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High Infidelity: New Report on Broken NAFTA Pork-for-Vote Pledges by Clinton Chills Effectiveness of China PNTR “Offers”

May 15, 2000

High Infidelity: New Report on Broken NAFTA Pork-for-Vote Pledges by Clinton Chills Effectiveness of China PNTR “Offers”

With Votes Lagging, PNTR Candy Store Opens, but Only Naive Are Tempted

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Clinton administration has failed to deliver on the promises made in 1993 to members of Congress to secure their votes for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a new analysis shows. The report by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch comes a week before the House of Representatives takes up Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for China legislation. The outcome is too close to call, and the administration now is trying to negotiate with undecided members over federal monies, programs and assorted side agreements to secure their votes.

The report, an examination of the follow-through of the deals made to secure NAFTA, suggests that promises on China PNTR are unlikely to be kept. Short of votes to pass the China legislation on its merits, the administration is now finding that its record of living up to trade vote promises and its lame duck status are limiting its ability to make new pork-barrel deals on China.

“On Capitol Hill, the old-timers are warning the new members being courted on China PNTR about the pork promises that were never delivered to representatives who walked the plank on NAFTA,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “This report documents the conventional wisdom that only the naive exchange trade votes for goodies with this White House.”

After several years passed and the NAFTA-related deals and promises were not acted on by the White House, representatives became leery of Clinton’s ability to deliver. In 1997 and 1998, the president failed twice in his attempt to win approval for Fast Track trade authority in part because he could not fall back on deal-making when he failed to win votes based on the legislation’s merits.

“It is appalling that a representative would trade a vote to give China’s dictators a blank check in exchange for some pork-barrel deal, but it’s also foolhardy to do so with this administration, given the record of failing to deliver,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “If the president can’t deliver in ninety months, how can he keep his promises in nine?”

NAFTA’s passage was finally secured by promises for pork-barrel projects as well as promises for side measures, such as import surge protection and promises to enforce labor rights on NAFTA trade.

Examples of the hollow NAFTA promises now haunting the China candy store include:

Promised Small Business Administration Investment in Former Rep. Floyd Flake’s (D-N.Y.) District. Flake committed to voting for NAFTA after receiving directly from the president in a personal meeting a commitment for a special Small Business Administration program to increase private sector investment in his district. (The administration promise came after businesses claiming NAFTA would increase traffic at nearby Kennedy airport refused to commit in writing to increasing investment and jobs relating to the airport.) For four years nothing was done on the administration promise. Then the Clinton administration announced the creation of the Bronx Initiative Corporation, designed to foster investment with federally backed lending. The Bronx Initiative Corporation made its first and only loan in February of this year. However, the funded project is not in Flake’s former district, but in the district of Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.).

No Enforcement of Tomato Surge Protection Promised Florida and California Representatives. The administration persuaded many in the California and Florida delegations to support NAFTA by including language in NAFTA’s enabling legislation to look for import surges from Mexico and to recommend remedies under NAFTA and U.S. trade law to protect American growers. The International Trade Commission monitored tomato imports and found: declining tomato acreage in Florida and California; a near doubling of Mexican imports between 1995 and 1999; and a significant decline in U.S. exports to Canada (formerly the biggest U.S. tomato market) and Mexico. Yet despite the dramatic findings, no recommendation has been made to safeguard U.S. growers. The number of Florida farms has fallen from 320 before NAFTA to 100 in 1999. This example provides a cautionary tale to members who might believe that the Levin side agreement, which contains surge protection language, could provide them with cover politically or as a matter of policy.

No Funding for Plutonium Lab in Amarillo for Former Rep. Sarpalius (D-Texas). Funding promised for a new lab to expand a Department of Energy nuclear weapons site never materialized. Later, funding earmarked in 1999 for an academic research lab was shifted over to the weapons site and then canceled in 2000. Now, ironically, the entire facility is being downsized. DOE is cutting funding, which will require the elimination of 70 percent of the facility’s work force over the next few years. Examples such as this one have led senior House members who observed their former colleagues’ tribulations on NAFTA deals and who now are being offered China deals by the White House to demand delivery in full before the imminent vote.

Massachusetts Maritime Disaster for Former Rep. Studds (D-Mass.). Senior Democrat Studds was targeted by both sides. President Clinton intervened to get the Maritime Administration to finance a loan to re-open a Massachusetts shipyard. The pork-laden project never was completed, and in early May 2000, the Maritime Administration began bankruptcy proceedings to recapture the more than $50 million in federal funds that has been lost. Not one ship was built or one job created. Meanwhile, the state of Massachusetts has suffered significant NAFTA job losses.

Over the past seven and a half years Clinton failed to deliver on the NAFTA vote deals. Now, with less than nine months remaining in his administration and a short, busy legislative calender, promises from the White House are even less likely to come to pass.

“The consumer warning caveat emptor — let the buyer beware — truly applies to the China vote,” Claybrook said. “But politicians should not be trading their votes anyway. If the public, 79 percent of which opposes China PNTR, knew that representatives were swapping votes on such a crucial policy matter they would be stunned and dismayed.”