Tech Worker Groups Oppose CAFTA Pact

IT worker representatives, engineers and independent inventors are fighting a treaty that they say would increase the number of outsourced American jobs.

IT worker representatives, engineers and independent inventors have joined together to fight passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a treaty that the technology industry is lobbying fiercely to see enacted this year. The dispute centers on whether the agreement would more likely increase the export of American products or American jobs.

According to the CWA (Communications Workers of America), the pending trade agreement would not result in greater high-tech shipments to Central America, as claimed by the industry, but instead would increase the number of outsourced American jobs.

The tech sector is seeing a growing loss of jobs, following a pattern in non-tech manufacturing, as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the union asserted in a study released last week.

CAFTA is at the top of the industrys policy agenda, and lobbyists have redoubled their efforts this month to market the treaty to Congress as resistance among lawmakers grows. CAFTA would remove tariffs and other barriers to trade among the United States and El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala, as well as the Dominican Republic.

The message that CWA, SPEEA (Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace) and the American Ingenuity Alliance are sending to Capitol Hill is that the promise of significantly expanded exports is misleading. CAFTA countries account for only 1.4 percent of U.S. high-tech exports, and the United States already has duty-free access to most of the CAFTA markets, CWA maintains.

Charging that CAFTA "delivers a race to the bottom," Marcus Courtney, president of WashTech, a local CWA chapter in Redmond, Wash., said that the agreement would accelerate the ability of IT companies to ship jobs to Central America. "What they want to do is gain access to the cheap labor market available there," Courtney said.

The workers representatives also challenged the industrys assertion that the trade agreement would make a significant dent in pirated software, maintaining instead that it would curb the intellectual property rights of independent developers and inventors.

"These agreements really are not about trade. Theyre really about property rights for multinational corporations," said Stan Sorscher, SPEEA labor representative in Seattle.

In a demonstration of the concerted effort the industry is mustering, several tech lobbying groups held a press conference to rebut the CWA report before it was even released.

"We know we have our work cut out for us, and we know the vote will be close," said Rhett Dawson, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, in Washington.


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