Hoping to halt the most recent proposed free-trade agreement between the United States and foreign nations, an alliance of San Diego organizations have focused their efforts on convincing Congresswoman Susan Davis to oppose the legislation.
"She's a key swing vote," said Amelia Simpson, director of the Environmental Health Coalition's Border Justice Campaign. "She's a Democrat on the fence who hasn't announced her opposition, and the vote is close."
The Fair Trade Coalition, made up of 19 local human rights, environmental, labor and religious groups, began to form after President Bush and the leaders of five Central American countries-El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica-signed CAFTA on May 28, 2004. The Dominican Republic was added last August.
The agreement, similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States, would eliminate 80 percent of tariffs immediately and phase out the remaining tariffs over the next decade. Today, American exports to Central America face tariffs of 7 to 9 percent.
But before CAFTA can be put into action, both houses of Congress must approve the legislation. Supporters and opponents alike are anxious to claim victory, and interested groups around the country are pushing their representatives to secure votes.
Christian Ramirez, director of the San Diego-based American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), said Congresswoman Davis, who represents California's 53rd district, should vote against the measure.
"San Diegans have said no to CAFTA," he said, referring to the coalition and the support it has received.
Davis has also met with representatives from some of the Central American countries that support CAFTA, including Tony Saca, the president of El Salvador, said Davis spokesperson Aaron Hunter. But despite lobbying from both sides, Davis has yet to take a stance.
She still has concerns about the implementation and enforcement of labor laws in the Central American countries, Hunter said
The Fair Trade Coalition's most recent push for the Davis vote took shape last Wednesday across the street from the headquarters of cell phone giant Kyocera International in Kearny Mesa to protest CAFTA and the impact opponents say it will have on both sides of the U.S. border.
Simpson said the demonstration was not meant to protest Kyocera specifically.
"We were using Kyocera as an example of what corporate globalization and trade agreements like CAFTA and like NAFTA do to workers; how workers are the losers under this system," she said.
Two years ago, Kyocera Wireless contracted Kyocera Mexicana, a sister company, to began manufacturing more than half of its cell phones in Mexico. In January, Kyocera Mexicana took over almost all of the company's manufacturing, and 718 workers in San Diego were laid off.
John Chier, director of corporate communications for Kyocera Wireless, said the company had to move its operations in order to stay alive in a highly competitive market.
"It is such a cut-throat industry," he said, attributing the move to lower labor costs and a higher manufacturing capacity in Mexico. "To stay competitive, we had to adjust our manufacturing strategy."
On May 4, Kyocera announced that it would be stopping its manufacturing operations completely, and Flextronics, a company based in Singapore, would make all of its phones. Between 150 and 175 Kyocera Wireless workers in San Diego and 1,400 in Tijuana will be laid off this summer.
"Just based on economies of scale, we have a tough time in the manufacturing arena competing against our biggest competitors," he said. "We are doing everything in our power to preserve over a thousand high-skilled positions in San Diego."
Ramirez and others from the Fair Trade Coalition say it's moves such as these that eventually hurt developing countries. CAFTA's opportunities seem promising, but when the companies leave to find even-cheaper labor, the Central American countries will be left undeveloped, they say.
"In the short term, they are providing jobs for people, but what happens when those [transnational corporations] find cheaper labor markets, like in China, for instance, or South Asia?" he said. "First those jobs left the United States to Mexico and left a lot of U.S. citizens unemployed, now those jobs are leaving Mexico and they are leaving a lot of Mexicans unemployed."
CAFTA supporters say the agreement will promote democracy in Central America, and the lowered tariffs will allow increases in American exports, thus creating American jobs. But economists looking at NAFTA's history say foreign imports will also increase, canceling out the gain.
According to the Economic Research Institute, a non-partisan, nonprofit think tank, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have experienced job losses since NAFTA was signed in 1993. As of 2002, California alone had lost an estimated 115,723 jobs.
The AFSC has monitored border issues since NAFTA's implementation, and, Ramirez charges, the legislation is partially, if not fully, responsible for the hostile situation at the U.S.-Mexico border seen today.
NAFTA opponents say that when transnational corporations enter the market in these countries, small local businesses can't compete and the community becomes dependant on the foreign companies for work. When those companies leave, they say, the country is left without infrastructure and the people look to other countries, like the United States, for work.
AFSC estimates that the number of undocumented migrants living in the United States has risen from approximately 3 million in 1994 to approximately 13 million today. Ramirez predicts the newest trade agreement will produce similar results.
"We are going to have a mass exodus of not only Mexicans but now Central Americans, if CAFTA is approved, in the next five to six years," he said. "If we haven't been able to resolve the border situation and the immigration debate... then we're going to have a huge nightmare on this border, more than we've ever seen before."
After more than a year since CAFTA was signed, Congress is expected to vote on the legislation in June or July. For those members of Congress with votes up for grabs, the pressure is on.
Hunter said Davis is not opposed to additional meetings to discuss the issue."She's committed to making sure that she hears as much information as possible before she makes a decision," he said.