With Congressional hearings set to start Wednesday on the controversial Central American Free Trade Agreement, the AFL-CIO issued a scathing critique of the trade pact, saying it would hurt Latin American workers as well as their U.S. colleagues.
The Bush administration's U.S. Trade Representative's (USTR) office will testify before the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday and the House Ways and Means Committee April 21. The Ways and Means chairman, Rep. William Thomas, R-Calif., calls CAFTA good for workers.
But the federation's report, issued April 5, says it isn't.
"CAFTA's rules on labor rights are so poor they backtrack from existing U.S. laws that require Central American governments and employers to respect workers' rights in exchange for unilateral trade preferences," says The Real Record On Workers Rights In Central America.
Right now, it adds, the five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic, which signed CAFTA, have their trade with the U.S. governed by the old, pre-World Trading Organization "Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)," it explained.
"CAFTA's labor chapter lowers the standard on labor rights countries are currently required to meet under GSP...and eliminates enforcement tools available" from that, it adds.
The situation will be so bad that "workers in the U.S. will be pitted against their fellow workers in Central America, causing downward pressure on U.S. wages, increasing the leverage of employers to squelch union organizing drives and destroying good jobs," as happened under NAFTA, the AFL-CIO report said.
That real record "explains why working families in the U.S. and Central America oppose CAFTA," says AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson. Central American labor federations oppose CAFTA and led street protests against it.
U.S. workers "know that it is another flawed trade deal that will sell out America's jobs--and CAFTA will not do anything to pull people out of poverty in Central America," she said.
"CAFTA represents a flawed model of free trade without protections for workers' rights, just like the NAFTA. NAFTA has not delivered the promised reductions in poverty and inequality in Mexico, and the U.S. lost close to 900,000 jobs and job opportunities due to NAFTA trade deficits," she added.
The USTR's own Labor Advisory Committee, chaired by former USWA President George Becker and including representatives from unions ranging from USWA and IBEW through the Laborers, Flight Attendants, Letter Carriers and Teamsters, came to many of the same conclusions last year.
It also said textile workers would get hurt in particular, as even lower-cost Asian firms use Latin America as a transshipment area to avoid U.S. tariffs and restrictions--while driving U.S. and Latin American textile workers out of business.
"The agreement creates numerous loopholes, and extends old ones. These loopholes are not only likely to destroy tens of thousands of jobs in the United States, but they will also put textile workers in Central America at risk as regional rules of origin are loosened to make way for third-country fabric, most likely to be from Asia," that report said.
"Third countries that benefit from these weakened rules have no obligation to respect workers' rights under the agreement, and provide no reciprocal trade benefits to the U.S. This scheme will close even more American textile mills, hasten decline of Central American producers, and benefit large multinationals that seek to ship even more work out of the region entirely," it said.
"In Central America, where laws fall far below international standards and governments and employers are actively hostile towards unions, this (CAFTA) labor chapter will encourage rampant workers' rights violations to continue...And there is simply no political will to bring labor laws into compliance," it found.
"Employers in Central America intimidate, fire and blacklist workers for attempting to exercise their right to join an independent union, and they do so with impunity under under Central American laws," the labor panel declared.
The USTR said area labor laws "are generally in line with ILO standards." It admitted "enforcement is lacking," but declared CAFTA "requires countries effectively enforce their labor and environmental laws. An innovative dispute settlement system uses monetary fines, as well as potential loss of trade benefits, to promote enforcement."
Mark Gruenberg writes for Press Associates, Inc., news service. Used by permission.
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