Category Archives: Trade

Labor To Larson: Vote No On Free Trade Deal

by Categorized: Commerce, Labor, Politics, Trade Date:

Free trade is one of those wedge issues that cuts across party lines, dividing Democrats and Republicans not between the parties, but within each party.

It’s coming to a head now as a coalition of labor and environmental groups pressures U.S. Rep. John B. Larson to vote against an upcoming free trade bill — with a rally scheduled for Saturday.

Larson, Democrat of the 1st District, is normally one of the best friends to labor and environment groups. But the coalition says he has yet to oppose “Fast Track” trade authority, which is crucial to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement — dubbed “NAFTA on steroids” by its opponents.

“If enacted, the TPP would off-shore American jobs, flood the U.S. with unsafe food imports, increase the cost of medicine, increase fracking, and make the global race to the bottom even worse,” the group said in a written release.

Proponents of free trade, including Clinton Democrats, say reducing barriers is the best way to reach economic growth even if it means some displacement and pain in the short run. Larson has generally supported free trade.

The rally is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Larson’s office at 221 Main St. in Hartford. The Connecticut AFL-CIO, part of the group, originally put out word of the rally, then said the event was off. Organizers from a group called Activate CT later said the event was on.

“As a Member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, my primary goals are to ensure any agreement we enter into aims to build on American innovation and expand our export opportunities while protecting jobs here at home,” Larson said in an emailed statement.

The takeaway: Activists are fighting over whether to protest or negotiate. For Larson, a lifetime labor supporter with multinational corporations directly responsible for tens of thousands of jobs in his district, it’s virtually a no-win issue.

A Federal Grant With Distasteful Logic

by Categorized: Education, Energy, Health Care, Public finance, Trade Date:

Press releases about federal grants are routine news, but here’s a head-scratcher that came in last week.

Two community colleges in Connecticut — Capital (in Hartford) and Housatonic (in Bridgeport) — will receive a total of $4.5 million to train people in health care, information technology and environmental technologies, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The grants are part of a $475 million set of national payments, which itself is part of a $2 billion, multi-year program to funnel money for “innovative training programs” at community colleges.

The $2 billion is through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which helps workers whose jobs are lost through increased imports or work moving overseas.

Nothing odd in any of that, until we look at the explanation behind the local grants, which my colleague Mara Lee noticed.

Capital and Housatonic are part of a “Northern Resiliency Consortium” of seven community colleges “in four Northeastern states (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts) that have been devastated by crises and natural catastrophes, including: Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings.”

The explanation goes on to say that the community colleges will prepare trade-impacted workers, veterans and others in the three named sectors, which “play a critical role in times of crisis.”
A separate press release said the training could be used for skills in manufacturing, transportation and any science-technology fields.

Huh? Let’s get this straight: Two mass crimes and a weather event created the need for training in a vast range of job sectors?

All told, the seven colleges will receive $23.5 million. This could end up being money well spent, and in fact, U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal participated in an announcement about the grants in Hartford on Monday. The value of the training is not the issue here.

The point is, the hurricane and the two tragedies are utterly unrelated to one another, utterly unrelated to the need to train workers in those fields and utterly unrelated to foreign trade. This is “innovation” gone amok, creative wordplay designed to look nifty as an excuse to spread taxpayer money around.

Invoking Hurricane Sandy is fine.  But invoking Newtown and the Boston Marathon as a reason to train workers in a vast range of unrelated job skills crosses the lines of bad taste.

Egan Reich, a spokesman at the U.S. Department of Labor, was not familiar with the programs because he was filling in for colleagues out on furloughs forced by the sequester when I called Friday. Irony noted. Reich thought about it and said using the crises might have just been a “flourish of language” in the effort to advance needed training.

“Those sectors aren’t being targeted because they play a critical role in times of crisis; they are because they’re growing,” Reich said.

At Capital Community College, John McNamara, director of institutional advancement, said the training will not be so broad, but will focus largely on emergency medical response, cyber-security and other areas whose need was highlighted in the tragedies.

“There’s no intent to exploit the God-awful stuff that has happened, particularly in our state,” he said. “It’s a legitimate effort to use these monies to enhance and upgrade what we do in terms of training for responses to these disasters.”

