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Fair Trade Advocates Score Gains in Congress

New politicians oppose what they see as Bush's aggressive free trade agenda.

WASHINGTON — Trade played a key role in congressional races, netting the “fair trade” movement 30 new seats in the House and Senate, according to a consumer advocacy group report.

This story first appeared in the November 7, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The election that swept Sen. Barack Obama into the presidency was largely focused on the economic woes confronting millions of voters, and he carried industrial states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan that have been hard-hit by job losses connected to increased international commerce.

The “fair trade” platform is loosely defined as one that calls for a pause in the aggressive free trade agenda of President Bush, an assessment of existing trade deals, more stringent enforcement of the agreements and inclusion of stronger labor and environmental provisions.

The Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, which monitored 131 congressional races, said in the report released Thursday that the “fair trade” cause picked up 24 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate.

More than 130 TV ads calling for new trade policies and attacking supporters of accords such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and Central America Free Trade Agreement were used in House and Senate races in 2008, the report said. By comparison, lawmakers ran 25 ads in congressional races in 2006. Obama ran a dozen trade-related ads.

“The findings of this report, in sum, are that the demand for a new trade and globalization model in the U.S. went mainstream with the 2008 election, in which 30 vocal fair traders…captured seats previously held by supporters of NAFTA, CAFTA and the [World Trade Organization] status quo,” Lori Wallach, director of the consumer advocacy group, said on a conference call.

The report cited a high-profile senate race in North Carolina, in which incumbent Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a champion of the textile industry, lost to Democratic state senator Kay Hagan. Hagan ran seven trade-focused ads, singling out Dole for her vote in favor of CAFTA.

Another race that hinged on trade involved Rep. Robin Hayes (R., N.C.), who lost to Democrat Larry Kissell, a former textile worker. Kissell won on a fair trade platform, targeting Hayes’ affirmative votes on CAFTA and presidential fast-track trade authority, the report said. Kissell, who was on the conference call, said he defeated Hayes by linking his votes on CAFTA and fast-track to tens of thousands of job losses in his district.

“I have called for a free trade moratorium until we see good jobs come back to this district,” Kissell said.