Thursday, June 22, 2006

What's Atlantica Really About? Words From the Horse's Mouth

Brian Lee Crowley, President of the right wing Atlantic Institute for Market Studies has been quite vocal lately about his organization's vision for the economic future of New England and the Maritimes. AIMS, which has strong ties to the energy and finance industries as well as to right wing groups in the U.S. like the Heritage Foundation was one of the driving forces behind the recent "Reaching Atlantica: Business Without Boundaries" conference in St. John, New Brunswick which promoted the idea of building a new trade corridor from Halifax to Buffalo by building an east-west highway, deepening Halifax's harbor, and weakening labor and environmental laws on both sides of the border.

The Bangor Daily News and others seem to have bought the idea that these projects would mean more jobs and investment for Maine and new markets for Maine-made goods. But in a recent op-ed in the Moncton Times Transcript, Crowley wrote:

"All along the Canada-US border, the regions that host major trade conduits between our two countries are waking up to the need to manage these corridors, and that means building new local relationships and institutions.

"The other corridors, such as Montreal-New York, or southern Ontario-Michigan, exist primarily to exchange goods and services produced in our two countries. But Atlantica is different because the trade generated within the region is relatively small. The exchanges between Vermont and New Brunswick or Maine and Newfoundland are hardly worth mentioning.

"But we are about to become a major doorway for the trade between Asia and the North American heartland. It is not so much the products of Atlantica that are straining to cross the border, but the industrial might of China, India and the Asian Tigers. West coast ports are choked with these new goods. The giant ships carrying this burgeoning cargo have reached the point where they can no longer pass through the Panama Canal to reach east coast ports and must instead borrow the Suez Canal. That puts Atlantica in a strategic position as a deepwater wharf jutting into the North Atlantic, not merely the closest North American port of call from Europe, Turkey and Asia via the Suez, but also the closest major port of call from Africa and the major ports of Brazil and Argentina."

So much for the idea of expanding markets for Maine farmers and manufacturers. Crowley's words support my belief that the Atlantica vision is about making it cheaper for companies like Wal-Mart to import goods made at sweatshops in China by workers paid pennies an hour to be sold at exhorbitant prices by former factory workers in Detroit and Chicago who are now working minimum wage retail jobs to try to make ends meet. Very little of the money goes to the Chinese factory workers, the U.S. retail workers, or even the local store managers -- most of it gets funnelled away to executives and shareholders in distant places. Trade implies some sort of equal exchange that benefits both parties. This isn't trade, its exploitation.

It gets worse. In Crowley's vision people from New England and the Maritimes won't even be able to get jobs driving the trucks that move the goods from Halifax to Buffalo. Crowley recently told the Halifax Chronicle Herald that there aren't enough truckers in the region right now to move all the goods that would be coming in from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Rather than training unemployed people from this region to fill those jobs, Crowley suggests bringing in temporary workers from Mexico. He is quoted as saying:
"The answer isn’t going into high schools and (talking) about the great opportunities in the trucking industry. Mexico is one of the three NAFTA partners. The answer is to set up a guest worker program."
Of course, given AIMS' position that our region's "union density" and relatively high minimum wages are examples of "poor public policy" that "holds Atlantica back," we can assume that these "guest" workers wouldn't be paid the same wages as U.S. and Canadian truckers.

So essentially the only jobs the east-west highway will create in Maine will be service jobs at gas stations, fast food restaurants and convenience stores.

Meanwhile, the region's farms and fishing fleet and its few remaining factories will lose business as cheaper goods poor into our markets from countries where workers don't earn a living wage and even minimal labor, safety, and environmental standards go largely unenforced.

The east-west highway will be yet another route for development to pass New England and the Maritimes by.

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