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Obama turns his back on trade reformers

According to the New York Times, “the Obama administration said on Monday that it had no plans to reopen negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement to revise its labor and environmental provisions, as then-Senator Barack Obama promised to do during his presidential campaign.”

Ronald Kirk, the United States trade representative, told a press conference in Washington, D.C. today that “The president has said we will look at all of our options, but I think they can be addressed without having to reopen the agreement,” and that Prime Minister Harper and Presidents Calderon and Obama “are all of the mind we should look for opportunities to strengthen NAFTA.”

It appears in stark contrast to previous statements by Obama, such as in a February 20, 2008 op-ed in the Dallas Morning Star, which says “at a national level, our diplomacy with Mexico must aim to amend NAFTA. I will seek enforceable labor and environment standards – not unenforceable side agreements that have done little to curb NAFTA’s failures.”

Explaining the reversal in today’s Globe and Mail, Sidney Weintraub of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the uber think-tank behind the Future 2025 project, said “Canada and Mexico would want things, and [Obama] realized he could never get it through Congress… Unless there was prior agreement with Mexico and Canada, opening it would have killed the agreement.”

But as the Times reports today, “a formal review of the [NAFTA] pact has yet to be completed.” And allies in the U.S. inform us there is still a possibility that Obama and Trade Representative Kirk differ on whether to reopen the agreement or not to strengthen labour and environmental standards, as the U.S. President promised he would do during his election campaign.

Still, it doesn’t look good for those who wanted a new trade model from the U.S. President. Trade rep Kirk also said on Monday “that a delegation from Panama will visit Washington this week to try to resolve disputes over the U.S.-Panama trade deal,” and “President Obama hopes to clear remaining obstacles to a separate pact with Colombia,” according to CQ Politics.

Last June, a large group of Democrats introduced a historic bill that “would revamp U.S. trade policy,” according to a press release at the time. “The bill would mandate trade pact reviews, establish standards, protect workers in developing nations, and would help restore Congressional oversight of future trade agreements.”

If Kirk is right, and Obama is turning his back on fair trade Democrats and social movements in all three NAFTA countries, it will be a real downer. More on this as it comes up.

To read the full New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/21/business/21nafta.html?ref=politics.

For the February 20, 2009 post by Brent Patterson, “Obama says NAFTA must be renegotiated”: http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=134.