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Populist, Progressive, & House Trade Working Group Members Join To Express Concerns With Panama FTA

Press Release

Date: May 21, 2009
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Trade

Today a group of 55 representatives made up of members from the Populist and Progressive caucuses, the House Trade Working Group, and others sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arguing that the proposed Panama Free Trade Agreement be renegotiated.

The letter was led by Populist Caucus Chairman Bruce Braley, House Trade Working Group Chairman Michael Michaud, Progressive Caucus co-chairs Lynn Woolsey and Raul Grijalva, Populist Caucus Vice-Chairs Betty Sutton and Peter DeFazio , and Progressive Caucus members Phil Hare and Marcy Kaptur . House Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter and Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers are also co-signers. A full list of co-signers is listed below.

"Too many recent free trade agreements have been great for companies and bad for American workers," said Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter. "This recycled Panama FTA was written by the Bush Administration and it's my hope that the new administration would not take the easy route but would sit down and renegotiate the whole package in good faith, with an eye toward creating a deal that respects the environment, labor rights and domestic workers. The Rules Committee is not going to be a rubber stamp for bad deals."

"The Panama agreement reflects the trade model pursued by the Bush administration, not the change President Obama campaigned on," Populist Caucus Chair Bruce Braley said. "In these tough economic times, we need to reopen this trade agreement to ensure it will help create American jobs, protect workers rights, and uphold environmental standards. With the Panama Free Trade Agreement, we have the opportunity to chart a new course for trade or simply endorse more-of-the-same."

"At a time of severe economic downturn and when the government is asking the U.S. taxpayer to foot the bill for Wall Street's mess, the last thing we need to do is pass a free trade agreement that promotes offshoring, tax dodging, and special privileges for foreign investors," said House Trade Working Group Chairman Michael Michaud. "The Panama Free Trade Agreement takes us in the wrong direction at a time when our energies should be devoted to getting our economy moving forward again."

"We have an historic opportunity to work with the President Obama to develop a new model of trade not to simply take up an agreement negotiated under a failed model by President Bush," said Populist Caucus Co-Chair Betty Sutton.

"In the last year alone, the number of unemployed Americans has grown by 6 million," said Populist, Progressive, and House Trade Working Group member Phil Hare. "The President and Congress are working hard to get our economy back on track. We've passed a strong economic recovery package, foreclosure prevention legislation, and just yesterday, a credit cardholders' bill of rights. Why would we want to compromise this progress by passing a Bush-negotiated free trade agreement with Panama that could lead to the loss of even more jobs?"

"After thirty years of failed trade policy, the U.S. manufacturing base has been cut in half, the middle class is losing ground, and we're borrowing $2 billion a day from the rest of the world -- including communist China -- to pay for things we used to make here in America. And, this Panama FTA is more of the same," Populist Caucus Vice-Chair Peter DeFazio said. "This agreement was negotiated by President Bush. It is my hope that the Obama Administration will not perpetuate the free trade fantasies of the past three decades and instead sit down and renegotiate this package. This is an opportunity for us to stand up for the middle class and finally pass an agreement that benefits America."

In the letter, the members argue that because the proposed Panama agreement was negotiated by the Bush administration before the current recession, it is out of step with the needs of economic recovery. The co-signers argue that the Panama Free Trade Agreement should be renegotiated to more closely reflect our current economic needs, and should be used by the Obama administration as an opportunity to chart a new course for trade.