It's been barely a year since the media firestorm over lead showing up in Chinese-made toys, and now this has come to light. At what point are our leaders going to step up and realize that our trade agreements are not only destroying our economy, but actually threatening our health?
This is not about "free trade" versus "protectionism," and the problem is much larger than NAFTA or CAFTA. First, the current rules for international trade are anything but free--because of the WTO's anti-democratic negotiating structure, poorer and less developed countries are drastically under-represented while larger, more developed powers run the meetings. But even with a numbers advantage, the developed countries still do not even represent the interests of their own people; they represent the interests of their top companies. Moreover, the WTO prefers to hold its meetings behind closed doors, away from the cameras and any shred of accountability. We end up with a system that favors the profits of large multinational corporations over basic fairness and human rights. Suddenly it's okay to make your goods in China, where environmental and labor laws are barely a shadow of what they would be in the US or Europe. Hire kids and pay them $1 per hour if you like, and dump your waste wherever. Thousands of middle-class American workers find themselves without a job, and many are forced into poverty. And if they find another job (probably for much less than they made before), then when they go to the store to buy drywall for their house or a toy for their children, they're putting their health on the line. It's a global race to the bottom, with everyone ultimately losing.
Conservatives threw a hissy fit when President Obama put a tariff on Chinese tires, saying it was just a handout to the unions. (They apparently don't have a problem with $400 billion handouts to insurance companies as part of Medicare supplemental insurance, which health reform will abolish.) I think what we need is more tariffs at higher percentages--say 99%--on things like furniture and textiles. Not only that, but we should renegotiate all of our agreements to favor fair trade practices. After all, the problem isn't trade itself, but trade rules that favor 19th-century working conditions. The only way you revive the economy is to stop the hemmorhaging of American jobs into other countries. If the manufacturers won't do it themselves, then we'll have to give them a little push.