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.

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