The trade agreements we have entered into over the last few decades have greatly enriched the already-wealthy 1% but not worked for the benefit of most of us. They have created massive trade deficits that drain our economy. They have cost millions of manufacturing, textile and other jobs. They have empowered huge, multi-national corporations to break unions and force pay and benefit cuts. Now the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is coming up, and once again things don’t look so good for most of us. Maybe “look” is the wrong word to use, since We, the People are not even allowed to know what “our” government is proposing!
The TPP Trade Agreement
The Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement is a major trade deal for Pacific Rim countries — Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Japan, Mexico and Canada have said they plan to sign on later. Other Pacific Rim countries including Indonesia, Russia, the Philippines and possibly China are also expected to join. So this is a big deal.
So far there have been eleven rounds of negotiations. Reports say that the United States has introduced proposals for the rest of the agreement. The 12th round of negotiations for the TPP start today in Dallas.
Another NAFTA-style Trade Agreement?
The NAFTA-style trade agreements we are familiar with have been used as weapons by the already-wealthy and their huge corporations to break unions and force working people to accept pay and benefit cuts, resulting in the “hollowing out” of our middle class. They have turned democracy — with its good wages & benefits and environmental protections — into a competitive disadvantage in world markets.
These agreements are sold as “opening up trade” into new markets. This supposedly helps us by increasing exports, which supposedly should open up lots of jobs in the exporting industries. But now we see how these agreements have really been used. While increasing some exports like agricultural products and raw materials they have increased imports more, costing us jobs, factories and entire industries. The resulting trade deficits have literally drained our economy. The resulting movement of good-paying jobs has hollowed out our middle class.
These trade agreements have empowered companies to break unions. Companies cut pay and benefits, telling workers their jobs can be offshored. This forces other companies to do the same whether they want to or not.
The Citizens Trade Campaign, in What Corporations Want with the Trans-Pacific FTA, worries about TPP, saying,
If it continues on its current course, the Trans-Pacific FTA will serve two primary purposes:
1. Making it easier for corporations to shift jobs throughout the world to wherever labor is the most exploited and regulations are the weakest; and
2. Putting checks on democracy at home and abroad by constraining governments’ ability to regulate in the public interest.
… Here, specifically, are examples of what corporations want with the Trans-Pacific FTA:
* Cheaper Labor Costs. … (click through to read)
* New Tools for Dismantling Environmental Laws. …
* Longer Drug Patents. …
* Further Financial Deregulation. …
* Caps on Food Safety Protections. …
* Concentration of Global Food Supplies. …
* Greater Access to Government Contracts. …
* Lower Taxes. …
Why The Big Secret?
We, the People are not allowed to know what our own government is proposing in these trade negotiations! But corporate lobbyists are working with the negotiators and are able to review drafts of the agreement.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, — formerly Mayor of Dallas, candidate for US Senate, lobbyist for Energy Future Holdings Corporation, which was created by KKR, TPG Capital and Goldman Sachs in a $45 billion 2007 leveraged buyout — has refused to release any of its negotiating proposals for public scrutiny. At the same time approx. 600 corporate lobbyists have been given “cleared advisor” status.
Why are our own country’s proposals kept secret from We, the People? They are not a secret to the other governments involved in these negotiations, nor to the corporate lobbyists who have “cleared advisor” status.
Several chapters of the proposed agreement have leaked, raising questions about who this agreement will benefit. The Citizens Trade Campaign, “a broad and diverse national coalition of environmental, labor, consumer, family farm, religious, and other civil society groups” has a list of questions about the TPP:
- Labor rights: Will the Trans-Pacific FTA include labor standards based on International Labor Organization conventions, and if included, how will they be enforced?
- Investment Provisions: Will the Trans-Pacific FTA include so-called “investor-state” provisions that allow individual corporations to challenge environmental, consumer and other public interest policies as barriers to trade?
- Public Procurement: Will the Trans-Pacific FTA respect nations’ and communities’ right to set purchasing preferences that keep taxpayer dollars re-circulating in local economies?
- Access to Medicines: Will the Trans-Pacific FTA allow governments to produce and/or obtain affordable, generic medications for sick people?
- Agriculture: Will the Trans-Pacific FTA allow countries to ensure that farmers and farm workers are fairly compensated, while also preventing the agricultural dumping that has forced so many family farmers off their land?
Buy America Banned?
“Buy America” procurement preferences for federal procurement contracts are one of the few tools we have left to make sure that We, the People benefit when our own tax dollars are spent. Currently and since the 1930s, American-produced goods have received preferential “buy America” treatment in federal procurement contracts.
It has been leaked that the TPP agreement grants the TPP countries the same privilege. In other words, Buy American in federal procurement will give these countries — Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — the same preferences as American-made goods. The idea is that these countries will then have to give American producers equal access to their own government contracts. Of particular concern is that Chinese-based firms in these countries will be able to bid against American companies for these government contracts.
This would force American producers to compete with countries that do not have minimum wage laws or environmental protections, undermining our own such protections.
A group of 68 House Democrats and one Republican sent a letter to President Obama last week, urging him to reconsider any potential ban on Buy America preferences.
Actions You Can Take
Occupy Wall Street: Occupy TPP: Dallas, TX – May 8-19,
via Texas Fair Trade Coalition:
International trade ministers and corporate lobbyists will be descending on Texas from May 8 to 18 for a critical trade summit aimed at rushing the secretive new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement toward completion. The Texas Fair Trade Coalition and our allies are planning to welcome them — and we need you to join us.
Occupy Dallas: Take Action for Fair Trade!
Public Citizen petition: Derail the Trans-Pacific Partnership – No backroom deals for the 1%
Friends of the Earth: Demand transparency in the Trans-Pacific free trade agreement!
Citizens Trade Campaign: REPORTERS’ MEMO: Former Mayor Brings Controversial Trans-Pacific Trade Negotiations to Dallas, USTR Ron Kirk Urged to Publicly Release What His Office Has Proposed in Americans’ Names
Leo Hindery, Jr.Chairman, U.S. Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation: Free Trade Run Amok: The ‘TPP’, (this is a must-read!)
I believe that TPP could very likely dwarf the negative impacts from all prior FTAs combined, including the still notorious multilateral NAFTA (which went into effect in 1994) and the multilateral CAFTA (signed in 2003).
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch: A Stealth Attack on Democratic Governance
Tim Robertson, California Fair Trade Coalition: Why Is the TPP Such a Big Secret?
Michael Brune, The Sierra Club: What Are They Trying to Hide?
Public Citizen’s Tradewatch
Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch
Eyes On Trade, Public Citizen’s Blog on Globalization and Trade.
Public Knowledge: TPP Info
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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