The recent News editorial, "Trade promotion authority," argued that currently proposed "fast track" legislation giving the president authority to negotiate trade agreements without congressional debate is a good thing. I disagree.
Behind-closed-doors negotiations mean that the most powerful financial interests - investors, bankers and corporate officials - will continue to structure global trade agreements to benefit themselves, but not necessarily the rest of us.
As The News pointed out, NAFTA has increased U.S. exports in some sectors of the economy. Clearly, though, those benefits have not resulted in an economic boom for Western New Yorkers. Good-paying manufacturing jobs continue to disappear, young people are leaving the area and farmers have been hurt by imports.
According to the Institute for Policy Studies, NAFTA has resulted in the loss of 356,000 mostly good-paying U.S. jobs, a 20 percent decline in Mexican wages and a twofold increase of pollution in Mexico. Eyewitness accounts from labor, environmental, religious and human rights delegations report workers in the Maquiladora plants are living in shanty towns, drinking polluted water, experiencing an epidemic of chemically related diseases and suffering a rash of workplace injuries. Workers who attempt to assert their rights have been repressed, often violently and with government assistance.
The current trade legislation supported by The News does not require the president to include environmental and labor protections in new trade pacts. As the Democratic leadership and many Republicans point out, these provisions are discretionary and that's why many of them are opposed to this bill.
Involving Congress and interested nongovernmental organizations in the trade debate could be a good thing. Fifty national organizations including the AFL-CIO, Sierra Club and United Methodist Church have issued a "Call for Global Fairness" and a set of principles they believe should be incorporated in our trade agreements. We can't afford to marginalize these people by forcing them to debate the issue in the streets - they need to be front and center in this discussion. More democracy, not less, might contribute to global stability.
ROGER A. COOK