Connecticut coalition advocates for an improved NAFTA

By Rev. Pamela Lupfer | Joining Hands Campaign Organizer for Trade Justice

Rally in June 2016 in front of Rep. Jim Himes’ office. Photo Credit: Doug Sutherland of Connecticut Fair Trade Coalition.

In addition to working as the Joining Hands campaign organizer for Trade Justice, I have been working with Connecticut Fair Trade Coalition (CT-FTC) for the past three years. In our continuing efforts to reach out to Congressional representatives regarding concerns about the NAFTA Renegotiation, the CT-FTC met with Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes of the Fourth District on August 1. We brought reps from so many organizations that staffers had to bring in extra chairs. The Coalition includes members from labor, faith, environmental, health and political organizations that work at the local, state and national levels to stop the passage of bad trade deals.

Our work against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) resulted in getting multiple communities in Connecticut to pass resolutions against the TPP and successfully getting Congressional representatives to come out against the TPA (Trade Promotion Authority), commonly known as Fast Track. The ultimate defeat of the TPP is due in large part to the work of wide-scale citizen opposition and the dogged determination of groups like Joining Hands, Public Citizen, Citizens Trade Campaign, CT-FTC and many other organizations who made the case for the development of a new and improved model for international trade that benefits everyone and not just multi-national corporations and making clear to legislators that the TPP would threaten jobs, access to affordable medicines, food safety, the environment, labor and human rights and democratic principles.

Previous meetings of CT-FTC with Rep. Himes on Fast Track and the TPP, included the delivery of letters gathered in partnership with Jed Koball, Mission Co-worker in Peru and the Joining Hands network in Peru, Red Uniendo Manos, from 11 members of the Peruvian Congress and 11 civil society organizations, institutions and churches detailing the devastation that trade agreements like the TPP and the US/Peru Free Trade Agreement have had on the environment and indigenous communities due to the extraordinary rights given to corporations to sue governments under the ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Resolution System).

Our August 1 meeting with Himes was remarkable in that he said that he would prefer that ISDS not be part of a NAFTA replacement. This is significant because previous attempts by CT-FTC to get Rep. Himes to come out against ISDS publicly, were unsuccessful.

Himes mentioned in our meeting that his polling shows strong constituent support for trade. The CT-FTC made it clear that they are not opposed to trade – just bad trade deals. He did say that generally, the consensus is moving against ISDS though. He brought up that he understood that Australia doesn’t want to sign any future trade deals with ISDS in them.

The other big takeaway from the meeting was that Himes admitted that he is as much in the dark about what a NAFTA replacement will look like as the average constituent. He said that there has been almost no consultation with Congress up to this point. Himes said that he believes that most likely nothing will come of this renegotiation effort in the end.

The CT-FTC made it clear that our position is not to just leave NAFTA alone, but that we need to improve the agreement. Himes agreed that NAFTA has problems – especially the lack of enforcement around labor and environmental protections. He seemed very willing to meet again when there are concrete issues on NAFTA to debate.

Members of CT-FTC are pleased that Rep. Himes has expressed his concerns regarding ISDS and his preference for future agreements that do not include this provision. It was clear in our meeting that the relationship we have forged over our significant and extended engagement regarding the TPP has resulted in the Congressman expecting to meet with us whenever the issue of trade comes into play. This reinforces the importance of engaging with elected officials, bringing our concerns to their attention and giving voice to our mission partners who are directly affected by these bad trade deals.

If you have an experience with a legislator that you would like to report, or would like help in planning a meeting with your legislator, please contact Rev. Pamela Lupfer.

For more information on ISDS see previous posts on La Oroya and ISDS here.

For information on how you can get involved and engage with your legislators on trade, visit Replace NAFTA.

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