Countering Terrorism with Trade?

As the nation mourns the loss of innocent lives on September 11, one of the first catch-phrases to take hold was "this changes everything." It has not, however, changed Bush's economic agenda.

Its not surprising that this hideous event is dominating the national conversation, clouding coverage on Bush's tax cut, how to use the federal budget surplus, the growing trade deficit, patient's bill of rights, and other vital social and economic issues -- to the distinct advantage of free trade promoters.

While the nation's attention is fixed on this tragedy, the Bush Administration is seeking to persuade Congress to grant the President fast track authority, newly named Trade Promotion Authority, to negotiate trade agreements in an effort to help fight global terrorism. US Trade Representative, Robert Zoelick has claimed that Trade Promotion Authority would serve as a major signal that the United States does not plan to retreat from its global responsibilities, including defense of free trade against terrorist threats. In a speech promoting free trade, he said, "On Sept. 11, America, its open society and its ideas came under attack by a malevolence that craves our panic, retreat and abdication of global leadership ... America's trade leadership can build a coalition of countries that cherish liberty in all its aspects."

The tragedy has not only deeply affected the American psyche and our social fabric, it has become a catalyst that has quickened the downturn in our economy, which was rapidly weakening even before the disaster. Job losses have grown in significant numbers with the job toll in the airline industry alone crossing the 100,000 threshold. Workers laid off now will face hard times in the local job market, already turbulent with layoffs in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors. Meanwhile the workers laid off since NAFTA make less than 70 percent of their former wages, if able to find jobs.

The trade agreements have been an unqualified success for the financiers who seek to make profits through cheap labor and production costs. Most Americans work for a living and don't live off their investments. NAFTA alone eliminated 766,000 jobs between 1994 and 2000 in the manufacturing sector. The growth in the U.S. trade deficit, a result of trade liberalization, has eliminated 3.2 million jobs between 1992 and 1999. Absence of restraint on capital movement has meant employers threatening to move overseas to undercut workers' bargaining power.

Attacks on September 11 should not be used as a golden opportunity for the Bush Administration to pump and justify unbridled corporate greed in the name of countering terror with trade. The administration needs to work to create jobs, provide unemployment compensation, work towards building an economy that sustains all. We need to focus on the people and industries now in crisis and not exploit a national tragedy to further a divisive corporate agenda. We need as a nation, to imagine responses to terrorism that might actually promote peace and justice around the world, instead of generating more destruction.

Anuradha Mittal is the Co-Director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy (www.foodfirst.org).

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