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Entries tagged "NAFTA"

Four Things Obama Should Say During his State of the Union Address

January 23, 2014 ·

President Obama

What should President Obama say during his State of the Union address this year? IPS experts have come up with a few suggestions:

Sarah Anderson commends the administration's commitment to improve conditions for the poorest among us, but urges Obama not to forget to do something about the “overprivileged” as well.

Emily Schwartz Greco, together with William A. Collins, asks Obama to stop talking about lowering the corporate tax rate, since there would be plenty of cash to go around if only everyone paid their fair share.

Ron Carver calls on Obama to stop pressing Congress to grant his administration fast-track authority to expedite the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other global deals that are good for corporations but bad for people.

Phyllis Bennis urges Obama to reverse course in the global Syria talks and let Iran participate in them.

What do you think Obama should say in the State of the Union? Weigh in on these issues and others below, and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter during the address for more commentary from our experts.

A Government Expense We Would Shut Down: U.S. Trade Representative Office

March 30, 2011 ·

After two months of Egypt, Japan, and Libya dominating the airwaves, the 112th Congress could return to the top of the headlines soon as a government shutdown seems more likely.

Following a series of short-term stopgap funding bills, a $50 billion difference remains between the proposals by top Republican and Democratic leaders. With this in mind, and to fight against the idea that progressives just want to spend our way out of problems, we would like to present a few ideas that might reduce government spending and increase its efficiency at the same time.

The proposed cuts we’ll be laying out in a series of blog posts this week range from military boondoggles to counterproductive drug war policies.

First up in the IPS chopping block is the U.S. Trade Representative Office (USTR). Currently employing a staff of 200 people and leasing real estate in Washington, Brussels, and Geneva, the USTR is an expensive agency, and its work seems increasingly redundant. Sarah Anderson, who directs the Institute's Global Economy project, says:

Trade negotiators aren't following through on President Obama's campaign promises to renegotiate NAFTA and are showing few signs of bringing a fresh approach to talks over new trade deals. If all they’re doing is expanding a model that undermines good jobs and the environment, it would be better to shut down USTR.

This cabinet-level-but-not-technically-in-the-cabinet position has been rumored to actually be in some downsizing plans that would incorporate it into the Department of Commerce. The agency’s chief, Ron Kirk, didn't seem to oppose the rumored move in a recent interview:

It's not a rumor. We've heard of it. We welcome it.... It is hypothetical.... I don't think we should be afraid of stepping back and taking a look and saying what do we do really, really well as USTR, and what do our partners do really well at Commerce or Ag?

The United States has signed 17 free-trade agreements, and is waiting for congressional approval on three more (Colombia, South Korea, and Panama) that the Bush administration negotiated and are similar to atrocious deals like NAFTA. Those agreements are a corporate scam, so why should taxpayers keep funding an agency that despite a change in administration pays its bureaucrats to propose the same thing over and over again?

We Need to Rethink, Not Rearm NAFTA

February 4, 2011 ·

U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet in Washington today amid calls in the United States for tougher security on the northern border. Suggestions in the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the 49th parallel is an unruly ‘no man’s land’ threatening the American people, and that Canadians should need visas to enter the United States  prompted the meeting.

Experts expect the two leaders to announce today a “new” border partnership to ease the flow of goods and people across the border by harmonizing security, immigration and refugee, surveillance and possibly defense policy across the continent. There's nothing new about this plan. It's the regurgitation of the defunct Bush-led Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP)without the Mexican “amigo,” previously  played by Mexican President Vicente Fox. As the Canadian business lobby suggested to Obama, it only “takes two to tango.”

Ten years ago, business lobbies of the three countries claimed the only way to keep goods, services, and investment flowing across borders in the post-9/11 security climate was through “deep integration,” or the arming of NAFTA. Corporate North America entered into a pact with governments to endorse transnational military exercises and surveillance systems, no-fly lists, and other ineffective but intrusive security measures.  In return , promises were made for open borders, a common and laxer regulatory environment, and a dominant role for big business in the creation of a North American economic policy that went beyond the already exhausted NAFTA.

