Still fighting Fast Track

The 215-214 vote in the House of Representatives on Dec. 6 that gave President Bush “Fast Track” authority to negotiate trade agreements in secret is not the end of the world. As a matter of fact, it’s not even the end of the battle to defeat what is now called “trade promotion authority.”

The measure now goes to the Senate which provides another opportunity to defeat it. As Yogi Berra was wont to say, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

We’ll never know the extent of the outright bribery or arm-twisting expended in winning that one-vote margin. But we do know that the House leadership bent the rules and arbitrarily extended time allotted for voting in their frantic, last-minute, and eventually successful, effort to break what had been a 214-214 tie.

With all these shenanigans it will be pretty hard for free trade spinmeisters to claim an overwhelming victory. Nor is the U.S. Congress the only arena where “free trade” and “fair trade” collide. The idea of expanding NAFTA into a 34-nation Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) has few champions in the hemisphere:

• Venezuela has refused to agree to the timetable for negotiations worked out in Canada last April.

• The Brazilian government fears losing its influence in South America if it joins a deal where the U.S. will be top dog.

• For Mexico, FTAA means losing its privileged access to the U.S market provided for in NAFTA.

• The crisis in Argentina has fueled a growing backlash against free trade policies.

• Small nations in the Caribbean fear the loss of tariff revenues would cripple their public sectors.

While the House vote was a setback for the AFL-CIO, which had staked its all in an effort to defeat Fast Track, it is also true that the vote – in which 21 Democrats voted “yes” and 23 Republicans voted “no” – was a measure of the growing political clout of the labor movement.

With only a few exceptions, the erring Democrats were from right-to-work (for less) states or states where unions represent a small share of the work force.

The reverse is true of the Republican members who strayed from the fold and voted against their own president – nearly all of them came from states where unions represent a relatively large part of the work force.

Although the U.S. Congress is a major battlefield in the global struggle against the transnational banks and corporations and their model of globalization, flames from the international battle between “us” and “them” light the sky around the world: The 1999 Battle in Seattle against the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Jubilee 2000 demonstrations against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), similar demonstrations in Quebec City, Prague and Genoa as well as last month’s anti-WTO demonstrations in 35 countries, including nine protests in the United States.

There have been victories, the most recent a pledge from the WTO that its agreement on intellectual property “does not and should not prevent [countries] from taking measures to protect public health.” The anti-globalization movement has exacted other victories as well:

• Only recently the IMF agreed to create an international bankruptcy mechanism that would protect governments of developing countries from being sued to pay their debt to foreign banks at the expense of social programs such as education and public health.

• In 1998 the international movement defeated the Multilateral Agreement on Investment that would have severely restricted the authority of governments to control the activity of foreign investors.

• Corporate campaigns such as those conducted by the Rainforest Action Network have forced Home Depot to support the concept of “sustainable forestry.” Other campaigns have forced a number of companies to pull out of Myanmar (formerly Burma) and the student anti-sweatshop campaign has sparked new activism on campuses across the nation – all clear evidence that the anti-globalization coalition has begun to make itself felt.

• The “casino economy” that sees more than a trillion dollars in speculative currency circling the globe every day has come under attack as several countries and the European Commission have agreed to examine the possibility of imposing a tax on these capital flows.

Nobody said it would be easy, but Yogi was right.