Californians Unite for Day of Action on Trade

Californians from around the state are uniting for an online day of action to oppose the pending Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama, a position shared by the California Democratic Party, the California Labor Federation, the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club, and hundreds of other organizations. The event, hosted by the California Fair Trade Coalition, will put pressure on every Member of Congress in the state to oppose the deals, which are likely to see a ratification vote in Congress soon.

The FTAs, originally negotiated by President Bush in 2007, have faced constant pressure from opponents in Congress and a growing skepticism from the public, including 69% of Americans who believe free trade costs jobs. This isn't surprising, as a recent study has found that the U.S. economy lost 700,000 jobs due to NAFTA, with at least 2.4 million more lost due to liberalized trade to China. California alone has lost over 800,000 jobs due to bad trade policy.

Unfortunately, President Obama has reversed his campaign promises to oppose these deals and is actively seeking their congressional approval, arguing that they will increase exports to create jobs. This is a familiar argument to those who were around for previous trade battles, but demonstrably false. Gains in exports due to FTAs are almost always eclipsed by import growth, thus costing U.S. jobs, and contributing to our $500 billion trade deficit, up from $31 billion before NAFTA.

In fact, the independent U.S. International Trade Commission has predicted the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) FTA , the largest since NAFTA, will actually increase our global trade deficit. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the KORUS FTA will cost the U.S. 159,000 over seven years and displace 888,000, with California being hit the hardest.

Meanwhile, Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, with 51 murdered in 2010, and over 2700 killed since 1986. Unionists, Afro-Colombians, human rights defenders, and farmers are all facing escalating violence and displacement which would only be exacerbated by the Colombia FTA.

Panama stands as one of the hemisphere's worst tax havens with over 400,000 registered corporations for a population of fewer than four million. Most of these are American shell companies making use of the country's opaque banking laws and low tax rates to evade domestic taxes. Like all NAFTA-style agreements, the FTA would encourage deregulation of financial services, making it even easier for such evasion to occur.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the FTAs are the rules governing investor to state relations. Under every FTA since NAFTA, foreign corporations are empowered to sue domestic law-making entities if public interest laws are passed that could interfere with their expected profits. Environmental, labor, consumer safety, procurement, and other measures have been challenged in international court by foreign corporations seeking restitution.

The most important aspect of these agreements to Californians is undoubtedly jobs. Given the past impacts of FTAs and the governments own projections for these, they are almost certainly to cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. That's the main reason people from across the state are speaking out to stop these deals before it's too late. You can join them here.

Tim Robertson is executive director of the California Fair Trade Coalition.