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Freshmen in Congress Say No to Secret Trade Negotiations

June 19, 2013

activists against proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership

What if the controversy raging over the National Security Agency’s surveillance of domestic phone calls is overshadowing an abuse of privacy that could undermine our nation’s democracy in a myriad of ways that the NSA spying never could?

The Obama administration’s mostly secret negotiation over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new trade agreement, carries just that threat.

Opposition to the proposed agreement is building to an agreement that would govern trade between the U.S. and 10 other countries, including Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

A growing group of Americans and political leaders hold that the TPP could not just put American jobs in jeopardy like the North American Free Trade Agreement, but would give big corporations even more power at the expense of average citizens. The TPP, they say, would give corporations the enhanced ability to successfully sue state and municipal governments virtually any time they act to protect citizens’ in areas like food and workplace safety, environmental health or demand reasonable actions by companies in return for tax breaks and other incentives.

On June 11, 36 freshman House Democrats sent a letter to Rep. Sander Levin (D – Mich.) the senior Democratic member of the Ways and Means Committee calling for more transparency in negotiations over TPP.

Congressional representatives also stated that they were opposed to granting President Obama (or any president) “fast track” authority to negotiate agreements leaving Congress with only an up or down vote on trade agreements. Fast track authority has been commonly granted in years going back to the Nixon administration.

President Obama, who is hoping to conclude negotiations on the TPP by October, says the trade agreement will bolster our nation’s ability to compete with China. While the voices of average citizens are missing in the TPP negotiations, 600 so-called “trade advisors” are on the inside of the talks and they overwhelmingly represent big business.

Labor activists and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch are warning that an agreement negotiated outside of the public realm could deepen some of the same problems that have resulted in the loss of 700,000 American jobs since the signing of Nafta 1994 during the Clinton administration.

In remarks on June 15 to Democratic activists in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, Third District International Vice President Don Siegel outlined the need to fight for open negotiations on the TPP. “There’s an old saying that experience enables you to recognize a mistake every time you repeat it,” said Siegel, who also discussed the 2011 shutdown of Philips IBEW-organized lighting fixture plant in Sparta, Tenn.

Philips sent production to Mexico, said Siegel, in yet another example of Nafta’s threat to jobs that has resulted in unemployment and more social problems in Tennessee. More than 100 other manufacturing plants in the region surrounding Sparta have shut down, with production outsourced to Mexico and Asia.

Citing polls that show broad consensus among Americans of all political persuasions opposed to unfair trade agreements, International President Edwin D. Hill expressed hope that activists could influence the negotiations over the TPP with the goal of winning “for once in our lives, the negotiation of a fair agreement that truly lifts up the standard of living in participating nations and rejects the Nafta model.”

That means, says Hill, negotiating an agreement that would support collective bargaining rights and prevent countries from joining the TPP until they have met certain human and labor standards. And it would mean defeating proposals said to be part of the TPP that would further weaken regulation of Wall Street financial firms, pharmaceutical companies and make it even harder to keep more U.S. companies from outsourcing their production. Only five of 29 sections in TPP actually focus on trade. The remainder deals with “harmonizing” regulations between nations and other similar subjects.

Seattle Local 46 took a leading role in pushing Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott, who normally supports “free” trade agreements, to support changes in the TPP. In a newsletter from the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, Shannon Hagen, a Local 46 business representative and organizer, said: “… Make no mistake—our intention is to STOP the TPP! … to create a conversation, to start actually demanding the accountability we all talk about but never get from our politicians, to get REAL measurable actions from our elected officials. For us as a body to elect leaders that lead, not just follow.”

Recently Seattle activists they showed up at a jobs fair sponsored by Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, which included low-wage employers like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. They told the mainstream and social media that—rather than pushing low-wage jobs, the member of Congress should spend her time stopping another NAFTA.

Calling for more public exposure of the secrecy surrounding the TPP, President Hill said, “If we ever doubt the potential potency and drama surrounding trade or the breadth of the coalition of which we are a part, just remember the Battle of Seattle, the Miami actions against the Free Trade Ares of the Americas or the worldwide protests against every trade agreement that has taken from the people and given to the corporations.”

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Global Trade Watch.