Are international trade agreements moving in the right direction?

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Public invited to a hearing Thursday to discuss trade agreements and Maine.

Maine is part of a rapidly changing global economy. One of the key questions for our time is what kind of global economy are we creating? Are we setting policies which raise living standards, benefit small- and medium-size businesses and protect labor and environmental standards? Or are current policies moving us in a different direction?

One of the key places where this question gets answered is through international trade agreements. Trade pacts, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or agreements administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO), impact the lives of all Maine people. Because these effects are both positive and negative, the citizens of Maine deserve to have a meaningful voice in the creation of these policies.

Giving the public a greater voice on trade and globalization issues was a major reason that the Maine State Legislature created the nonpartisan Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission in July 2004. Composed of Maine legislators from both parties, workers, businesspeople, farmers and others, the commission seeks to monitor the impact of current trade agreements on Maine’s economy and democracy and to better position Maine to succeed in the global economy.

One of the commission’s key functions is to gather public input through regular public hearings. At a previous commission hearing in Bangor, modular home businesses from Oxford County, for example, testified about how Canadian companies were violating NAFTA and illegally engaging in building and construction work that otherwise would be available to U.S. workers.

Many people commented on the threat that trade agreements pose to a state’s ability to govern itself. For example, the investment chapter of NAFTA establishes a groundbreaking mechanism through which corporations can sue governments, in secretive NAFTA trade tribunals, to challenge any law that infringes on a corporation’s current or future profits.

These trade rules undermine Maine’s ability to set its own environmental, health, safety and labor laws. Some of our state laws that could be challenged include our prescription drug program for the elderly and disabled, zoning and land-use regulations, affordable health care programs, and a number of laws designed to protect Maine’s environment.

Most Mainers are in favor of international trade and believe that a strong economy with dynamic trade relationships is good for the state and the nation. The challenge is balancing this objective with the need to maintain the authority needed to defend our small- and medium-size businesses, workers, consumers, the environment and democratic governance.

The Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission will hold its next public hearing on Thursday, May 11, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Andover College in Lewiston. We invite the public to join us and offer input, ideas and experiences regarding the impact of international trade agreements on Maine. The time has come for the people of Maine to have their voices heard in trade agreements that impact all of our lives.

Sen. Peggy Rotundo and Rep. John Patrick serve on the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission.

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