Call Congress! Oppose FTA with Tax Haven Panama & Protect Civil Society!

In spite of campaign promises to engage in a thorough re-thinking of our trade model, word has it that the Obama administration is planning to introduce the Panama Free Trade Agreement as early as this month. There is also talk that the U.S. - Colombia FTA may soon follow. With many Democratic candidates having been elected promising a re-thinking of the model, it seems difficult to believe the Obama administration would do this.

NAFTA sacrificed workers' rights, the environment, food security, public health, and key tenets of democracy in Mexico. CAFTA did the same in Central America.  Why should we expect a different outcome from the Panama FTA?  We shouldn't.  With a text that mimics NAFTA, the Panama agreement is projected to wreak NAFTA-style havoc in Panama's countryside.  ONAGRO, Panama's largest peasant farmer organization, has stated:

"We are certain that the FTA will cause great displacement in the Panamanian agriculture sector, on which 40 percent of our nation's population depends either directly or indirectly.  We Panamanians do not want to follow the Mexicans and Central Americans in the flood of immigration to the United States, where many risk their life trying to be able to make a living." 


This NAFTA model is obviously not fair trade-it's not even truly free trade.  It's bald-faced corporate protectionism.  The Panama FTA would go even further than NAFTA in bailing out big business.  Panama is widely known as a tax haven, a place where AIG and Citigroup maintain subsidiaries to hide their profits.  If the Panama FTA is approved, these corporations--the same ones that recently used our tax money to pay bonuses to their executives--would gain extra safeguards to more easily evade U.S. taxes.  Lack of corporate regulation is what got us into the current economic crisis.  Now, through the Panama FTA, AIG and Citigroup would have us codify such deregulation into trade law.  


While there's plenty within the Panama FTA itself to merit its condemnation, the agreement should also be opposed as a gateway to the notorious Colombia free trade agreement.  Last week Inside U.S. Trade reported:


"A White House and congressional leadership decision on when and whether to bring up the Colombia FTA will likely be influenced by how difficult it will be to get the U.S.-Panama FTA passed and the amount of political effort it takes to do so, sources said. If that proved to be very difficult, the Colombia FTA would likely be further delayed, they said." 


So the more we push against the Panama FTA now, the more we prevent the extension of NAFTA to war-torn Colombia later.  Two birds--one stone.  Click here to send a letter to your representatives today!  


It's also important to call your Senators and Representative!  If you don't know who they are, go to and type in your zip code to find out.  Below is a list of IL Members of Congress, their foreign policy staffers and their phone numbers. When you call, ask to speak with the foreign policy aide. If he or she is unavailable, please leave the following message on his or her voicemail:  


"My name is _____.  I live in (city neighorhood or town).  I am calling to ask Rep. _________ to vote NO to the Panama Free Trade Agreement when it comes to the floor for a vote. I was shocked to learn that Obama's U.S. Trade Representative said he hoped to move the Panama FTA as "expeditiously as possible."  President Obama pledged during his campaign to renegotiate NAFTA, create a new American trade model that actually benefits us and close the tax loopholes that promote job offshoring. Congress and President Obama should work together to implement his commitments and the promises by so many members of Congress to stop the trade model that promotes job offshoring, undermines our food safety, jacks up medicine prices, and guts our local development, labor and environmental procurement rules. Will Rep. ________ commit to follow through with the change we expect in U.S. trade policy and oppose the the Panama Free Trade Agreement when it comes up for a vote?  Please let me know. My number is ___________."


Please let us know what you hear back from your Members of Congress!


