RealTime IT News

Tech Blasts CAFTA Foes

Last week, House Republicans urged high-tech lobbyists to turn up the heat on opponents of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Today, they did as they were told.

In a media teleconference, three prominent Washington tech trade groups lashed out at the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the centrist New Democrat Coalition (NDC) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The CWA plans to issue a report later today sharply critical of the trade deal while the NDC, chaired by Silicon Valley Democrat Ellen Tauscher of Walnut Creek, Calif., came out in opposition to CAFTA last week.

The CWA contends CAFTA is more about "turnaround trade," where U.S. corporations ship components to foreign countries with inexpensive labor, and not about demand for American products. In other words: outsourcing and the loss of American jobs.

In addition, the CWA has concerns over worker rights, such as workplace protections, the actual size of the market and protection of intellectual property.

Rhett Dawson, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC), called the CWA stand a "sideshow, straw man red herring," noting that CWA opposed the original North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

"Rather than accept the many ways in which CAFTA benefits high-tech, the authors of this report are manufacturing false arguments that have little to do with the actual agreement or the actual facts," Dawson said.

As for the New Democrats, a 41-member group of lawmakers, Dawson said, "They chose to go in a different direction."

Traditionally a pro-trade group, the NDC is opposing CAFTA for the impact it claims the trade deal will have on both American and foreign workers.

"The Bush administration's fiscal irresponsibility and its misguided philosophy on spending and tax cuts has undermined our ability to invest in education and skills training that is desperately needed," NDC Co-Chair Ron Kind (D-Wisc.) said last week.

Kind added, "I am deeply dismayed the current administration has pursued policies that leave many workers who qualify ... for [retraining] benefits without access to the program because the administration either can't or won't provide adequate funding."

Rick White, head of TechNet, a trade group of tech CEOs, said the issue was simple.

"It's hard to say you believe in free trade and you dont vote for free trade," he noted.

White did admit some tech workers, such as CWA members, do not believe in free trade but that "most tech workers do."

The NDC opposition poses a serious threat to the passage of CAFTA.

"We cannot [pass CAFTA] by ourselves," House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, said last week when Republicans unveiled their technology priorities for the 109th Congress. "We'll put the 90 percent or so of our members on the line, just as we always do. Then, if this doesn't happen, it doesn't happen because of the Democrats who tell you they'll be there and never are."

Both Dawson and White predicted the CAFTA vote would be close.

"This is one of the tech industry's top priorities this year, and we're lobbying aggressively to get the votes to pass CAFTA," Dawson said.