The plan took many forms, from the 2001 and 2002 Smart Border Declarations with Canada and Mexico, a 2005 trilateral report from the Council on Foreign Relations on “Building a North American Community,” and the now reviled SPP, which emerged in Waco, Texas that same year. By 2006, a hand-picked group of 30 CEOs was driving integration as the North American Competitiveness Council -- the only non-governmental advisory group for the process.

The plan was corporatist, its successes modest, and its failures abundant. No one can legitimately claim it has made North America safer. Since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, the Washington-led war on drugs has left more than 34,000 dead in Mexico. Not only does the United States. arm the Mexican military with taxpayers’ money, but criminals enjoy a continuous supply of high caliber guns given the laxity of U.S. laws and the large supply close to the border. In addition, NAFTA’s prohibition on capital controls allows dirty money to flow both ways without effective restrictions.

In Canada, the thought of harmonized security and border policy will bring to mind the experience of Maher Arar.  A Canadian citizen, Mr. Arar was deported from New York to Syria based on RCMP intelligence shared without filters with the Department of Homeland Security. He was imprisoned and tortured for a year before being let go without charge. Canadian airlines continue to use U.S. no-fly lists to block innocent Canadians from boarding planes that travel through U.S. airspace en route to non-U.S. destinations.

The SPP goal of enhanced competitiveness and “prosperity” has also failed to materialize. Cheap U.S. corn exports into Mexico are blamed in numerous studies for the loss of millions of farm jobs. Manufacturing jobs have been leaving Mexico for Asia, where salaries are much lower, for several years. Mexico’s exports are from transnational industries, mainly the automobile sector, but not of the weakened national industry.

Canada has also lost manufacturing jobs as its economy becomes increasingly linked to raw resource exports. What manufacturing or other high-value industry still exists is increasingly U.S.- or foreign-owned. Even in the resource sector, extraction and export is carried out by private firms based on the profit motive only. Almost all of the heavy crude from Alberta’s tar sands goes to the U.S. for refining. Part of the SPP vision has been to consider energy, raw materials, and even water as part of a “North American” pool at the disposal of the free market, not something that must be preserved and protected for future generations.

Like many Canadians and Mexicans, we were relieved when President Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to renegotiate NAFTA to make it work for working families. “Starting my first year in office, I will convene annual meetings with Mr. Calderón and the prime minister of Canada. Unlike similar summits under President Bush, these will be conducted with a level of transparency that represents the close ties among our three countries," he said. "We will seek the active and open involvement of citizens, labor, the private sector and non-governmental organizations in setting the agenda and making progress”.

We still believe openness and involvement is what it’s needed. But we worry that Obama and Harper will use today's meeting to endorse a myopic economic and security vision for North America that takes us further away from a just and sustainable future. At the very least, the public should be informed promptly and in detail of the decisions taken, and to have a say in whether or not a “security perimeter” is in anyone’s interests.

Manuel Pérez-Rocha is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. Stuart Trew is a trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians in Toronto.

Deal on U.S.-Korea Trade Would Expand Excessive Investor Protections

December 10, 2010 ·

Approval of a White House deal on a trade agreement with Korea appears increasingly uncertain, as several labor unions and key Democrats have announced their opposition.  The deal, announced December 3, includes revisions to the pact negotiated by the Bush administration in the areas of market access for automobiles and beef.  These changes resulted in a split in the U.S. labor movement, with the United Auto Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers coming out in favor of the deal but the AFL-CIO, Steelworkers, Communications Workers, and the Machinists opposed.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the “deal” is the failure to address widespread concerns over excessive investor protections.  Current U.S. trade and investment agreements allow private foreign investors to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in international tribunals over actions, including public interest regulations, that reduce the value of their investment.

On the campaign trail, President Barack Obama made several promises to revise these rules.  For example, he stated “With regards to provisions in several FTAs that give foreign investors the right to sue governments directly in foreign tribunals, I will ensure that foreign investor rights are strictly limited and will fully exempt any law or regulation written to protect public safety or promote the public interest.  And I will never agree to granting foreign investors any rights in the U.S. greater than those of Americans.”

As Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, points out, however, such changes were not made in the Korea deal.  According to Miller, “The rights granted foreign investors are far too broad and allow foreign corporations to skirt the rule of American law, such as for health and environmental protections, and American courts by using private arbitration panels to demand compensation from US taxpayers for upholding our own labor standards and other essential regulations.”

The Communications Workers of America also drew attention to the problems with the deal’s investment rules:  “This agreement gives investment and legal protections to large multi-national corporations which shift jobs offshore in search of the lowest labor and environmental costs and highest profits.  With no counter balance, multi-national corporations whipsaw workers and nations to prevent and eliminate bargaining rights.”

Several major U.S. environmental groups have also emphasized the problems with investor protections.  According to Friends of the Earth, “The Korea trade pact replicates some of the worst aspects of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), providing foreign investors the right to challenge U.S. public health and environmental regulations that could put a dent in their current or expected profits. Like NAFTA, the agreement would also allow South Korean companies to challenge U.S. environmental laws in secret, unaccountable trade tribunals that completely bypass the U.S. judicial system.”

One little-known aspect of the investment chapters of U.S. trade agreements is that they ban the use of capital controls, a tool that has been used effectively by many countries to prevent or mitigate financial crisis.  New Zealand academic Jan Kelsey has pointed out that recently adopted capital controls by the government of Korea would likely be in violation of the trade pact’s investment rules. According to Kelsey, “a number of measures adopted by South Korea in its national interest appear to conflict with the agreements it has signed with the US and the EU and also reveals inconsistencies in Korea’s obligations under the two agreements and with other international instruments that allow them more flexibility.”

As Boston University professor Kevin Gallagher stated in his article Obama must ditch Bush – era trade deals, “South Korea will join the growing group of nations that have recently resorted to currency controls in the wake of the global financial crisis. As a rash of new research has shown, such controls are legitimate tools to prevent and mitigate financial crises. Yet if the pending South Korea-US free trade agreement had been ratified by now, South Korea’s actions would be deemed illegal.”

Despite strong opposition from civil society groups in the United States and South Korea, the White House is expected to seek Congressional approval of the U.S.-Korea trade deal in early 2011.

Troops to the Mexico Border

May 26, 2010 ·

Nat'l Guard troops on border duty. Credit: US Military

Only a couple of days ago, I wrote that “U.S.-Mexican relations might look at little different in the age of Obama, but the Bush-era priorities remain the same.” Today, I think this statement was reinforced.

Only a few days after Mexico’s President Calderon went back to Mexico from the U.S. after being praised for his military efforts in combating the narco (notwithstanding the spiral of violence it has caused) Obama decided to step it up at home, sending 1,200 troops to the border states. Just as when Bush sent 6,000 National Guard troops to the border in 2006, the purpose is to appease Republicans in their calls to secure the border, and to try to gain support for the pending migration reform.

However, this decision is deeply contradictory. Although the stated goal is to secure the border from criminal drug gangs — and the illicit traffic of drugs, money and arms — the victims of this military escalation might well be the millions of undocumented immigrants to whom the reform is supposed to eventually benefit. The calls from Republicans and border state governors to seal the “porous” border are aimed at curbing “illegal immigration” as well. Hence, the differences between criminals and undocumented workers are becoming muddled, even when both issues — drug trafficking (and the violence it conveys) and migration — have quite distinct causes and consequences.

This generalization comes from the Bush-led Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America that Obama supposedly (but never officially) wrote off. One of the SPP’s stated goals was secure borders and combat "transnational threats to the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including terrorism, organized crime, illegal drugs, migrant and contraband smuggling and trafficking” and to promote the “legitimate flow of people and goods”. Implicitly, illegal migration became equated to a security threat.

Today, when states like Arizona are criminalizing “illegal migration,” Obama’s decision to send the National Guard to the border might end up reinforcing persecution of those that are in this country without papers. People that came to this country looking for work — mainly because of joblessness at home, due to failed economic policies like NAFTA and privatization — are ending up being as illegal as drugs, arms or dirty money.

That's a shame. Obama should rapidly distinguish the issues and act accordingly.  The "war on drugs" has already proven fatal for millions of innocent Mexicans. Will the same start happening here?