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July 19, 2006

The Oman Free Trade Agreement (OFTA) is bad foreign policy

Bi-partisan group of legislators call on Congress to defeat Oman Free Trade Agreement (OFTA), citing national security concerns. House Republican leadership has vowed to bring the Oman Free Trade Agreement — a misguided NAFTA Expansion to the Middle East - to the House floor for a vote tomorrow, Thursday, July 20.

The OFTA would provide special access to U.S. markets for clothes made in sweatshops located in Oman - meaning more indentured workers will be trafficked from Bangladesh, China and other countries to slave away in Omani sweatshops, and more jobs will be lost here at home. OFTA is bad for the Middle East, and it is bad for the United States.

OFTA will lead to serious human rights abuses. The majority of the workers in Oman's private sector are foreign-born "guest workers" from China, Bangladesh and other poor countries. Oman forbids independent unions. Only "committees" managed by employers and government are allowed. Seventy percent of Oman's private sector workforce is comprised of foreign guest workers, and only people with Arabic fluency can serve as officers even in the fake unions. This means most workers would have no way to fight even the horrific sorts of abuses we learned about from this recent New York Times exposé that were caused by the U.S.-Jordan FTA — a pact and a country with better labor standards. Ways and Means Democrats worked for months to get fixes for Oman's laws that make a mockery of ILO standards. The Sultan refused. Then, as it has become clear the agreement is in trouble, last week he issued a new "Sultanic Decree" — which does nothing. Worse, in 2006 for the first time, the State Department placed Oman on its watch list of countries that traffic in human beings — both because of children sold into slavery from Sudan that toil as jockeys in the camel racing industry, and due to the widespread problems of indentured guest workers.

OFTA will increase instability in the Middle East. The abuse and marginalization of guest workers in countries such as Oman presents a key challenge for the security of this vital region and of the United States. James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute has referred to the situation as a "time bomb." The climate of anger and alienation created by the current situation facing guest workers is just the type of environment in which radical Islamic groups thrive. It is profoundly disturbing that Congress would consider implementing a free-trade agreement that will exacerbate conditions that are likely to breed a reaction which could further threaten security in the Middle East. Have you seen the film Syriana? Those horrible conditions, creating that despair is what OFTA could well do.

OFTA could undermine U.S. national security. The OFTA goes beyond even CAFTA and NAFTA in explicitly promoting rights for foreign companies — including government-owned companies — to operate our sensitive infrastructure: electricity grids, port operations and more. OFTA allows foreign investors to take the U.S. government to secret tribunals if the profitability of any foreign investment in these sensitive sectors is threatened by an act of the U.S. Congress! Under OFTA, if Dubai Ports World (DPW) set up shop in Oman and Congress acted to halt that company's acquisition of US port operations, OFTA would allow DPW to drag the United States before an international tribunal and demand payment of million of our tax dollars to compensate for "future lost profits" caused by the foreign company being denied their OFTA foreign investor rights to operate in our country.

More NAFTAs mean more lost U.S. jobs. A decade of NAFTA has resulted in the largest U.S. trade deficit ever — a deficit caused by a flood of job-killing imported goods and the export of 3 million U.S. manufacturing jobs. Our wages are little above their 1972 levels even as prices and productivity have risen. We can't afford any more NAFTA-like trade deals. We need to change this broken trade model!

(VIA Public Citizen

Posted by cat at 11:38 AM