Josh Wise, Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition
Yesterday we read an introduction to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and explored some of the ways these types of free trade agreements prioritize corporations and hurt jobs in all the countries involved. Today we’ll discuss a bit more about what makes the TPP an especially dangerous version of previous free trade agreements and what we can do to stop it.
When NAFTA was negotiated, it largely dealt with goods – tangible items. As technology has progressed, the trade in services like banking, insurance, legal services, healthcare, etc. has dramatically increased as well. The TPP aims to cover all of these services and more, meaning that there are very few jobs left that can't be outsourced. The TPP would make it harder for local governments to put labor and environmental restrictions, such as living wages or carbon footprint requirements, on corporate activities. Some of the language in the TPP could also pave the way for deregulation of public service like trash collection, water and other utilities, encouraging big foreign corporations to come in and privatize the service, paying low wages and breaking public sector unions in the process. Corporations will often take a loss in order to win a bid, and then, once public assets are sold off, they raise the price and leave local governments hurting for services.
And if local governments try to fight back, they could open themselves up to an investor-state dispute. These allowances for legal challenges, which began with NAFTA, have given corporations the right to sue governments in extrajudicial trade court and have been used to challenge everything from bans on fracking to universal healthcare, as well as a whole host of environmental regulations.
But goods and service aren't all. Like other free trade agreements, the TPP also includes a chapter on intellectual property, essentially establishing control over the flow of ideas and drastically extending copyright laws, potentially affecting everything from patents on medicine to our freedom to use the Internet. This is not only going to cost lives, but stands in direct conflict with any theoretical idea of "free trade." The version of "free trade" being peddled in these agreements means protections for large corporations, pure and simple.
It's should be pretty clear by now that these agreements not only produce policies that are detrimental to global quality of life, but act as a direct assault on our democratic institutions and the ability of local communities to enact laws as they see fit. The good news is that the public largely agrees. Polls have found that less than 25 percent of Americans think that free trade policy has been good for the country, and that more than two-thirds of the public believes such policy costs the country jobs. When we have had mass mobilization against corporate globalization in the United States, we've won. We won against the WTO after the 1999 Battle in Seattle, and we won against the Free Trade Area of the Americas after the 2001 Miami protests. The ONLY way these agreements get passed is under a shroud of secrecy. Major media outlets have barely reported on the TPP; meanwhile, the President is pressuring Congress to pass “Fast Track,” or Trade Promotion Authority, legislation. Fast Track would mean that once a trade deal is done and submitted to Congress (and thus finally made public to the rest of us as well), Congress would have to vote on it within 60 days, limit debate and offer no amendments, plus the executive branch gets to write the final bill officially implementing the TPP.
So what we can do to beat the TPP? The number one thing we need to do in the United States is defeat Fast Track. Without Fast Track in place, it’s very unlikely that the TPP will make it through Congress, or even finish being negotiated. The good news is that we are on our way to making this happen! Last year, more than 150 House Democrats and nearly 30 Republicans signed a letter to the President opposing Fast Track. At the same time, a majority of Americans from across the party spectrum are opposed to Fast Track legislation. As we engage in grassroots organizing around the country we are convincing members of Congress, one at a time, to build a majority in opposition to Fast Track. When the first Fast Track bill was introduced in January, it was met with widespread criticism and is essentially dead at this point, but a new bill could be introduced any day.
So we need your help! Call your US Representative and Senator and tell them that no form of Fast Track is acceptable. We can have a robust system of international trade that is people-centered, promotes human rights and improves our quality of life. But we can't do it with the current undemocratic, opaque model, and we certainly can't do it with Fast Track. Until trade negotiations fundamentally change to become more transparent and give everyone an equal voice, the TPP and other agreements will continue the global race to the bottom. It's up to us to get organized and turn trade policy into a race to the top!