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May 15, 2006

Oman Deal Slammed in Committee, but Still Advancing

Dear Fair Trade Supporter,

You may have feared that Congress would just roll over and accept the Bush administration's most degrading trade proposal yet — a "free trade" deal cut with the Sultan of Oman, the absolute monarch of a country in the Middle East already cited by the U.S. State Department for human trafficking, forced labor and widespread political repression.

But after the ruckus we all made last week about this offensive U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement (OFTA), many members of Congress took President Bush to task in their first opportunity to comment on the anti-worker, anti-environment draft legislation at the "mock mark-up" in the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

However, despite their heroic efforts, the OFTA is still advancing with the help of a cabal of Congressmen close to the president. They are gambling that they can force a floor vote before too many in Congress learn the details. So we need to ramp up the pressure.

Can you make sure your representative gets an urgent heads up about the outrageous Oman Free Trade Agreement by CALLING their office today?

Here are a couple of choice quotes from the House trade committee's "mock-markup":

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) waved a copy of the recent New York Times exposé about horrific sweatshop conditions that followed the Jordan-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and noted that the OFTA's labor requirements are even weaker than those in the Jordan deal. Rep. McDermott derided the OFTA's labor provisions, noting that even if there is substantial worker abuse, under the OFTA the maximum penalty is fines capped at $15 million a year that Oman would pay to itself! He noted that getting unenforceable commitments on paper meant getting nothing but paper. He compared the unenforceable text to a college diploma — you put it up on the wall and it's supposed to mean something. But, McDermott said its just paper on the wall — a point he illustrated by noting that Yale gave such a paper to President Bush, causing the committee room to erupt in giggles.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) offered an amendment requiring that the Oman FTA not go into effect until Oman join the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), an environmental treaty all other U.S. trade partners have signed. The Republicans voted the amendment down. Doggett pointed out that Oman has allowed a rampant trade in endangered black rhinoceros horns, which are violently ripped from the animal by traffickers for use as dagger handles. By only enforcing environmental and labor provisions with limited fines (as opposed to commercial provisions, which can be enforced through unlimited trade sanctions), U.S. trade policy is "relegating environmental concerns to separate and unequal second-class treatment," said Doggett.
To try to silence these critics, the administration and some of their closest cronies are warming up a propaganda machine, blaring banalities about the importance of this deal to U.S. relations in the Middle East. They hope to bring a vote on the deal in Congress in the next couple of weeks, before too many Representatives learn that this is just another NAFTA expansion. That means we need to warm up the people machine to drown out the propaganda with truth.

The OFTA must be renegotiated! Otherwise, it is guaranteed to generate the same horrifying treatment reported in nearby Jordan, as sweatshops are opened to produce goods that can enter the U.S. tariff free and labor rights free.

We need you to join the truth squad: please call your congressperson and make sure he or she knows that relegating impoverished Muslim workers in Oman to heinous treatment to make things for export to us is NOT the way to strengthen our image in the region or to create jobs here at home!

Thank you for all that you do!

The Global Trade Watch Team

Posted by cat at 01:35 PM