A leaked letter from the Bush Administration to state governors reveals a sneaky attempt now underway to get governors to 'voluntarily' commit their states to comply with draconian constraints on domestic procurement (purchasing) policy included in the recently completed CAFTA and proposed for FTAA. Unbelievably, the leaked documents show that the U.S. Trade Representative's Office is seeking blanket permission from governors to sign states on to the procurement provisions of ALL trade agreements under negotiation - including the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the South African Customs Union and a raft of bilateral deals with Australia, Morocco, Columbia, Thailand and more nations.

          The recently-released CAFTA text lists 23 states as having agreed to 'sign on' to that pact's procurement rules. When a state is listed, all cities and counties within that state are covered as well, despite the fact that neither state legislators, mayors nor city councils have been apprised of their new obligations - much less agreed! We'd bet anything that some of those state and local elected officials and state attorneys general would have a few things to say about this if they knew what their governors and the USTR and were up to.

          That's were you come in - making sure the state and local officials know that some 'trade' rules negotiated behind closed doors without their input much less their approval are about to permanently shut down their right and authority to halt off-shoring of state services, require living or prevailing wages in government contracts, or preferences for recycled paper content, locally-grown food, locally-produced vehicles and more.

          The good news is that until there is a vote on one of these agreements, the states can pull their names off the list with no liability. But once Congress votes to approve a pact, getting a state OFF the list requires compensating trading partners for their lost opportunity - an expensive and often unviable solution. The first pacts up for votes and as soon as this spring are CAFTA (U.S., Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica) and the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Yes, we know that if we all work hard we can defeat CAFTA in Congress and that would save progressive procurement policies from being ravaged by CAFTA - but the USTR's letter to governors requesting their buy-in extends to ALL future agreements. And believe us, USTR continues right now to court and to pressure governors of states that have not yet done so to sign away state and local officials' rights.

          There is plenty of treachery to go around. First, USTR has billed the request to governors as an innocuous extension of the WTO's Agreement on Government Procurement (AGP), claiming that signing up would simply create opportunities for U.S. producers and service providers to compete for foreign contracts. As if! To start with, only some states signed the WTO's AGP and since then the AGP's track record includes the demise of states' procurement policies aimed at avoiding business with the Burmese dictatorship and pressuring Nigeria for better labor rights. And, an analysis of the proposed pacts' rules reveal that at stake is the ability to set policy - not just the right to compete for contracts. But even state and local officials to whom a governor might have shown this letter (we have not found any such officials yet) would have no idea that at risk are:

            a.. "Green" procurement policies requiring recycled content, fuel efficient vehicles, or renewable energy;

            b.. Preferences used to demand corporate responsibility in the face of human rights abuses - such as those used to help bring an end to apartheid in South Africa and now in place regarding Burma;

            c.. 'No off-shoring' and other local development policies aimed at keeping state dollars paying in-state wages and giving preference to locally-produced goods and services.

          To make matters even worse, the process that USTR is using to seek "consent" from the states is illegal. Setting government procurement policy and deciding whether to cede to policy constraints imposed by a trade agreement is within the realm of state legislatures and city councils. Governors' whims - decisions often taken without a basic understanding of what is at stake - cannot be allowed to override the constitutional authority of state and local elected officials. Yet if a state is listed when an agreement is approved by Congress, that state becomes bound with no way to withdraw without compensating other countries even if the initial sign-on process was not legal!

          It's not too late to act! Until Congress votes in favor of a specific pact, the list of 20-plus states whose governors appear to have already said yes to the sneaky USTR letter are not legally bound and can get taken off the list as easily as they got on. Plus, we need to make sure that no additional states 'sign on.' In addition, state and city legislators must make it known that they demand prior informed consent on all provisions of international trade agreements that implicate state and local policy in order to stop future power grabs of state and local authority.

          Take action!

            a.. Call your governor's office to inquire about your state's response to the fall 2003 USTR's request for sign off on the new generation of procurement agreements. Ask for documentation. If your governor consented to be included, urge that she or he withdraw the state from the list -- telling them that you know just how easy that still is to do. If your state has not responded, ask the governor's office to turn over the request to the legislature for their consideration.

            b.. Call your state attorney general's office, any and all state legislators, city councilors and mayors you know to warn them warn them about the letter and ask them to contact the governor's office immediately. Some states also have statewide procurement officers - most of whom have no idea what their governors are up to but who will be well-informed about the implications.

            c.. Communicate to the governor, state attorney general, legislators etc. and your friends and colleagues about your concerns regarding the policy constraints these 'trade' agreements' procurement rules impose and specifically about what the CAFTA text reveals is at stake.

            d.. Urge all of the state and local officials with whom you communicate to demand a more democratic, inclusive mechanism for obtaining the prior informed consent of the state and local officials constitutionally-charged with policy-making authority before state and local authority is implicated - by the governor or the federal government - in trade agreements.

          Keep us informed about your results! Contact Sara Johnson at sjohnson@citizen.org or (202) 454-5193 with any questions and to let us know how things are going.