Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bird Dogging Continued

Bird Dogging Continued

Looks like opponents to the three pending free trade agreements are hard at work. A blog from California Fair Trade Coalition Director Tim Robertson published by Huffington Post describes his recent experience "bird dogging" US Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

In his blog, Robertson relates an impromput interview with the USTR, who was in San Francisco promoting the FTAs as part of the Adminstration's job-creation plan.  He even provides a transcript of the Q&A, along with his commentary on each of Kirk's responses.

Neither side come out looking particularly good.  Kirk is affable, but sticks to the usual carefully-scripted platitudes about the importance of the FTAs to job creation, while Robertson is equally wedded to the usual anti-FTA rhetoric.  It's pretty clear that neither is listening to the other.

But that's been the problem with the trade debate for a quite a while now, hasn't it?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Resurrection Idea for Doha

First, the World Trade Organization had an idea 10 years ago to improve on the unfinished business of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations – with special attention paid to the protective agriculture sector. But the United States quashed that effort earlier this year.

Then WTO Director General Pascal Lamy had an idea for members to agree on what they could agree upon and get those issues in place by the time of the next ministerial meeting in December. But, apparently, the United States could not agree on anything. So that fell through.

Now there has been some talk from Mr. Lamy’s office about coming up with a non-Doha Development Agenda agenda of issues for December. Nobody knows what that is about.

But don’t fell downtrodden. Here’s the latest alternative to a multilateral trade agreement. Te latest WTO idea is a video contest on the future of world trade. That should solve the world’s trade problems.

WTD has some suggestions –

1. A slow Olympics-type opening ceremony of the 153 delegations in the WTO – all in business suits, not native dress – slowly marching around the playing field. And all to the music of Mahler’s Symphony No 1 "funeral" march – which gradually speeds up in tempo. Toward the end the marchers straighten out – all under the leadership of US Trade Representative Ron Kirk. They suddenly charge – at an increasingly fast pace – toward the horizon where all disappear over a cliff.

2. A second scenario rivals the great 1963 film by Any Warhol entitled "Sleeping" – which is five and on half hours of a person sleeping. That should get the message across. (I didn’t last through it in 1963 because I think I fell asleep during the midnight show at the Janus in Washington.)

3. A third – and perhaps best – scenario is a blank black screen overlaid by various remarks on Doha made by the WTO Director Generals since 2001.

The winner apparently gets an all-expense paid trip to Geneva to watch the December ministerial – WOW.

Here’s the link to the video application:

Jim Berger

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Trade Policy 101 -- Failing Grade

The White House photo below is of President Obama posing with members of a Galesburg, Illinois, high school football team during the final day of his three-day Midwest bus tour Wednesday.

If the President were a high school student today, he probably would not be eligible to be on the football team because most schools require passing grades in order to participate in organized school sports.

Mr. Obama so far is getting an "F" in Trade Policy 101.

Twice again yesterday in "Town Hall" appearances in his home state of Illinois, the President got his legislative process wrong. In both speeches he again called on Congress to pass the three pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, saying that Congress "right now" could be voting on the trade deals.

Wrong again. As I’ve pointed out in two previous blogs, Congress cannot vote on the trade deals "right now" or ever, until President Obama sends the implementing legislation to Capitol Hill. So the ball, as they say, is in the President’s court – although that’s another sport.

Ever since lawmakers left town for the August break, the President has repeatedly called on Congress to pass the three FTAs and has made clear that he sees the trade deals as a key part of his economic recovery strategy.

But what he has yet to say is that he actually intends to submit the FTAs to Congress, so that the votes can take place. Perhaps he is saving that announcement for the major speech on job creation that the President intends to make right after Labor Day.

An exchange earlier this week between chief White House spokesman Jay Carney and reporters suggests the White House is still not ready to submit the FTAs (or "TFAs", as Mr. Carney called them) because there is still no deal on renewal of expired Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits. Mr. Carney also suggests to reporters that the Treasury Department is in charge of both the trade deals and TAA, which should come as a surprise to both the US Trade Representative’s office and the Department of Labor.

Here’s the official White House transcript:
Q One other small point -- the President has called for patent reform and passage of the trade bills. And Republicans in Congress are saying we’re planning a vote on patent reform as soon as Congress comes back, and the President hasn’t submitted the trade bills, so why does he keep calling for these two items if they’re --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re glad that the Congress will vote on the patent reform and hope they will. We’ve been calling for it for quite a while and hope they finally will vote on it. That’s a good sign. That will be a helpful thing if that takes place.
And on the trade bills, we’ve said all along that we need to take action and we need to get an agreement with Congress on the submission process. We’ve made a lot of progress in our dealings with the Senate leaders, and hope and expect that that will -- process will be resolved and we’ll get this done, because we definitely agree that passing those trade bills and making sure we have a process that allows for the TFAs [sic] and the TAA to go forward will be very beneficial to the economy.
Q So this is basically a sequencing issue, Jay, getting the TAA passed first and then getting the --
MR. CARNEY: It’s not -- how the process itself works, I might steer you to Treasury on that. But it’s just -- it’s working out an agreement. We’ve made some progress. We’re working out an agreement with Congress for submission.