Good plan, poorly expressed in the consortium’s 256-page grant application. If we need more training, it isn’t because of Newtown. That tragedy should not become a catch-all reason for spending money.

Here’s a better idea: Let’s just hand out $2 billion to community colleges if that’s what we want to do, and stop forcing these resource-strapped institutions to stretch the bounds of logic in distasteful ways.

Two Months Is Too Long For Gun-Ban Rules

by Categorized: Manufacturing, Politics, Retail, Trade Date:

So much has happened since April 4 that it seems like more than four weeks since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the strict gun control bill into law.  We had the showdown on background checks in the U.S. Senate, and of course, the Boston Marathon bombings.

One thing that hasn’t happened — and won’t happen until June 1 — is the state clearing up all the sales rules on military-style weapons and magazines larger than 10 rounds, for retailers and manufacturers. That’s a long time for an up-or-down answer on whether a merchant can sell his or her wares under a law that took effect upon signing.

Ammunition Storage Components Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Ammunition Storage Components
Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Sure, the state has cleared up some of the obvious questions, like whether guns bought and paid for online before the law went into effect could be delivered later. (Yes.)  But there are lots of fine points, and they matter a lot to the people trying to make a living in the firearms business.

For example, suppose a buyer put down a deposit but not the whole amount for a gun that now can’t be sold. Suppose someone took an AR-15-style rifle to a consignment shop, which didn’t sell it. What does the 139-page law say?

Retailers and manufacturers have been waiting for answers, some patiently, some not. The state police special licensing and firearms unit is charged with sorting through the law and coming back with answers, and the unit has been working diligently along with lawyers from the Attorney General’s office and from the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which includes the state police.

It’s not that the lawyers are arguing, said Mike Lawlor, Malloy’s chief of criminal justice policy. Rather, he said, “There’s like a million different scenarios.”

One of those scenarios is unfolding at Ammunition Storage Components in New Britain, one of the nation’s largest makers of bullet magazines — many of them now banned for sale in Connecticut. The company has 5,000 orders from Connecticut customers placed before 12:21 p.m. on April 4, when Malloy inked his name using two dozen pens.

And those customers agreed to put a hold on their credit cards to cover the cost of their orders, owner Jonathan Scalise said. Will they get their goods? Probably yes. But probably isn’t good enough. Stay tuned until June 1.

“It’s a significant amount of orders and business that we don’t have a definitive yes or no,” Scalise said. “I will err on the side of caution…most of them have opted to leave the credit card charge on, but basically I have told them that I will do nothing to put them in any type of a situation where they may have inadvertently violated the law.”

Scalise is a lawyer by training and a reasonable guy who understands that processes take time. But he’s also angry.

“That’s just despicable,” he said. “You’re going to interfere with people’s rights…without clarity. If a law cannot be interpreted by the general public as read, it’s not a good law…it’s unfair and I would argue it’s unconstitutional.”

Retailers are in the same position. Two that I spoke with Monday said they’re being patient, the delay is not a huge burden, but they’re already taking a hit to their business and the delay is at best an annoyance and probably an additional cost.

The June 1 deadline will not even include rules on how the state will issue permits for the purchase of rifles and ammunition, and for the registration of magazines and rifles that are now banned for sale. That will come by Aug. 1, or at least that’s when Malloy said it will happen, and those permits and registrations don’t take effect until Jan. 1.

The problem here is not the delay at the state police firearms unit, which is well regarded by people in the industry, and it’s not that lawyers need time to work their magic. Rather, it’s that lawmakers and Malloy insisted on rushing a vote on an emergency certified law hours after lawmakers agreed on its basic framework, before anyone had time to figure out what it actually said.

The added permitting and registration that takes effect Jan. 1 could save lives by limiting access.  But it’s debatable whether the ban on sales of magazines holding more than 10 rounds and on some — but not all — semiautomatic rifles will save lives. With an estimated 8 million military-style rifles and millions more semiautomatic pistols in U.S. civilian hands already, would it have been so bad to give the law a June 1 start date?

Why make the Connecticut look like a chaotic place? New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did that with an even bigger rush, and the result was a mess.

