Utah Representative Sheryl Allen isn't referring to maple syrup or frozen tundra when she lauds our neighbors to the north. She's talking about Canada's procedures for vetting and ratifying trade agreements. PT talks to her about free trade, gambling and Antigua.
PT: Utah has been at the center of recent discussions regarding the state's role within the framework of free trade policy. With trade agreements threatening to conflict with state regulations, how do you maintain the ability to legislate locally?
Allen: That's a concern shared by many states, and we recognize the economic value provided by trade, but we'd like to have more input with our USTR prior to trade agreements so that our state authority is protected. I know California has had some concerns due to lawsuits, and they have had to spend a lot of time and resources doing research and defending their regulations.
Just last Friday, the WTO compliance panel ruled that the United States was not in compliance in the case brought by Antigua due to Utah's "zero quota" policies on gambling. We want to maintain those policies, and are very unsure about this ruling and what the consequences will be.
PT: Better input with the USTR would undoubtedly be beneficial to the states, but how could that happen logistically?
Allen: Well, they can do it by any one of several ways. Those of us in the United States who watch this issue look to Canada with envy, because they have a more structured procedure where they involve, inform and listen to their provincial representatives much more so than in the United States. Here we have IGPAC, but we are thrown into IGPAC with no training and we have to seek that elsewhere, through organizations such as the National Conference of State Legislators. As a state legislator, I have to commend the NCSL for everything they do in this area. If they hadn't taken leadership, we'd be in the dark.
The U.S. Trade Office is always courteous of us, but this is a detailed, complex issue. We could do a better job if the USTR got involved in our training, and if they did so, they might even be more attentive.
PT: What would happen if—as in the case with Utah—the federal government withheld federal funds on account of non-compliance with a trade agreement the country had entered into?
Allen: We've talked a lot about infringements on our ability to regulate, but there haven't been a lot of discussions on the federal money that may be tied to that. That idea makes it triply worrisome. I haven't seen any indication of that on the horizon, but it really raises the stakes.
PT: With the stakes potentially higher than they already are, what can the states do to pull back some of the political authority that they have ceded to the federal government?
Allen: We're not going to be effective unless there's a group of us that does something similar. Maryland probably leads that charge, having passed legislation prohibiting the governor from signing trade agreements without conferring with the legislature.
In Utah, we've established an international trade commission, and that was recently renewed for an additional 11 years. We need knowledgeable, committed legislators on there, and we need to work more closely with our congressional delegation as well.
PT: Do you see the gambling case with Antigua pressing Utah into a leadership role on this issue?
Allen: Yes. We had better take a leadership role; we have to.
Sheryl L. Allen represents Utah's 19th House District. She served from 2004-2006 as chair of the NCSL's Economic Development Committee, and now as vice-chair of the NCSL Standing Committee. She also sits on the George Washington University Elliott School of International Business trade advisory committee and serves as a board member for the Forum on Democracy and Trade.