Action Alert — July 17, 2006

Final House Vote on the Oman NAFTA Expansion Scheduled for THIS WEEK: Contact Congress Now!

...and if you already HAVE contacted your representative, please contact him or her again each day until the vote!

Contact Congress Today: The Oman Free Trade Agreement is coming to a final House vote this week. Write and call your Representative and urge him or her to oppose it!

The Bush administration and House Republican leadership are planning to force a final vote this week — likely this Thursday, July 20 — on a misguided NAFTA Expansion to the Middle East: the Oman Free Trade Agreement (OFTA).

The administration is trying to sell OFTA as a "foreign policy initiative" — trying to argue that foisting NAFTA expansion on a country is a sign of U.S. friendship. We know better what to expect of the Bush administration's approach — it's all about the big corporations close to the White House such as Big Oil and Gas, Dow Chemical and Wal-Mart. OFTA's foreign investor rights would give U.S. oil and gas companies new rights in Oman and force the U.S. to allow any company incorporated in Oman to operate our domestic ports and other sensitive infrastructure. Plus, the deal would establish the right for clothes made in Oman to be imported into the United States duty-free — except that there are very few people in Oman willing to work in sweatshops, so the Omani Sultan will allow foreign clothing makers to "import" people from Bangladesh and other poor countries to do that work.

Do you think OFTA — by allowing U.S. corporations to take over Omani natural resources or by allowing Chinese investors to set up sweatshop factories in Oman where indentured Pakistani "guest workers" would toil for slave wages so they can get duty-free U.S. access for clothing imports — will improve the U.S. image? This scenario is likely to send just the wrong impression and perhaps generate greater hostility towards us.

The vote this week is expected to be close, so please take action today to make sure your Representative votes NO!

Three Steps to Take Now to Stop NAFTA Expansion into the Middle East:

  1. Send an email to your Representative to let him or her know that you want fair trade, peace, and security — and that OFTA undermines all of the above.
  2. Call your Representative right now to demand that he or she vote "NO" on the Oman Free Trade Agreement; tips and talking points are available below.
  3. Then spread the word! Forward this email to your list of friends, family, and fellow activists!

Talking Points: The Oman Free Trade Agreement (OFTA) is bad foreign policy

The OFTA would provide special access to U.S. markets for clothes made in sweatshops located in Oman — meaning more indentured workers will be trafficked from Bangladesh, China and other countries to slave away in Omani sweatshops, and more jobs will be lost here at home. OFTA is bad for the Middle East, and it is bad for the United States.

OFTA will lead to serious human rights abuses. The majority of the workers in Oman's private sector are foreign-born "guest workers" from China, Bangladesh and other poor countries. Oman forbids independent unions. Only "committees" managed by employers and government are allowed. Seventy percent of Oman's private sector workforce are foreign guest workers, and only people with Arabic fluency can serve as officers even in the fake unions. This means most workers would have no way to fight even the horrific sorts of abuses we learned about from this recent New York Times exposé that were caused by the U.S.-Jordan FTA — a pact and a country with better labor standards. Ways and Means Democrats worked for months to get fixes for Oman's laws that make a mockery of ILO standards. The Sultan refused. Then, as it has become clear the agreement is in trouble, last week he issued a new "Sultanic Decree" — which does nothing. Worse, in 2006 for the first time, the State Department placed Oman on its watch list of countries that traffic in human beings — both because of children sold into slavery from Sudan that toil as jockeys in the camel racing industry, and due to widespread problems of indentured guest workers.

OFTA will increase instability in the Middle East. The abuse and marginalization of guest workers in countries such as Oman presents a key challenge for the security of this vital region and of the United States. James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute has referred to the situation as a "time bomb." The climate of anger and alienation created by the current situation facing guest workers is just the type of environment in which radical Islamic groups thrive. It is profoundly disturbing that Congress would consider implementing a free-trade agreement that will exacerbate conditions that are likely to breed a reaction which could further threaten security in the Middle East. Have you seen the film Syriana? Those horrible conditions, creating that despair is what OFTA could well do.

OFTA could undermine U.S. national security. The OFTA goes beyond even CAFTA and NAFTA in explicitly promoting rights for foreign companies — including government-owned companies — to operate our sensitive infrastructure: electricity grids, port operations and more. OFTA allows foreign investors to take the U.S. government to secret tribunals if the profitability of any foreign investment in these sensitive sectors is threatened by an act of the U.S. Congress! Under OFTA, if Dubai Ports World (DPW) set up shop in Oman and Congress acted to halt that company's acquisition of US port operations, OFTA would allow DPW to drag the United States before an international tribunal and demand payment of million of our tax dollars to compensate for "future lost profits" caused by the foreign company being denied their OFTA foreign investor rights to operate in our country.

More NAFTAs mean more lost U.S. jobs. A decade of NAFTA has resulted in the largest U.S. trade deficit ever — a deficit caused by a flood of job-killing imported goods and the export of 3 million U.S. manufacturing jobs. Our wages are little above their 1972 levels even as prices and productivity rise. We can't afford any more NAFTA-like trade deals. We need to change this broken trade model!

You can read the letter of concern and opposition to OFTA (PDF link) sent by over 400 unions, environmental groups, religious organizations, and other concerns citizens' groups.

For more info about U.S.-Oman FTA, go here, or check out our latest e-newsletter.

Have you sent a letter to Congress about the Oman agreement yet? If not, do so here.

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