WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter joined 53 of her Congressional colleagues to speak out against a proposed Panama Free Trade Agreement. As a member of both the Populist Caucus and the Trade Working Group, Shea-Porter expressed her concern that this agreement would hurt middle class workers, consumers, farmers, and businesses. At the press conference, Congresswoman Shea-Porter stated:
“I don’t want to have to vote for unemployment benefits. I want to vote for jobs.”
In addition, the bipartisan group of Members sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi asking her to work with them and the Administration to establish a new approach to trade, one that is fair to American workers and American business. A copy of the letter is below:
May 21, 2009
Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives
H-232, US Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Speaker Pelosi,
As representatives of the Populist Caucus, House Trade Working Group, Progressive Caucus and other Members of the House Democratic Caucus, we believe this is a historic opportunity to push forward a new trade model that will benefit workers and businesses. We seek your support to work with the Administration to establish a new approach to trade.
We believe the Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is not a new model on trade and does not represent the kind of change the American people are seeking. After eight years of a failed Bush free trade agenda, the current demise of our economy, and an ensuing massive increase in unemployment, it is difficult to justify to our constituents the passage of another badly flawed trade agreement. We fear passage of this agreement will set us back down the misguided course of past trade deals.
As you know all too well, the current recession has hammered the American family. Unemployment, now at 8.9%, is expected to rise even more. Since the recession began in December 2007, 5.1 million jobs have been lost. It is noteworthy that the Panama FTA negotiations were completed in 2006, a full year before the recession began. Given the rapid demise of our economy, we are concerned that the FTAs negotiated under the prior Administration and in a different economic outlook, are out of step with the needs of an economic recovery. This disconnect between the Panama FTA and the current needs to restore our economy will make any vote on this FTA difficult to justify. Indeed, it appears to be the opposite of the “change” theme Americans voted for in the last two elections.
We believe trade agreements must meet basic standards protecting labor rights, environmental standards, food safety regulations, financial regulations, and taxation transparency. We are disturbed by Panama’s tax haven status and the use of this tax haven by U.S. financial institutions like AIG and Citibank. The U.S. is currently contemplating stricter financial regulations to protect our economy, but the Panama FTA will likely weaken any such effort. We believe the Panama FTA should be renegotiated in order to address these outstanding issues.
President Obama campaigned effectively on changing the trade model and his message resonated with the American people. We believe the Panama FTA falls far short of that commitment and it is not in the best interests of the American worker, our economy, or our country. We share your commitment to fighting for working families and believe you can be an effective advocate for our cause.
In light of the recession, we believe it is in the best interest of the United States for the President to work with Congress to chart a new course for trade. There should be a public discussion involving not just the United States Trade Representative but also Members of Congress about how to achieve a balanced trade agenda in difficult economic times. We ask for an open, honest dialogue and a new trade model and would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these issues further.