'Fast Track' bill limits
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
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
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
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
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.