Oman Trade Agreement Lacks Worker Protections

By AFL-CIO President John Sweeney

The closeness of today’s vote on the Oman Free Trade Agreement shows that the trade debate in this country is becoming more intense, as politicians in both parties are beginning to realize that our trade policy needs deep reform, not acceleration.

Today's House vote was much narrower than expected, 221-205. Only 22 Democrats voted for this flawed deal, along with 199 Republicans, while 176 Democrats (almost 90 percent of the caucus) and 28 Republicans voted no.

With working people going to the polls in only three and a half months, members of Congress are increasingly reluctant to ratify this administration’s failed trade policy. This policy has resulted in an exploding and out-of-control trade deficit (now at an annual rate of $800 billion a year), millions of good jobs lost, eroding standards of living for the typical worker, and devastated communities.

The upside-down priorities of the Bush Administration are reflected in this deeply flawed agreement. The Oman deal has the same weak and inadequate protections for workers’ rights contained in CAFTA and the other FTAs negotiated by this administration. These provisions are made all the more problematic because Oman’s labor laws are the weakest of any country with which we have ever negotiated a free trade agreement.

Despite the Administration's assertions, these trade agreements don't strengthen security or our government's relationships with other countries any more than they create jobs. They actually generate resentment toward the US and are perceived negatively in many parts of the developing world including the Middle East. So the irony is that while the Administration says this agreement would improve the US image in the Middle East, it will likely do the opposite. The Oman deal also threatens our national security by potentially opening up landside port operations to Omani-based companies – precisely the kind of transaction rejected by Congress and the American public in the Dubai ports debacle.

While we in the American labor movement were deeply disappointed in today’s outcome, we also believe the closeness of the vote reflects the tremendous progress we have made over the last decade in bringing the issues of fairness and workers’ rights to the center of the trade debate. We plan to work harder than ever to ensure that America’s trade policies reflect the values and protect the interests of America’s working families, and create a foundation for a truly just global economy.

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