Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Failing your way to the top

The same strategy that worked so well for grazing and climate change is at work on trade. As the Senate Finance Committee approved CAFTA, the AP revealed that the U.S. Blocked Release of CAFTA Reports:
The Labor Department worked for more than a year to maintain secrecy for studies that were critical of working conditions in Central America, the region the Bush administration wants in a new trade pact.

The contractor hired by the department in 2002 to conduct the studies has become a major opponent of the administration's proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA.

The government-paid studies concluded that countries proposed for free-trade status have poor working environments and fail to protect workers' rights. The department dismissed the conclusions as inaccurate and biased, according to government and contractor documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

In a summary of its findings, the organization wrote, "In practice, labor laws on the books in Central America are not sufficient to deter employers from violations, as actual sanctions for violations of the law are weak or nonexistent."

The conclusions contrast with the administration's arguments that Central American countries have made enough progress on such issues to warrant the free-trade deal.

Hoping to lure enough Democratic votes to win passages, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman this month promised to spend money and arrange an international conference to ensure "the best agreement ever negotiated by the United States on labor rights."

Behind the scenes, the Labor Department began as early as spring 2004 to block public release of the country-by-country reports.

The department instructed its contractor to remove the reports from its Web site, ordered it to retrieve paper copies before they became public, banned release of new information from the reports, and even told the contractor it could not discuss the studies with outsiders.
CAFTA is some sort of bizarre hobby-horse here, so get your background here or here, and look at the AFL-CIO report on labor conditions in the CAFTA countries.