You remember the Dubai Ports World scandal earlier this year, where President Bush almost surrendered our port security to an Arab based company with ties to terrorists. Fortunately negative publicity and an uproar among both Republicans and Democrats (that rare beast, Bipartisanship, making one of its few appearances this Century) nixed the deal. Or so we thought.
It now appears that a trade agreement with Oman currently before the Republican controlled Congress for approval offers companies like Dubai Ports World a secret backdoor to force our Government to turn over port security to them, or face potential damages in litigation before the World Court. I’ll let James P. Hoffa, blogging at Huffington Post, explain the dirty details:
Imagine if Congress were slapped with a lawsuit demanding payment of millions of our tax dollars because Congress protected our national security by denying a foreign corporation the right to run our U.S. ports.
That’s exactly what’s at stake. The Oman agreement, based on the failed NAFTA model, contains a disturbing surprise: Foreign companies incorporated in Oman would be given the right to own and operate important and sensitive infrastructure in the United States, including the landside activities of our ports.
Simply put, if such rules had been applicable to Dubai, the United States would have had to pay the Emir of Dubai tens of millions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars for taking actions that undermined that company’s “right” to run our ports.
As a technical matter, the Oman agreement would provide foreign firms the “right to establish,” which is trade jargon for the right to “acquire, own and operate” a service sector operation within the United States. Remarkably, U.S. negotiators expanded the list of service sector operations to include landside port activities, including “operation and maintenance of docks; loading and unloading of vessels directly to or from land; marine cargo handling; operation or maintenance of piers; ship cleaning; stevedoring; transfer of cargo between vessels and trucks, trains, pipelines and wharves; waterfront terminal operations” and more.
These activities, which have direct security implications, are precisely the sorts of activities that moved Congress toward quashing the Dubai Ports World deal.
Even worse, the new “rights” in the trade agreement are not limited to Omani companies. Any firm incorporated in and operating in Oman, including foreign-owned companies, would gain the agreement’s new foreign investor privileges. So, if Dubai Ports World (DPW) simply sets up shop in Oman, we won’t be able to stop it from taking over our port operations. That would be a violation of our trade agreement — which could have significant consequences.
Amazing how the Bushies work, isn’t it? They are bound and determined to help their “friends” in the Middle East no matter how seriously it may compromise our National Security, by which I mean the lives of you aand me, and each of our family members. Especially at risk would be anyone who lives in one of our port cities.
Here’s some more details about this foolish and risky trade deal the Bush administration has tried to sneak past Congress from Congressman Jack Murtha:
This week, Congress is being asked to vote on the Oman Free Trade Agreement – OFTA. The way I see it, this vote is not so much about trade as it is about protecting our national security from threat of terrorism against our nation and our people.
The OFTA poses new, unacceptable threats to our homeland security. U.S. trade negotiations buried in an Annex of OFTA a provision that undermines our ability to protect the security of U.S. ports.
If approved, OFTA would grant ANY firm incorporated and operating in Oman a “right of establishment” to acquire and operate landside port activities within the United States. This includes:
* Operation and maintenance of docks
* Loading and unloading of vessels directly to or from land
* Marine cargo handling
* Operation and maintenance of piers
* Transfer of cargo between vessels and trucks, trains, pipelines, and wharves
* Waterfront terminal operations
These are the very activities Congress just insisted Dubai Ports World not control. Why? Because control of such facilities would expose the population centers near our major ports in New York, New Jersey, my home state of Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, California, and Washington to unnecessary risks. These are the very activities and facilities that, if sabotaged, could destroy aspects of vital U.S. infrastructure.
If this agreement goes into effect and Congress were to intervene to stop or limit the acquisition by an Oman-based company of a landside port services operation here, the United States could be dragged by that very company before a United Nations or World Bank foreign tribunal where that company could demand we compensate them for violating their Oman Free Trade Agreement right to acquire and operate port services here.
