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State Oversight -- Committees and Commissions

As public officials become more aware of how international trade agreements can impact their jurisdictions, several states have created commissions to look at trade issues in more depth.  

They have developed expertise on issues of particular concern to that state, and then made recommendations to the state legislature, to the Governor, as well as to their state Congressional delegation and directly to USTR regarding the state's interest. 

In general states have taken a broader view of trade issues, looking not only at economic benefits and impacts, but also at how provisions in particular agreements could impact on the state’s land-use regulatory powers, and on other state laws and programs.

State Commissions- Structure and Focus
Models pioneered by California and Maine have provided a starting point for other states to build successful trade-oversight bodies. 

California--the first state whose laws were challenged under NAFTA, and the first state to set up an oversight function--used a legislative model, establishing a trade subcommittee of the California Senate. 

Washington state went a step further by establishing a joint legislative committee (representatives from both House and Senate), with the chair rotating annually. 

North Carolina and New Jersey set up time-limited 'study committees' that report to the legislature.  Both state legislative study committees looked at the loss of manufacturing jobs due to trade, outsourcing, and other factors.  New Jersey's study committee held several well-attended public hearings where citizens could give testimony.

By contrast, the northern New England states (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont) and Utah have created citizen commissions to study impacts of international trade.  Members of these committees come from the legislature, the office of the state attorney general, from the Governor's office, and from citizen groups. To date, these commissions have been the most active in engaging their federal representatives.

The Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission (CTPC)was created by statute in 2003.   The commission held public hearings on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2004 and has been engaging with USTR since that time. More about the Maine CTPC....

The Vermont Commission on Trade and State Sovereignty was created by statute in 2006.  It has provided a mechanism for Vermonters to voice concerns about trade agreements and to make recommendations designed to protect Vermont’s job, business environment, and local democratic traditions. More about the Vermont Commission....

The New Hampshire Citizen Trade Policy Commission was created in 2007.   The Maine Commission has the largest number of members, Vermont is the smallest with just eight, while the New Hampshire CTPC has a total of twelve. Members are appointed by the Governor and the presiding officers of legislative chambers.  Each of these commissions also has representation from the office of the state attorney general. More about the New Hampshire CTPC...

State Commissions – Getting Up & Running
Every state commission has engaged in an organizational and educational phase after the initial formation of the group.  Because international trade is a complex and complicated policy area, even commissions with members with substantial expertise in trade find that some education is needed to ensure that all members have a shared knowledge base. 

Most commissions begin by having speakers covering Trade 101 to review the basics of trade and how trade agreements may impact on state policy issues.   Commissions then decide whether to take a topical focus (such as on health, environmental issues, labor issues), a trade agreement-based focus, or a focus on current events (such as proposed changes to an existing agreement).

Both the Vermont and Maine commissions have chosen to both look at particular topical sectors of interest and to follow current events in order to weigh in on proposed changes that may affect the state. 

Legislative members and staff are able to join the states of trade listserv sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures as one method of obtaining current information on the status of trade negotiations and new developments.

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