Rep. Towns Must Be Held Accountable for DR-CAFTA Sellout

 
Ed Towns signing of The US-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, contradicted his vehement earlier opposition to the agreement and compromised the interests of workers, small farmers, healthcare recipients, and the environment. Towns must demonstrate that he commit to putting voters before corporate interests, or voters must look to his anti-free trade opponent, Charles Barron, as an alternative.

Towns Must Be Held Accountable for DR-CAFTA Sellout
by Adam Weissman

In the Democratic primary next Tuesday, as Charles Barron challenges incumbent Congressmember Ed Towns for his seat, 10th Congressional District Democrats will have a chance to hold Towns, regarded by many as a “Bush Democrat” accountable for putting corporate profits before the public interest by voting for the US-Domincan-Republic Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).

Two years ago on November 19th, 2004, Mr. Towns testified that DR-CAFTA would benefit multinational corporations at the expense of environmental protection, legislative independence and a nation’s right to autonomously determine social and economic policy. Hundreds of labor, religious and community organizations wrote to Congress warning that DR-CAFTA threatened workers, small business owners, farmers, HIV victims and countless animal and plant species. The NAACP released a report condemning the DR-CAFTA as damaging not only to Dominicans and Central Americans, but disproportionately hurting the African American community as well. Yet Towns was one of only two New York Democrats who broke ranks and voted for the agreement on July 28, 2005, ensuring DR-CAFTA’s passage by one vote.

Many concluded that Towns’ pro-DR-CAFTA vote was bought by campaign contributions from pharmaceutical corporations eager to eliminate low-cost generic drugs. Groups like Doctors Without Borders, Health Global Access Project (Health GAP), and Oxfam view DR-CAFTA’s intellectual property rights provisions as a profit-driven death sentence for the hundreds of thousands of people in Central American and the Dominican Republic who cannot afford high-priced name-brand drugs.

But even if Towns lacks compassion for people overseas, one would at least expect him to stand for his own voters. Unfortunately, Towns seems unconcerned that 36% of manufacturing sector jobs in his Congressional district have been lost since the passage of DR-CAFTA's predecessor, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) , a trend expected to increase under DR-CAFTA.

Towns vote also demonstrates a lack of concern for the environment. While offering strong protections to corporate investors engaged in environmentally destructive activties, DR-CAFTA fails to require member countries to adopt internationally recognized standards for environmental protection. Nor does it ensure that member countries don't lower or waive their existing environmental laws in an effort to attract investment. What's more, rules in DR-CAFTA would actually prohibit member countries from enacting many new environmental regulations, allowing those regulations to be challenged as "barriers to trade." This strips the public from a fundamental democratic right to pass laws that protect our environment in favor of corporations' "right" to profit from environmental destruction.

In a May 15th statement, Mr. Towns argued that “...immigration is basically a human concern. It's about the lives of millions of people-- both illegal immigrants and existing citizens.” A June 21st Towns press released called for finding “the most reasonable solution to the many issues surrounding illegal immigration.” In this light, his DR-CAFTA vote is particularly hypocritical. It was DR-CAFTA's predecessor NAFTA that drove a 100% increase in undocumented immigration. As Mexico, in compliance with NAFTA, eliminated tariffs on US agricultural imports, US agribusiness flooded the Mexican market with industrially produced, genetically modified, pesticide-treated crops, priced far cheaper than those grown by local farmers using traditional methods. As a result, one million Mexican families who lost their land, and many were forced to leave their families and homelands to find jobs north of the border.
Groups like Oxfam warm that DR-CAFTA will have exactly the same effect. Towns would do well to explore his own complicity in exacerbating this trend, instead of labelling people who are forced to emigrate as a matter of necessity by ruthless pro-corporate economic policies as “illegal immigrants.”

In a move that many speculate was intended to blunt the anger of DR-CAFTA foes, on July20, 2006 Towns voted against the Oman Free Trade Agreement, a deal that enters the US into a trade pact with a monarchy notorious for its links to human trafficking. But Towns sell-out on DR-CAFTA won't be forgotten so easily. To restore public confidence, he must commit to never again put the interests of wealthy corporations above those of voters.

He can take one step in this direction by signing the 'No More CAFTAs-Pledge for Trade Justice.” The Pledge, initiated by organizations working for human rights in Latin America, calls on Congressional candidates to only support trade treaties that prioritize namely democracy, sustainable economic and environmental policy, international labor standards, essential public services and respect for human rights. Details and supporters of the Pledge are online at www.stopCAFTA.org. With trade deals with Peru and Colombia to be voted on in the next few months, whomever is elected in November will decide the fate of millions of local and migrant workers both overseas and here in the US.

In stark contrast to Towns' waffling, Charles Barron has been an outspoken critic of DR-CAFTA style trade deals and has made “Fair Trade, Not Free Trade” one of the top themes of his campaign. At a press conference on the steps of City Hall at 3pm on Sunday, September 10th, Charles Barron will join elected officials and Congressional candidates around the country in signing the Pledge for Trade Justice.
According to Barron “There are plenty of other ways to create jobs...We need to distinguish between economic development and economic exploitation.” Towns would do well to heed his words.

With the Democratic Primary less than a week away, it’s time for Ed Towns to salvage his tarnished reputation and follow Charles Barron’s lead in signing the Pledge for Trade Justice, demonstrating that he can place the public good over the profits of his corporate campaign contributors. Otherwise, he can expect voters to leave him behind for a candidate who cares more about Brooklynites than big pharma's profit margin.
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The author is a member of the NYC People's Referendum on Free Trade, a coalition of labor, environmental, Latin American solidarity, peace, animal rights, AIDS, and Latino community organizations opposed trade agreements that compromise the public interest in favor of corporate profits. He can be contacted at  adam@wetlands-preserve.org. To learn more about DR-CAFTA and the Pledge for Trade Justice, visit  http://stopcafta.org.

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