- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

State and local officials are jumping into the national debate on globalization, led by an unusual state legislative committee in California that scrutinizes the effect of trade agreements on individual states.
Though the Constitution gives the federal government jurisdiction over international trade, this bipartisan group is worried that international trade deals threaten the American ideal of state sovereignty.
In California, state activism has centered on the Select Committee on International Trade Policy and State Legislation, headed by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, a Democrat from Los Angeles. The panel has taken aim at a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement that allows companies to seek monetary damages from governments for violations of the 1994 pact.
Ms. Kuehl turned the committee into a platform for critics of NAFTA's "investor-state" dispute-resolution procedure after a Canadian chemical firm, Methanex, sued California in 1999 over a state ban on a toxic gasoline additive that was seeping into drinking water.
"It seemed to me that practically everything we do could be challenged under NAFTA," she said.
This view summarizes what many local elected officials of all political stripes from around the country feel is wrong with trade agreements. Free-trade advocates including the Bush administration say accords like NAFTA promote economic growth. But officials outside Washington worry that states are losing the power to chart their own destinies.
Whether the issue is environmental regulations, zoning and land-use rules, or antitrust laws, officials fear being hamstrung by agreements that are negotiated by the federal government, occasionally with their input, but without their consent.
This concern has created unusual alliances between Republicans and Democrats, all of whom want to protect state sovereignty.
Bev Perry, the Republican mayor pro tem of Brea, Calif., has joined the committee in trying to stop the NAFTA process from being incorporated into new trade agreements. She convinced the National League of Cities, which represents 130,000 elected officials, to complain to U.S. senators in March that the procedure could interfere with state action.
Michael Greve, director of the Federalism Project at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said the cities' efforts are a harbinger of things to come.
"The tension between domestic federalism and globalization has the potential to scramble partisan alignments," he said.
The California committee was started by veteran activist and former Democratic state Sen. Tom Hayden and has no power to draft legislation. Critics of the committee say there is little reason for it to stick its nose into an area of exclusive federal control.
"Nobody ever lost any money underestimating the common sense of the California state legislature," said Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick has tried to assuage the worries of Ms. Kuehl and others about the effect of trade agreements on state sovereignty.
But even as the committee's critics wave it off, the panel has become the most significant node in an emerging network of state and local officials. About 30 of them gathered in March for a seminar on trade policy in New York, according to a committee staffer.
They are now setting up a network of legislators, mayors and attorneys general who will try to influence the direction of federal action. In addition, there are proposals to create similar committees in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon.
In the meantime, Ms. Kuehl and her allies are urging California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, to oppose federal legislation that would grant President Bush the power to negotiate new trade agreements and submit them to Congress for an up-or-down vote. Mr. Bush has said he wants to use this "fast-track" authority to negotiate a new NAFTA-like pact covering all of North and South America.
"All we have is a kind of watchdog role in which we keep an eye on things," Ms. Kuehl said.
Rep. Cal Dooley, a California Democrat who has supported Mr. Bush on this issue, said the panel will likely affect the politics of globalization at the federal level, though it has no formal powers.
"The more politicized trade becomes, the harder it becomes to move the agenda forward," he said. "Inevitably, things like this committee have some influence."


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