Imagine a future where companies looking to make a profit off of overseas sweatshops can sue countries trying to eliminate child labor. The corporations can also sue governments that enact any kind of labor law that puts people before profits. And health care costs in impoverished nations rise as big pharmaceutical companies fight to keep cheaper, life-saving drugs off the market. Meanwhile, that huge sucking sound that came after NAFTA – the sound of jobs leaving U.S. shores – comes back around again, with even greater vengeance.
Sound like a premise for some dystopian science fiction movie? It’s not. It’s the likely reality if Congress goes ahead in approving so-called fast track authority for the highly-secretive Trans Pacific Partnership.
The TPP would govern trade between the United States and 12 other Pacific-rim nations: Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam. Supporters, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and President Obama, say the TPP will expand trade with some of the world's most vibrant economies, representing close to 40 percent of world GDP.
Fast track, which was also authorized before NAFTA, would establish a process that allows no amendments and limited debate on the TPP when it is brought before Congress.
Critics of the deal question what good can come from a trade agreement where negotiations have so far been held in secret. Legislators, unions, environmental and other citizens groups have been excluded from the talks, while hundreds of corporate lobbyists have been inside the discussions from the beginning. Details about the TPP have only come from drafts leaked by the website WikiLeaks.
But a growing and vocal group of pro-worker lawmakers are urging their colleagues to take a step back and evaluate what the trade deal would spell for American working families.
On Feb. 26, several U.S. senators spoke out on the Senate floor on the need for a U.S. trade policy that puts the needs of workers and communities first. “The talent and tenacity of American workers hasn’t changed – but our leaders’ commitment to them has,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “And nowhere is that abandonment more clear than the free trade agreements we now approve with little oversight and minimal debate. We know that trade done right creates prosperity, and as a progressive, I want trade that strengthens the middle class here at home and lifts workers from poverty in America and around the world – not another NAFTA.”
In a Feb. 25 op-ed in the Washington Post, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sounded the alarm on a portion of the TPP that she said everyone should be wary of: the so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement.
“The name may sound mild, but don’t be fooled. Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty,” she wrote:
ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws – and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers – without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions – and even billions – of dollars in damages.
Lawmakers like Brown and Warren also argue that the TPP could be NAFTA redux – with potentially far more dire effects, considering the current state of trade imbalances:
- The United States has a $476 billion annual trade deficit – 60 percent of which is with China.
- The U.S. economy has lost about 6 million manufacturing jobs and more than 60,000 factories since 2001.
- Of these lost jobs, 3.2 million are due to trade with China, nearly 700,000 have gone to Mexico following NAFTA, and 60,000 have been lost to Korea since the Korea Free Trade Agreement in 2012.
The Korea agreement is regarded as the template for the TPP. The watchdog group Public Citizen states that since the deal, the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has surged 72 percent – indicating even more lost U.S. jobs as the economy was getting itself off the ropes following the Great Recession.
“For too long, our leaders have let multinational corporations dictate our trade rules at the expense of the middle class,” said IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill. “The results have been tragic, a growing trade deficit, stagnating wages and the disappearance of too many good jobs. We are ready to stand with president Obama in realizing the vision of a fair global economy. But first, he has to decide if his vision of trade puts working families and shared prosperity first.”
While many lawmakers are publically remaining quiet on whether or not they will support fast track for the TPP, some pro-worker senators like Brown and Warren have gone on record in opposition to the deal. Hill and other IBEW leaders are calling on members living in these senators’ states to call or email them and thank them for their support of fair trade and good, middle-class jobs:
Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
Bob Casey (D-Pa.)
Edward Markey (D-Mass.)
Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
“I urge IBEW brothers, sisters and their family members to thank these brave lawmakers for having our backs. Rest assured, we will be holding other legislators accountable and asking them how they stand on the TPP and how they plan to help strengthen a U.S. economy that works for everyone.”
Sign the online petition saying no to fast track.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Backbone Campaign.