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CAFTA Damage Report: Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) Reverses Strong CAFTA Opposition, Becomes Prominent Flip-flopper and Casts Deciding Vote For Expansion of NAFTA to Central America

Towns Made Passionate Congressional Floor Speech in 2004 Declaring His Opposition to CAFTA Because “Multinationals Will Emerge as Main Beneficiaries from CAFTA Ratification”

By Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Nov. 19, 2004, congressional floor speech of Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) left no doubt that he opposed a proposed Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The lengthy statement described, in detail, why CAFTA would harm most people in the affected nations. Yet nine months later, on July 27, Towns cast a decisive vote in favor of CAFTA that allowed the controversial trade pact to eke through the U.S. House of Representatives 217 to 215. Although the CAFTA text was unchanged between Towns’ 2004 speech and the congressional vote on the six-nation expansion of NAFTA, Towns provided one of the deciding votes in favor of the trade agreement. Had he stuck with his opposition to CAFTA, the agreement would have been defeated on a 216-216 tie vote.

In Towns’ anti-CAFTA floor statement, titled “Multinationals Will Emerge as Main Winners from CAFTA Ratification,” Towns argued that CAFTA’s “underlying principle is the aggressive protection and expansion of individual and corporate investor rights. These privileges come at the expense of environmental protection, legislative independence, and a nation’s right to autonomously determine social and economic policy. Despite the assurances of its proponents, the Central America Free Trade Accord (CAFTA) [sic] is not likely to translate into a significant improvement for the region’s atrocious labor rights record because it does not institute the fixed penalties and incentives required for such a profound change. The absence of such provisions is especially distressing in Central American societies that, in a twisted and deadly caricature of respectable collective bargaining, have historically witnessed hundreds of labor leaders gunned down and intimidated by hired hands on the payrolls of land owners and factory managers.” The four-page statement goes on to argue that CAFTA was negotiated in an un-transparent way, on “uneven ground,” will offer “no new labor protections,” and will “handcuff […] the state” from promoting economic development. Towns’ statement is available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/Towns_CAFTA_Speech.pdf