The Corner

Obama’s Trade Pandering

Obama’s claim that bitter Pennsylvanians cling to “anti-trade sentiment” out of frustration over lost jobs made his own anti-trade rhetoric on the campaign trail look like pandering, so at today’s speech before the Alliance for American Manufacturing, he tried to stake out some middle ground:

The truth is, trade is here to stay. We live in a global economy. For America’s future to be as bright as our past, we have to compete. We have to win. […]

I also don’t oppose all trade deals. I voted for two of them because they have the worker and environmental agreements I believe in. Some of you disagreed with me on this but I did what I thought was right.

You see, unlike those frustrated residents of small-town Pennsylvania, Obama does not to cling blindly to anti-trade sentiment. He voted for free-trade deals with exporting powerhouses Peru and Oman, political consequences be damned.

But the Colombia FTA has the same worker and environmental standards as the Peru agreement, and arguably stronger standards than the agreement with Oman. So why doesn’t Obama support the Colombia deal?

But what all trade agreements I negotiate as President will have in common is that they’ll all put American workers first. We won’t ignore violence against union organizers in Colombia…

Two things: First, if Obama wants to put American workers first, why is he opposing a trade deal whose sole purpose is to open up Colombia’s markets to American-made products? Over 90 percent of Colombian goods can already enter the U.S. duty-free. Second, violence against unionists in Colombia has fallen dramatically, from 275 killed in 1996 to 39 last year. In an op-ed that ran in the Boston Globe last Friday, Harvard Latin American Studies professor Edward Schumaker-Matos demonstrated how Democrats mislead the public when they use union violence as an excuse to oppose the Colombia FTA:

The assumption by the Democrats is that all were killed for union organizing. It is an assumption implied in reports they cite from groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Those groups, however, rely on Colombian unions for their numbers, instead of collecting their own. The number of convictions now being won in the union’s own cases reveals that perhaps one-fifth, and almost certainly less than half, of the killings had to do with unionism.

Obama opposes the Colombia FTA because trade is a four-letter word among those “bitter” working-class Democrats to whom he sorely needs to build inroads. It’s that simple.

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