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Congress approves three more ‘free trade’ agreements

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 13) — Congress gave its approval to three “free trade” agreements (FTAs) on Wednesday, signing off on deals with South Korea (which passed the House 278-151 and the Senate 83-15), Colombia (262-167 and 66-33) and Panama (300-129 and 77-22) one day after the Senate rejected even allowing a debate President Obama’s jobs bill.

Every member of Washington state’s congressional delegation — Democrats and Republicans alike — voted in favor of the deals. The lone exception was Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Seattle), who voted “yes” on the Korea and Panama FTAs, but opposed the Colombia deal. Reps. Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Norm Dicks, and Adam Smith were among just 31 Democrats to vote “yes” on the Colombia deal.

“These flawed trade deals – with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama — are the wrong medicine at the wrong time,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Wednesday. “Working people know what too many politicians apparently do not: these deals will be bad for jobs, workers’ rights and our economy.”

A robust plurality of Americans believe that FTAs  have hurt the country, while a paltry 23% agree support approval of more of them.

The Economic Policy Institute predicts that the trade deal with Korea could cost nearly 160,000 American jobs.

“A deal with Colombia is not just bad policy, it’s immoral,” Trumka said. “Colombians who try to organize to lift their families out of poverty are often murdered with impunity. Just last year, 51 trade unionists were assassinated. Would we pass a trade agreement with a country where 51 corporate CEOs had been murdered?”

During a 2008 campaign swing through Rust Belt states devastated by manufacturing job loss and offshoring, candidate Barack Obama pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade deals, saying he believed NAFTA had been bad for America and “I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced.” He also expressed opposition to the Korea free trade agreement.

But after he was elected president, he quickly backed off those pledges and began supporting the Bush-negotiated FTAs as part of his efforts to revive the economy. He is expected to sign all three of the FTAs approved by Congress on Wednesday.

Given how partisan and polarized Congress has become, Wednesday’s passage of the FTAs is being hailed as a political victory for President Obama, who supports the deals. The New York Times (which has supported the FTAs on its editorial page) reports today that their passage is “important primarily as a political achievement, and for its foreign policy value in solidifying relationships with strategic allies. The economic benefits are projected to be small. A federal agency estimated in 2007 that the impact on employment would be ‘negligible’.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — It’s difficult to understand how passage of FTAs that were negotiated five years ago by the Bush administration and are opposed 2-to-1 by Americans is considered a political victory for Obama, who campaigned against them.

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