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State coalition says free trade pacts hurting Nebraskans

(Friday, Sept. 26, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Robert Pore, Grand Island (Nebraska) Independent, 09/24/03:

Several Nebraska farm, labor and environmental groups have formed a coalition to fight free trade agreements that would impact state jobs and family farms and ranches.

The Coalition for Fair Trade Not Free Trade includes United Steel Workers of America Local 286, Nebraska Farmers Union, Nebraskans For Peace, Communications Workers of America Local 7470, International Brotherhood of Electrical Works Local 2366 and Sierra Club.

According to Laura Krebsbach of the Sierra Club, the coalition was formed over concerns that the General Agreements on Trade and Services (GATS) and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will have devastating effects on jobs, the environment, family farmers and local control. The GATS and FTAA are a continuation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and will include all the nations of the northern hemisphere except Cuba.

She said the FTAA agreements will cover agriculture, services, investments, government procurement, market access, intellectual property rights, subsidies, anti-dumping and countervailing duties, competition policy and dispute settlements.

"If passed by Congress, it will usher in an all-out race to the bottom, in which companies seek out developing countries with the lowest labor costs and least restrictive environmental laws," Krebsbach said. "We will see wholesale attacks on the laws that protect our health, environment, working conditions and food safety, just to name a few. A law like Nebraska's I-300, our anti-corporate farming ban, could be challenged as a trade barrier.

Local zoning laws on where hog confinements can be located could be challenged, as well as workers' rights to a safe working place."

According to Wayne Fiedler with the United Steel Workers of America Local 286, since NAFTA took effect in 1993, Nebraska has lost 4,325 jobs. He said free trade agreements currently being negotiated by U.S. trade representatives could further erode jobs in the state.

Since July 2000, 2.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost as the result of either layoffs or outsourcing of work to cheaper foreign labor markets, according to a recent article in U.S. News and World Report. According to the article, it's estimated that in the next 15 years, $136 billion in wages will move from the United States to other countries.

"Free trade should not come at the expense of good paying jobs in the United States," Fiedler said.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said free trade agreements have not raised standards of living for family farmers and ranchers. Rather, they have dragged them down.

"We have seen a collapse of domestic agricultural prices and we are averaging more than $16 billion per year less for the six primary crops in marketplace values, export volume hasn't increased, export value has collapsed, and the balance of ag trade is now 55 percent," he said.

According to a recent report from economists at Purdue University, the United States could be importing more food than it exports by 2007.

"In my opinion, our trade negotiators are giving away the store because everything that they do is based out of their free trade philosophy," Hansen said. "How much corn will I have to raise and sell at a loss before it somehow magically equals a profit?

"The process and the standards both reflect special interests using governmental power to achieve special advantage over the overall interests of people. Current U.S. trade policy is a race to the bottom. It is up to us as citizens to demand a better process, and better standards."

Source: http://www.theindependent.com/stories/092403/new_freetrade24.shtml