Public input is key part of trade reform

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Nobody doubts that we live in a global economy. Food, goods and services are traded around the world at an increasingly fast pace. Economists and policymakers tend to talk about the global economy in terms of numbers, theories and sectors while sometimes missing the impact in real human terms.

But to a papermaker who lost her job due to outsourcing and can’t find another at a decent wage, or to an apple farmer who can’t compete with subsidized, large-scale imports, trade policy has a very real impact on the daily lives of Mainers and their families.

It is those stories and others that the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission wants to hear May 6 at a public hearing in South Paris. The commission, established by the Legislature in 2003 to monitor the impact of international trade agreements on Maine, is charged with holding hearings to collect testimony and stories from people in all parts of the state and all sectors of the economy.

By listening and understanding the way agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, both benefit and hurt Mainers, we, as a commission, can make recommendations to our congressional delegation, the governor, the Legislature, and the United States trade representative as to how trade policy should be changed to be better for the Maine economy.

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What will Maine’s role be in the future of the global economy? How will trade policy shape that role? We must have a say in this process, but states have often been left off the list of those consulted when trade agreements are written. States such as Maine, however, are speaking up on the matter.

In addition to the impact free-trade agreements have had on some large sectors of the Maine economy, provisions within free-trade agreements such as NAFTA give foreign corporations greater rights than domestic companies. Under those rules, international law supersedes U.S. law. If a multinational company doesn’t like a local, state or federal law, it has the right to sue in a closed-door international tribunal. They seek damages for the future lost profits of what they could have made had that law or policy not been in place.

Laws that have been threatened or challenged include environmental laws and public health and safety policies, among others. State legislators in Maryland received word from the Peoples Republic of China that China was prepared to challenge a Maryland bill limiting lead in children’s toys. When California banned the toxin MTBE from gasoline because it was contaminating groundwater, that policy was challenged in a NAFTA tribunal by a Canadian company that makes MTBE.

The good news is that we are making a difference by engaging in the process. Maine has been a leader in the effort to claim a voice for states in trade negotiations. While our state sovereignty is undermined by these trade deals, there has been no effective way for states to weigh in on how they are written. By organizing the commission, collecting testimony, educating the Legislature and our members of Congress, and engaging with the United States trade representative, we have made them pay attention. Other states have created similar state trade policy commissions and are doing the same. We must insist that future trade agreement negotiations include input from the states and from the people most affected by their decisions.

If you have been affected by trade, or if you want to learn more about this important topic, please join us May 6 from 6-9 p.m. at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris. All are welcome. In these times of a rapidly changing and growing global economy, we must speak up to ensure the decisions being made by the federal government on trade policy are beneficial to the people who live it every day.

State Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, are co-chairmen of the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission.

What: Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission hearing

When: 6 p.m., Thursday, May 6

Where: Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, Paris

Why: To gather public input on free-trade policies

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