Oman: Another deeply flawed trade agreement

Magic City Morning Star | Jul 21, 2006

Oman: Another Deeply Flawed Trade Agreement

By Michael H. Michaud

Since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), more and more Americans have become convinced that the model our government uses to secure trade deals is fundamentally flawed and has caused our nation and our workers serious economic harm. In Maine alone, we have seen 23,000 manufacturing jobs leave our state since the passage of NAFTA. Flawed trade deals are one of the major reasons why the middle class is shrinking and the gap between the rich and poor is growing wider in America.

But despite the demonstrated negative impacts of past free trade agreements, congressional leaders have once again pushed through another bad trade deal, the Oman Free Trade Agreement (OFTA). Unfortunately, this is yet another trade agreement that fails to improve upon the model used for past trade deals like NAFTA.

As with other so-called free trade agreements, OFTA will encourage further erosion of our manufacturing base and the outsourcing of jobs oversees. Mainers know all too well what the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs means; but the troubles that bad trade deals create - lost jobs, lost health care, and a simple ability to make ends meet - are not just Maine problems, they are national problems. As a result of a flurry of free trade deals negotiated in the last couple of decades, almost every region of our country has witnessed layoffs and mill shutdowns.

Recognizing the effects that these deals have had on communities across the nation, I led a coalition of members of Congress in opposition to OFTA. While we were unable to stop the deal in the House, we successfully mounted an unusually strong opposition - the second highest vote total in opposition to a trade agreement since NAFTA.

One of the major arguments that swayed many members of Congress to our side was a glaring national security flaw that OFTA contained. There are provisions buried deep in the text of OFTA that would allow any business operating in Oman to operate port facilities in the U.S.

These are the very activities that Congress just insisted that Dubai Ports World not control on our shores. Why? Because the control of these facilities exposes our nation to a number of risks, and we must be 100% sure that they are in the right hands.

One way to think about this issue is this: would we turn over our airport screening or our border security to just any company that operates in Oman? Clearly not. But our ports are just as great a security concern, if not greater.

Last year, more than 11 million cargo containers entered the U.S. Our ability to screen cargo is already one of the major vulnerabilities in our homeland security cited by the 9/11 commission. The possibility that terrorist organizations could infiltrate our port operations to smuggle weapons or personnel into our country is very real. Given these realities, the idea that we would pass a trade deal that guarantees the right to operate our ports to any company operating in Oman is clearly outrageous.

It is bad enough when the Congress is asked to support agreements that will ship more jobs overseas, that undermine our environmental standards, and that ask us to stick our head in the sand over serious human rights violations - all of which are true for the Oman deal. But it is simply unacceptable for the Administration to ask Congress to support a trade deal that could potentially undermine the security of our nation.

Even without the ports consideration, it is impossible to ignore what these trade deals are doing to our economy and our nation’s hardworking families. Our trade deficit is now running at an annual rate of $763 billion while we continue to see layoffs and mill closures. A recent government report puts the U.S. deficit with Mexico at a record $5.5 billion and our deficit with Canada at $5.8 billion. And since 2001 alone, our country has lost nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs.

With numbers like these you might think that our country would reconsider its approach to trade negotiations. But over the past few years, the Administration has unfortunately continued to negotiate one bad agreement after another - Jordan in 2001, Morocco in 2004, Central America (CAFTA) in 2005 and Bahrain in 2006. And just like NAFTA and these other agreements, OFTA will accelerate job loss and lower living standards in the United States, while continuing to increase poverty in the nations that we trade with.

Changing the way we negotiate trade is long overdue. We need to craft trade agreements that are good for business and also good for the American worker. There is just too much at stake to continue pushing these destructive agreements.

Rep. Michael Michaud represents Maine’s 2nd District in the U.S. Congress.