Friday, April 14, 2006

COLUMN: Eric Blom

Baldacci: Cut Maine out of trade rules

Gov. John Baldacci worries that new global trade agreements could hurt Maine
colleges, libraries, hospitals and communities. So he wants out.

Baldacci wrote a letter last week to U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman,
asking him to "carve Maine out of the new service (sector) offers you are


In his letter, Baldacci said that he fears that the new trade rules could
make it harder for this state and others to regulate services.

He suggests that the trade agreements could undercut local zoning rules,
statewide health insurance initiatives and public financial support for
institutions, such as libraries and colleges.

"What we're looking at now is international tribunals which would have some
authority over state government, and that's something that hasn't been
thoroughly thought through, and that's concerning to governors and
legislators," Stearns said.


Here's the kind of concern that governors have raised: Suppose a for-profit
education company that wants to do business in Maine complains about state
university subsidies? Would Maine be pressured by an international trade
body to cut off the funding?

U.S. trade officials say they would not and that no such interference in
state action would take place.

"What GATS does not do is overrule the ability of states to regulate or
force the privatization or deregulation of state-regulated services.
Period," he said.

Stearns said he cannot offer an example of just how Maine state or municipal
powers might be eroded by any new trade rules. The concern is more general,
he said.


In that context, Baldacci and some other governors want federal trade
negotiators to slow the process down and consult with the states more
closely about just what might happen.

"Some of what we are dealing with is a question of whether to trust the
system or not," Stearns said. "In Maine, we do need to start asking the
question of 'what would freer trade in services look like.' "

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