fact the GOP is not running Ads for their man on the Portland station means they consider it out of reach.

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