“The goal was to stop immediately the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” Lawlor said. “There was a surge of purchases and the legislature wanted  to put a stop to that…if you had given it another month, then you would have a lot more weapons sold.”

Lawlor said no one is hurt by the delay, and he and others are working hard to make the process as smooth as possible and, as he put it, “to reassure people that these policies, they may not agree with them, but these policies are reasonable and not arbitrary.”

The gun industry and the National Rifle Association have long said that this or that new regulation is unworkable, Lawlor said. “These laws are very complicated but it’s unfair to say that it’s not going to work.”

Complicated indeed.  That’s why the start date should have been June 1. This isn’t a law setting up, say, medical marijuana, for which the state can take its sweet time writing rules. This is a ban that restricts rights and affects livelihoods. Taking a few weeks to make it more orderly would have helped the state’s argument that it’s reasonable and workable.




Trumpf Chief Takes High-Profile German-US Role in State

by Categorized: Commerce, Economic Development, Manufacturing, Trade Date:

Rolf Biekert, president and CEO of Trumpf USA Inc. in Farmington, has been named honorary German consul general for Connecticut — a post that’s not just ceremonial.

As an honorary consul general, Biekert can’t perform official diplomatic functions such as issuing visas, but he is, in effect, the Federal Republic of Germany’s representative in Connecticut.  He’s been at Trumpf’s Farmington plant, which makes laser machines for the sheet metal industry, for more than 20 years, a decade as head of North America operations for the company.

Biekert, a U.S. citizen, received the appointment Tuesday from Rolf Schuette, the German consul general in Boston, and both men are scheduled to meet with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Thursday.

He’ll be the business and cultural diplomat for German people and companies in Connecticut, the largest of which is Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, with about 3,000 employees in Ridgefield.

The appointment, approved by both nations, caps a 5-year effort by Costas Lake, who oversaw foreign direct investment for the state Department of Economic and Community Development until he retired in 2009, and has continued as a volunteer.

“Who is better to market the state of Connecticut than the German companies that are here?” Lake said Wednesday.German-owned manufacturers represent about 7 percent of all factory employment in Connecticut, Lake said, and that does not include such firms as Boehringer Ingelheim and Munich Re, which owns The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co.

Malloy Brings Energy, And Energy Policy, To China

by Categorized: Commerce, Economy, Politics, Trade Date:

Did anyone think the governor would land in China, shake some hands, talk up Connecticut’s nice products, exchange gifts and come home?

Not Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.  Midway through leading a small delegation of economic development officials to the world’s largest nation, Malloy is certainly doing those things, but he’s also pushing hard for Chinese investment in Connecticut, everything from biotech partnerships to buildings.

And he’s dealing with global issues, as well.

“Malloy was eloquent and comfortable amid a panel of high powered Chinese energy policy leaders, environment activists, economists and a moderator from the Economist,” said Matthew Nemerson, CEO of the Connecticut Technology Council, referring to a session at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin.

“Malloy started out with a geopolitical comment noting that if the USA and China both were energy independent it would be one major issue that we would avoid a source of future conflicts,” Nemerson said in an email Wednesday morning, which was late Thursday in China.

That’s our Dan, defusing global conflict while he’s over there.

Malloy on a panel on energy policy at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China Wednesday. Photo by Matthew Nemerson

See more photos of Malloy in China.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Malloy didn’t talk much about energy, though he said he was on the panel, and that he compared Chinese and U.S. energy use.

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From China With Love, and Money

by Categorized: Technology, Trade Date:

You’ve got to admire a guy who can describe different global trade missions as Hollywood movies — one funny, the other a cliffhanger.

On his way to China with Gov. Malloy and others, I asked Matthew Nemerson, CEO of the Connecticut Technology Council, to compare this trip with the one headed by Gov. Bill O’Neill, 25 years ago to the month.

Gov. O’Neill’s 1987 China delegation
(courtesy of Matthew Nemerson)

“1987 was fun and novel adventure, like a Hope and Crosby travel caper,” he wrote in an email. “Today the mood is serious, more a James Bond movie, where the future of the free world is at stake.”

The future of Connecticut, anyway.  The column looks at what Malloy’s delegation hopes to achieve, preferably not while firing Walther police pistols from an Aston Martin at 12o mph.