Tens years to the day after “The Battle of Seattle” opened a new front in the epic struggle over global economic policy, one of the activists who took to the streets with the the forces of civil society (labor, farm, environmental, consumer and human rights groups) to protest the World Trade Organization’s bias on behalf of multinational corporations has proposed a radical shift in the approach of the United States to international trade.
There was no tear gas in the air Monday.
But Sherrod Brown was bringing the message of the Seattle activists to Washington.
A relatively junior representative from Ohio when he marched in 1999 with union allies to protest the WTO’s plans to reduce the ability of the United States and other countries to protect workers, farmers and the environmnent, Brown is now a U.S. senator who sits on the powerful Banking, Agriculture and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees.
Yet, unlike so many who come to Congress and quickly forget their roots in working communities such as Brown’s hometown of Mansfield, Ohio, this senator is still battling the WTO and the unbalanced and irresponsible trade policies it promotes.
“The current trade model has not served the interests of a majority of Americans and has led to public demand for change. Americans know that the choices are not limited to free trade or protectionism. They know that trade policies can expand economic opportunity,” says Brown, who argues, correctly, that:
Fair Trade is vital to our nation’s economic future.
Trade can create new jobs in exporting industries, but trade can destroy jobs when imports replace the output of domestic firms. Because current trade policy has accelerated the trade deficit, eliminated manufacturing jobs, and stagnated wages, more jobs have been displaced by imports than created by exports. The United States has lost more than 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2000 – that’s one in six good paying jobs.
Trade deals like NAFTA, CAFTA and China PNTR were written and negotiated by multinational corporations and lack protections for workers, the environment, and food and product safety.
To a greater extent than any other Democrat in the Senate, Brown has urged President Obama and his aides to make a clean break with past policies. Brown’s message to an Obama administration that continues to send mixed signals with regard to global economic relations that, “Continuing the Bush trade policies would be a mistake.”
This is a long-term commitment on Brown’s part, as was seen Monday when, to mark the the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Organization (WTO) demonstrations in Seattle and the Nov. 30-Dec 2 WTO ministerial in Geneva, Switzerland, Brown announced plans to ramp up legislative advocacy for the reshaping of U.S. trade policy.
Along with North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, United Steelworkers union president Leo Gerard and Citizens Trade Campaign director Andy Gussert, Brown described plans to reintroduce Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment (TRADE) Act.
The TRADE Act seeks to revamp U.S. trade policy by mandating trade pact reviews, establishing higher standards, protecting workers in developing nations, and restoring Congressional oversight of future trade agreements. Among other things, the bill would mandate trade pact reviews, establish standards, protect workers in developing nations, and would help restore Congressional oversight of future trade agreements.
“We want trade and we want more of it. But, we need a new direction,” Brown explained on Monday. “Done wrong, trade sends our jobs overseas. Done right, trade can foster new business and job growth at home, and can lift up workers in developing nations. The TRADE ACT will help Congress and the White House craft a trade policy that benefits workers, business owners, and our nation.”
But the (TRADE) Act, which has attracted more than 125 supporters in the House, is central to congressional efforts to restructure trade policy in a manner that benefits rather than harms the U.S. economy.
“The TRADE Act… outlines principles on labor, environment, investment, and food safety that included in future trade agreements, and strengthens the role of Congress in trade policymaking,” explains Brown. “When we change the process for writing trade deals, we can make trade deals work for more people.”
The December 21, 2009 issue of TheNation that goes to pressthis week will feature a series of articles on where the fight for fairtrade and humane development policies is headed ten years after “TheBattle of Seattle” moved these issues to the center of the globaldebate.