Now you might say – what does Oman have against us? I am not worried about the Sultan of Oman. I doubt he would consider it in his interest to drag the U.S. to a foreign tribunal. He has been very helpful in facilitating U.S. troop movements in the area. The problem is that under this agreement, ANY private investor or company operating in Oman can drag the U.S. government to one of these foreign tribunals.
And, Oman is a country that has been put on the Tier II watch list in the Bush Administration State Department’s 2006 Trafficking in Human Persons report. This is a country that our own State Department has studied and reported does not have a system in place to carefully watch just who comes into that country – people who under this agreement would have a right to operate landside port operations within the US if they just set up a “front” office in Oman.
Under OFTA, this right to set up shop in our country applies not only to Omani firms – but to any firm incorporated and operating in Oman. So, if Dubai Ports World sets up in Oman and them attempts to acquire a U.S. ports operation and Congress intervenes, as we did this spring, OFTA would empower Dubai Ports World to drag the United States before a UN or World Bank tribunal to demand we compensate the firm with taxpayer dollars for the “future expected profits” they lost because we undermined their OFTA right to operate here!
OFTA supporters may wish this provision were not included, but it is. Now they claim that we should not worry because OFTA contains the standard “Essential Security” exception that can be raised as a defense during such a challenge. But, the Essential Security exception does NOT PREVENT or HALT an OFTA challenge. When Congress decides to halt an acquisition, OFTA would expose that action to challenge in a UN or World Bank tribunal and the Exception can only be raised as a defense. In such a challenge, it’s the UN or World Bank tribunal of foreign jurists who get to decide if our defense was acceptable.
Because the U.S. allows other foreign port-operating firms within the U.S., we can’t claim simply that ANY foreign firm in our ports is a security threat. We must show a specific threat to convince the foreign tribunal. So, the best-case scenario is that we spend significant money and reveal national security secrets trying to convince a foreign tribunal that were justified in violating OFTA. This is not a gamble I am willing to take with our nation’s national security.
As a matter of policy, it is unconscionable to knowingly agree to any trade agreement that contains obligations that limit our national security authority regarding sensitive infrastructure such as our ports.
It makes no sense to vote for a trade agreement that we KNOW limits homeland security authority with the HOPE that some foreign tribunal will deign to allow us to use a security exception to justify our violation so that we can break the agreement and have to pay millions of tax payers dollars in damages.
Finally, regarding the national security implications of this deal: Bizarrely, the White House has been trying to sell a line to Congress that passing this agreement will enhance our national security interests!
The Oman FTA, with its pathetic labor rights provisions, is bound to intensify the worker abuse and resentment that provide fertile grounds for extremist recruitment.
We all saw the New York Times expose last month: Since the US-Jordan Free Trade agreement went in to effect five years ago, the number of sweatshop clothing factories there has exploded. Between the years 2000 and 2005, Jordan’s apparel exports to the U.S. soared 2,000 percent, reaching $1.1 billion in 2005. These exports are made by “guest workers” from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other poor countries, in hellish conditions.
Well, in Oman, over 70 percent of the private sector work force in made up of such “guest workers” with no rights. Now, the Bush Administration is trying to convince us that allowing the Chinese to set up sweatshops in Oman (where indentured Pakistani “guest workers” would toil at slave wages so Chinese firms can get duty-free U.S. access for clothes imports) will improve the United States’ image and national security prospects. But this scenario is likely to send just the opposite message and perhaps generate greater hostility towards us.
So, I am urging my colleagues to oppose OFTA – for the homeland security threat that its ports provisions pose here at home and to prevent intensifying the guest worker threat to our national security that would result from the guest worker sweatshops this agreement would create in Oman.
This trade agreement comes up for a vote in the House tomorrow. The Senate has already approved the deal, by the vote of 60-34. Shamefully, that means at least some Democrats have already voted for it. Let’s pray our Representatives in the House care a little more about port security than their brethern in the Senate, though I won’t be holding my breath.