NB Politicus

"Free" Trade and Job Loss: The Beat Goes On

Posted in economy, fair trade by nbpoliticus on March 7, 2012

From other words: 

William A. Collins
My good job
Has flown away;
Lost it to N-
A-F-T-A.
After years of debate and delay, Congress finally passed those free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.
There go 159,000 more jobs that we’re likely to lose to Seoul after the Korean deal goes into effect on March 15, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). And 55,000 to Bogotá, after the Colombian pact becomes operative too.
Our workers won’t get so many pink slips because of Panama, because that country doesn’t export much.
But big agribusiness corporations hope, NAFTA-style, to flood Panama with a deluge of subsidized, duty-free grain. The USDA expects farm exports to soar by $2.3 billion, which may sound nice to us. But this flood of food could put Panamanian farmers out of business. And U.S. banks wanted to enhance Panama’s traditional role as the Western Hemisphere’s money-laundering citadel, so they pushed for the trade deal.
(Public Citizen / Flickr)
(Public Citizen / Flickr)
Naturally, grain will flow unimpeded to Colombia and South Korea too, although Korean markets may prefer rice to our wheat or corn. But South Korea’s industrial moguls will get a special benefit. Of the manufactured goods they’ll now send duty-free to the United States, a portion can be made in North Korean sweatshops.
Still, all this new outsourcing is peanuts compared to China’s admission to the World Trade Organization in 2001. That move cost the United States about 2.8 million jobs, EPI found. American manufacturers have been thrilled ever since to buy their component parts so cheaply. But ironically, those rock-bottom prices are derived not only from China’s serf-like wages, but also from our own federal deficit.
America’s refusal to tax itself sufficiently means we have to borrow huge sums just to keep our government afloat. China loans our own money back to us, which sustains the high value of the dollar and the low value of the yuan. That helps assure that Chinese goods will remain cheaper than ours.
Our pact with Jordan is perhaps the worst of the bunch. Jordanian garments flow in here freely to Walmart, Target, Macy’s, and other major vendors, but no Jordanians ever touch them. Instead, Asian entrepreneurs open factories there and import young Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan women to do the dirty work. You can imagine the conditions. Presumably Jordanian aristocrats get a cut somewhere along the line. Anyway, all this conniving was running smoothly and quietly until the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights revealed that plant managers were raping some of the workers. It created quite a scandal in Jordan, but not here.
With cheap imports woven so tightly into U.S. manufacturing and retail, corporations have a lot at stake. Thus, their generous campaign contributions roll into the big political parties’ coffers during election years.
What about American workers? Manufacturers don’t seem to need that many anymore. Not only have millions of jobs flown overseas, but millions more have been lost to technology. Meanwhile, legislative assaults spearheaded by Republicans and corporate lobbyists have slashed the numbers of workers who belong to unions.
And the free-trade juggernaut rumbles relentlessly on under the mantra of “cheaper goods.” Cheaper they are, but with America’s stagnating median family income, tens of millions of us can’t afford goods at any price nowadays.
After years of decline, the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs has begun to inch up. But we’d see up to2.25 million new jobs created within two years if Washington were to compel China and other Asian nations to stop manipulating their currencies, according to EPI economist Robert E. Scott.
Germany has survived this plague pretty well with higher taxes, more education, selective tariffs, higher wages, long vacations, and less borrowing. Our attitude is different. Workers here are expendable. That’s why keep forging these suicidal trade deals.
OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. otherwords.org

Otherwords is a project of the Economic Policy Institute

Thinking Globally Today: Buy Fair Trade

Posted in alternative consumption, fair trade by nbpoliticus on May 9, 2009

If you’re shopping this weekend for Mother’s Day, looking for a graduation gift or just want a latte, there are ways to strike a blow for economic justice and sustainable development.

Saturday May 9th is Fair Trade Day around the globe. It’s a weekend filled with all sorts of events — more in Canada and Great Britain than the U.S.– that celebrates alternative consumption wherein consumers of the developed countries pay more for coffee, chocolate and other commodities and goods than they would in the mass consumer market.

Buying “fair trade” chocolate or another certified fair trade product ensures that the producers (small farmers and artisans) in under developed and impoverished countries receive a living wage and fair return. In the case of chocolate, it gives you assurance that child slaves didn’t harvest the cacao beans that find their way into mass market candy bars. Yes. The practice goes on in strife-torn Cote ‘d Ivorie to this day.

My own interest in the subject stems from an unfinished thesis — “The Market Potential of Fair Trade Cocoa” — that assesses how the fair trade movement can make a difference in a new era of globalization when the gap between rich and poor still grows.

During the 1990s a movement of religious, civil society groups and environmental and human rights activists spawned and supported these alternative structures that attempt to end the inequities of the market for hundreds of thousands of small to medium-sized farmers. The movement which first gained notoriety in the ubiquitous coffee industry has accelerated into chocolate, bananas and other commodities of value from less developed countries.

The unequal exchange, of course, is nothing new. Colonialism is one long chain of exploitation over several centuries. The more you look into it, the more you realize that the new globalization aptly described by the New York Times’ Tom Friedman in his books hasn’t ended the exploitation and may be extending it into the 21st century. The transfers between the small producers of tropical crops and the end users in developed countries can be as as inequitable and exploitative as ever.

One of the good resources for this movement may be found at Equal Exchange. While fair trade sales have grown exponentially over the last decade, their percentages as measured against the mass market are in the single digits. But the movement, however limited, does show a way to reduce poverty and provide living wages one farmer and one coop at a time.

So if you are feeling sufficiently guilty, or just want to strike a small blow for economic justice, here are three ways to help on Fair Trade Day locally:

* Get your mother a woven bag from Peru or a necklace from Sri Lanka at Ten Thousand Villages (there’s a store in West Hartford)

* Pick up a box of fair trade certified chocolate or coffee at an organic food store or even the supermarket where they can be found now that corporations are finding there are some profits to be made from niche markets.

* Get a latte or cappuccino at Dunkin Donuts which uses fair-trade coffee for all of its brews that aren’t just a cup of joe.