Fair Trade Contingent Now Formidable Opponent
Ron Kirk made some controversial comments affirming that the Obama Administration has no plans to reopen NAFTA, but would look to address labor and environmental concerns outside of the agreement. Whereupon David Sirota's head exploded. Or actually not - he made some side comments about the virtues of campaign promises, but he also stated that "I still hold out hope - based on the White House's rhetoric - that even though Obama is going back on his promise to reopen NAFTA, there will nonetheless be progressive trade policy changes soon." That's kind of interesting, and I think the optimism comes from the set of allies in Washington for progessive trade policy, moving the country in a new direction:
Trade is emerging as a source of friction between President Obama and congressional Democrats.
Trade critics on Capitol Hill are complaining about comments by Ron Kirk, Obama’s trade representative, who on Monday said Obama does not want to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) after all.
“I’m disappointed,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said of Kirk’s comments. “The president needs to understand there is strong opposition to more-of-the-same trade deals.” Freshman Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) also expressed disappointment.
Kay Hagan's opposition in particular is interesting. She has not taken any high-profile stands as a freshman, to my knowledge, and starting with trade means that she considers it an important issue to her constituents. The President will simply be bound by a very large and strong fair-trade component on Capitol Hill. The Colombia and Panama FTAs will offer a testing ground. Here's what Kirk had to say:
Mr. Kirk, who as mayor of Dallas was known as a strong advocate of free trade, also said the administration planned expeditious reviews of pending trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.
He said that Colombia had made “remarkable progress” in reducing violence — attacks against labor activists have been a key sticking point — but that other issues remained, and he vowed intensive consultation with Congress on the matter.
The Bush administration signed the agreement with Colombia in November 2006. But Congressional Democrats and United States labor groups have said the Uribe government must do more to stop the antilabor violence and hold perpetrators accountable, a position Mr. Obama supported during his campaign.
Regarding Panama, Mr. Kirk said that differences on labor standards, and the question of the country “possibly being a tax haven,” needed resolution.
Certainly, taking these concerns seriously, and putting conditions on these free trade agreements, represents a change in and of itself.