Illinois Representatives of the 111th Congress 

Bobby Rush (D-1st) -Speak with John Marshall, 202-225-4372

Jesse Jackson (D- 2nd) ­ -Speak with Charles Dujon, 202-225-0773

Dan Lipinski (D- 3rd ) -Speak with Brian Oszakiewski, 202-225-5701

Luis Gutierrez (D-4th) -Speak with Virginia Zigras, 202-225-8203

Mike Quigley (5th) - Speak with Sean O'Brien,  202-225-4061

Peter Roskam (R-6th) -Speak with Steven Moore, 202-225-4561

Danny Davis (D-7th) -Speak with Charles Brown, 202-225-5006

Melissa Bean (D-8th) -Speak with Liz Jurinka, 202-225-3711

Jan Schakowsky (D-9th) -Speak with Nina Besser, 202-225-2111

Mark Kirk (R-10th) -Speak with Richard Goldberg, 202-225-4835

Debbie Halverson (R-11th) -Speak with Justin Cajindos, 202-225-3635

Jerry Costello (D-12th) -Speak with Dan McCarthy, 202-225-5661

Judy Biggert (R-13th) -Speak with Griffin Foster, 202-225-3515

Bill Foster (R-14th) -Speak with Peter Judge, 202-225-2976

Timothy Johnson (R-15th) -Speak with Jen Mascho, 202-225-2371

Donald Manzullo (R-16th) -Speak with Nien Su, 202-225-5676

Phil Hare (D-17th)-Speak with Kemi Jemilohun, 202-225-5905

Aaron Schock (R-18th) -Speak with Steve Shearer, 202-225-6201

John Shimkus (R-19th) -Speak with Greta Hanson, 202-225-5271


Illinois Senators

Senator Dick Durbin - speak with Chris Homan, 202-224-2152

Senator Roland Burris - speak with Cynthia Dorsey, 202-224-2854


For more on the Panama free trade agreement, tax havens and off-shoring, see the op-ed below: "Don't reward tax cheats".  Also below you will find a sample letter to send to your members of Congress.


Don't reward tax cheats

Sachin Chheda  -  5/13/2009 5:19 am


Americans of all stripes are applauding President Barack Obama's effort to crack down on offshore corporate tax havens. Republicans and Democrats agree that multinational corporations that earn big profits selling to American consumers should pay their fair share, rather than shift the cost of government onto middle-class families. According to a recent study, Wisconsin citizens pay almost $1.7 billion more each year in taxes because of corporations that use these offshore tax havens.

Unfortunately, the president's plan to stop the use of offshore tax havens is being undercut by his own U.S. trade representative, who is actively working to revive the Bush-negotiated trade agreement with Panama, a top destination for those looking to avoid American taxes.

Google "Panama Offshore Tax Haven" and you'll find dozens of companies and law firms dedicated to helping tax cheats hide their assets. Why would we agree to move forward with a trade agreement that would lock in lax tax regulations that mean a big tax burden for middle-class families?

Well, it's no surprise that AIG, that star of bailouts, is smack-dab in the middle of this controversy. First, AIG needed hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money; then, AIG used those taxpayer bailout funds to pay millions of dollars in bonuses to the same executives who drove the company into the ground. Despite widespread outrage, AIG is now suing the U.S. government for more than $300 million they claim they should have been able to hide offshore!

AIG's chutzpah is common amongst the financial giants whose risky behavior sent our economy right off a cliff. And AIG is one of the many corporations supporting the Panama Free Trade Agreement, because they want to be able to lock in the lax regulations from which they've been profiting.

President Obama should know better. He's led the battle to close tax loopholes, and supported the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act in 2007, saying then, "This is a basic issue of fairness and integrity. We need to crack down on individuals and businesses that abuse our tax laws so that those who work hard and play by the rules aren't disadvantaged."

Over the next 10 years, going after offshore tax cheats will recover $210 billion ndsh tax money that otherwise would come from middle-class families. That's good policy. But the president's interest in ending the use of offshore tax havens should include abandoning the Panama Free Trade Agreement. A Government Accountability Office study identified Panama as one of just eight countries that is listed on every major tax-haven watchdog list.

The president made clear his desire to "(stop) illegal overseas tax havens, close loopholes, and make it more profitable for companies to create jobs." We hope that means the end of the Panama Free Trade Agreement, and a commitment to a new era of trade that works in the economic interest of Wisconsin's middle-class families.

Sachin Chheda is director of the Wisconsin Fair Trade Coalition,