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Robert Reich on Free Trade

Former Secretary of Labor; Democratic Challenger MA Governor


NAFTA would be better with labor & environment standards

Q: When you were the labor secretary to the first term of the Clinton administration, they pushed through the North American Free Trade Agreement. You were part of that administration. Was that a mistake?

A: I don’t think it was a mistake, but it wasn’t really a tremendous help. If you put labor and environmental standards into our trade agreements, it’s not a race to the bottom. If you have an environmental standard and a labor standard that, for example, bars all slave labor, guarantees the right to organize, maintains kind of minimum labor standards throughout the world, you are setting a floor for all nations. It’s not protectionism. This is a way of actually getting everybody up rather than having the bar continue to trend downward. We tried to do this in NAFTA, and, unfortunately, we couldn’t get the Mexican government support. We tried to have a labor and environmental side agreement. I think it would have been a much better agreement had we had that.

Source: CNN Late Edition: 2008 presidential series with Wolf Blitzer , Jun 22, 2008

MA should compete by being productive, not cheap

Massachusetts is part of the global economy -- depending on exports to the rest of the world, capital from all over the globe, and immigrants. But Massachusetts can’t compete primarily on the basis of low costs of doing business; there’s always somewhere else on the globe that will be cheaper. We must compete on the basis of high productivity.
Source: Campaign web site, RobertReich.org , Jan 25, 2002

Share benefits of globalization; lower import trade barriers

Instead of being opposed to globalization, progressives should pressure the world’s wealthiest nations into sharing the benefits. While the global economy has grown at an average rate of 2.3 percent a year during the past three decades, the gap between the best-off and worst-off countries (as measured in per capita gross national product) is 10 times wider now than it was 30 years ago. And with poverty comes disease--AIDS already has claimed the lives of 10 million Africans and is projected to kill 25 million more over the next decade--as well as the continued destruction of the global environment.

Rather than advocate for less trade, progressives should seek to remove barriers that make it difficult for poorer countries to export to richer ones. That means fewer subsidies to farmers in advanced nations, combined with lower tariffs on farm products from the third world and fewer barriers (including “voluntary restraint agreements”) to textile and steel imports from poor nations.

Source: The American Prospect, vol.12, no.17, “Proper Global Agenda” , Oct 8, 2001

Poor nations should improve conditions as wealth increases

A practical agreement over labor and environmental standards could work this way: Poor nations agree that as they become wealthier, their labor and environmental standards will improve according to a predetermined scale of improvements: Median wages will rise, as will the minimum wage; workplace health and safety standards will ascend in tandem; environmental standards will gain ground.
Source: The American Prospect, vol.11, no.13, “Trade: A Third Way” , May 22, 2000

Backlash against globalization is growing, because of jobs

Will what happened in Seattle last week [protests against globalization at the WTO meeting] have any practical consequence for American politics? There is something going on here that politicians are taking note of. It’s a deepseated, grass-roots, backlash against globalization.

[In a 1999 poll] a majority of respondents thought the global economy will hurt average Americans. The only people in the survey who were positive about globalization were those earning more than $75,000 a year, a distinct minority.

Why this backlash against globalization? Simply because most peoples’ jobs are more precarious now than ever before. And while trade isn’t the only culprit -- it’s also technology, and fierce domestic competition -- trade is the easiest culprit for most people to understand.

It’s not Seattle that’s going to make a lasting political imprint. It’s the backlash that lay behind Seattle. And that backlash is growing.

Source: PBS radio, “Marketplace” broadcast, “What Seattle Means” , Dec 9, 1999

Urges worldwide campaign against child labor

Secretary of Labor Robert Reich says governments and international organizations must wage a coordinated campaign to end child labor around the world.

Speaking to an International Labour Organization (ILO) meeting, Reich voiced strong support for the ILO’s International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) for helping to raise public awareness about the problem.

He also praised a pilot program, recently launched with US government assistance, that

Source: Press Release, “Worldwide Campaign against Child Labor” , Jun 12, 1996

Trade with China makes sense if US workers are protected

Labor should set a price for China trade while it has the votes. Labor should demand that there be two other items in the legislation regularizing China’s trade status--a ban on the permanent replacement of striking workers and a tripling of fines against employers who illegally fire workers for attempting to organize a union. Then a vote on the whole package. The price for opening the door to more trade with one-sixth of the world’s population is more power for blue-collar workers in America.
Source: The American Prospect, Vol. 11, #11 , Apr 24, 2000

Other governors on Free Trade: Robert Reich on other issues:
MA Gubernatorial:
Deval Patrick
MA Senatorial:
John Kerry
Scott Brown

Newly seated 2010:
NJ Chris Christie
VA Bob McDonnell

Term-limited as of Jan. 2011:
AL Bob Riley
CA Arnold Schwarzenegger
GA Sonny Perdue
HI Linda Lingle
ME John Baldacci
MI Jennifer Granholm
NM Bill Richardson
OK Brad Henry
OR Ted Kulongoski
PA Ed Rendell
RI Donald Carcieri
SC Mark Sanford
SD Mike Rounds
TN Phil Bredesen
WY Dave Freudenthal
Newly Elected Nov. 2010:
AL: Robert Bentley (R)
CA: Jerry Brown (D)
CO: John Hickenlooper (D)
CT: Dan Malloy (D)
FL: Rick Scott (R)
GA: Nathan Deal (R)
HI: Neil Abercrombie (D)
IA: Terry Branstad (R)
KS: Sam Brownback (R)
ME: Paul LePage (R)
MI: Rick Snyder (R)
MN: Mark Dayton (D)
ND: Jack Dalrymple (R)
NM: Susana Martinez (R)
NV: Brian Sandoval (R)
NY: Andrew Cuomo (D)
OH: John Kasich (R)
OK: Mary Fallin (R)
PA: Tom Corbett (R)
RI: Lincoln Chafee (I)
SC: Nikki Haley (R)
SD: Dennis Daugaard (R)
TN: Bill Haslam (R)
VT: Peter Shumlin (D)
WI: Scott Walker (R)
WY: Matt Mead (R)
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Health Care
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Page last updated: Nov 23, 2011