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Members Of Congress Seek Sweeping Changes In Trade Policies

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

A high-powered group of 54 members of the House of Representatives has written to President Barack Obama calling for new directions in international trade that would correct what the say are past mistakes and open doors to new opportunities.

The letter was signed by six committee chairmen; 17 sub-committee chairmen and members of the Democratic and Republican Caucuses; and the  Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Progressive Caucus, Populist Caucus and Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats.

The congressmen are highly critical of what they say is considerable damage that past trade and globalization policies have brought about, and they outline eight areas in which they believe trade policies can do a better job of serving US workers, consumers, farmers and firms. They cover trade with China, improving product safety, renegotiating the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), the pending Colombia, Panama and South Korea free trade agreements (FTAs) and a "transformed agenda" for the Doha Round of trade negotiations.

With respect to China, they mention addressing the "pervasive China currency manipulation problem" and the "immense" trade imbalance with China. They call for targets and deadlines for addressing that issue, which they say has "serious economic and security implications." They also are opposed to the US-China Bilateral Investment Treaty negotiations launched by the Bush administration.

The congressmen call for new import safety policies that will ensure that food and goods coming from China and other countries meet US safety and inspection requirements as a condition for entering the US market.

They want to see NAFTA and CAFTA-DR renegotiated following an "inclusive policy review" in order to determine what trade pacts must and must not include. They also call for a reversal of the Bush administration's "unilateral declaration" that the United States will join in negotiation of a Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership with Singapore, Chile, New Zealand, Brunei Darussalam, Australia, Peru and Vietnam.

Claiming that the FTAs with Colombia, Panama and South Korea are "more of the same trade agreement model promoted by the previous administration," the congressmen expressed their opposition to all three for different reasons: Colombia because of human rights abuses; Panama because it provides a tax haven; and South Korea because of what they say are "lopsided auto provisions" and problems with "major financial service-sector deregulation and liberalization provisions that contradict global efforts to regulate that sector."

The congressmen said they want the United States to follow a new path that can help the nation face its considerable economic challenges.

March 10, 2009