Friday, November 9, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 57


 
 









 

'Fast Track' bill limits democracy

Peter Sullivan

The concept of checks and balances of power is supposed to be a hallmark of our government. Unfortunately, it may be rapidly diminished due to "Fast
Track" legislation.

Formally known as the Trade Promotion Authority bill, Fast Track is undemocratic and unnecessary.

If passed by the House on Nov. 16, Fast Track would prevent Congress from amending trade bills. Congress would still be able to reject or approve trade
agreements, but negotiating power would rest solely with the Executive branch.

Supporters of the bill say the president needs this legislation to beef up trade. They claim other countries refuse to negotiate seriously with the United
States because of Congress's power in amending deals.

Because many of us have been indoctrinated to believe "free trade" is more important than representative government, this argument may at first sound
convincing. And yes, it is true that trade bills take longer when Congress has input. But if we give all negotiating authority to the president, then what is the
point of having a Congress?

If TPA passes, future trade pacts will be passed which do not ensure adequate protection for the environment and labor rights. One such pact is the Free
Trade Area of the Americas, which is the ominous expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The aim of FTAA is to reduce trade barriers throughout the Americas. With fewer barriers, it is believed production and earnings will increase. This may be
true in some ways, but in the long term most people get shafted from this deal.

Take the example of small farmers. Because their production capabilities are limited, most of what they produce stays in the country in which it is grown.
They do not benefit from the removal of trade boundaries because they do not export large amounts of goods to other countries.

On the other hand, a large agricultural corporation will benefit from the FTAA because reduced or non-existent tariffs mean their massive amounts of goods
can be marketed for less in different countries. These reduced prices effectively squeeze out the small farmer because he cannot compete with the prices of
the transnational corporations.

Another dimension is the FTAA's pledge to remove the important environmental and labor laws that affect trade. We can see how this works by examining
NAFTA, the tamer predecessor of the FTAA.

Canada, seeking to protect public health, banned the gasoline additive MMT. Under NAFTA, the company that makes MMT legally sued the Canadian
government, alleging its laws prevented the company from earning potential profits. The Canadian government had to spend $13 million in tax revenues to
settle the dispute, and the dangerous additive MMT has returned to Canada.

Even those in favor of FTAA should be wary of the Fast Track bill in the House of Representatives. The economy may need a boost, but delegating away
the powers of Congress is no way to accomplish that.

President Bush has promoted the bill by claiming that "we will fight terrorism by expanding free trade," but it is doubtful Osama bin Laden will lose sleep
over the passage of Fast Track. Instead of a boost in the fight against terrorism, Fast Track can be more adequately characterized as a slap in the face to
the checks and balances system.

Sullivan, a senior history major,
can be reached at mookiex2000@hotmail.com.


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