Failing grades all around so far. Let’s see if the President and his staff can do some homework and bring up that grade point average before it’s too late.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Trade Policy 101 -- Back to School?

     A few weeks ago I wrote a blog titled "Trade Policy 101" calling out President Obama for urging Congress to send him the three long-pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. As I pointed out then, lawmakers can’t send the President the trade agreements until he first formally submits them to Congress.
     In that blog, I also wrote that "of course, the President knows perfectly well how the ‘fast track’ legislative process under Trade Promotion Authority works. He was simply trying to shorthand a complicated procedural issue" for a non-policy wonk audience while shifting the blame for the delay in action on the FTA’s to Congressional Republicans.
     But now I’m starting to wonder...
     In multiple speeches since then, the President has made the same call on Congress to send him the free trade agreements – as though their fate is completely out of his hands. His comments may just be about making Republicans look bad, but it appears that at least some in the White House really don’t know how the "fast track" process works – or where the FTAs are in the process.
     That became clear last Friday when White House Spokesman Josh Earnest – in response to a question about why the President keeps telling Congress to move the FTAs when he hasn’t submitted them – asked "Have we not sent them over?" The official White House transcript of the daily briefing notes that Mr. Earnest’s question prompted laughter.
     In his defense, the spokesman acknowledged that he is "not intimately steeped in" the legislative mechanics. He continued by saying there is clearly agreement between the White House and both Congressional Republicans and Democrats about the benefits of the FTAs "and it’s something that we should move on really quick."
     And that brings us right back to President Obama. If the FTAs are so important to US economic growth – as the President keeps saying – surely, he will submit them next month as soon as Congress returns from its summer break.
     But again today, even as I’m writing this blog, President Obama kicked off a three-day bus tour of the Midwest focused on the economy by once again telling Congress to pass the FTAs, saying "that’s something that Congress could do right now."
     So maybe it is time for the President to take a refresher course in Trade Policy 101 to make sure he understands that no matter how many times he asks, Congress cannot send him the FTAs until he sends them up to the Hill.

Mary Berger

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bird Dogging


Opponents of the three free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea – but particularly Korea – are spending the rest of August "bird dogging" members of Congress as they return to their Congressional districts and face their electorate.

WTD listened in on a telephone organizing session last week – directed by Public Citizen – and got an ear-full.

What are the opponents "dogging"? – House members who are still sitting on the fence, unsure of how to vote on the three trade deals, most of whom are in California, Illinois, New York, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.

The game of bird dogging is played by shadowing members as they move around their districts to various public forums, Rotary Clubs and "town halls." Admittedly, says Public Citizen, trade is not high on the agenda for most Americans. But the district activities give them an opportunity to bring up the subject and ask – directly and in front of local television cameras and radio microphones – what they think of the "job losing" "NAFTA-like" free trade agreements.

A successful "bird dog" can lead members that are sitting on the fence at least to give a tentative "no" or cautious negative in public – the aim of the whole exercise. Those answers, Public Citizen hopes, will put the onus on the pro-trade business groups – such as the US Chamber of Commerce – to argue their case.

Although admitting that the three free trade accords will likely pass Congress – although not by the margins that supporters project – opponents are not ruling out a victory, especially if President Obama doesn’t get around to formally submitting the FTAs to Congress this fall.

A continued dispute between the Administration, House Democrats and Congressional Republicans over renewal of expired benefits under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program – and whether the TAA vote should take place before, after or at the same time at the FTAs – is giving trade pact opponents hope that the White House will give up on trying to get the trade deals approved at all this year.

Public Citizen organizers reminded their listeners that candidate Obama was a strong opponent of all three Bush Administration trade agreements.

As one activist put it, given the relatively few number of days left in the Congressional session when lawmakers return to Washington in September, every day of delay in submitting the FTAs makes a vote less likely.

On the other side of the fence, WTD recently heard from a seasoned business lobbyists well acquainted with the current Congress and the FTAs. He said "no problem," there is solid and strong support for three accords.

What is he doing this August? Cleaning his office. The US Chamber of Commerce – which directed a first lobbying pass-through of Congressional offices on all three accords during the first week of August – apparently is on vacation, relaxing on their confidence.

What do you think?

Jim and Mary Berger.