Trans-Pacific Partnership is the latest free-trade scheme

Editor’s Note: Josh Wise is director of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition, which advocates for trade policies that benefit working people and the environment. He wrote this “Labor Voices” column for the April 2012 Union Advocate.

Those of you who fighting for good jobs know that so called “free trade agreements,” like NAFTA, have made our ability to earn a living much harder. Unfortunately, our government still doesn’t get it. The next big deal to loosen restrictions on corporations’ ability to move around the globe is called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It is bigger and more ominous than anything we’ve seen before.

First of all, the scope of who the TPP includes is huge. Right now it includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the U.S. Talks also include a “docking agreement” for other countries to join, with Japan, Canada and Mexico waiting in the wings and the door open to China.

Secondly, what the TPP covers is huge. If you think your industry isn’t affected by international trade, think again. The TPP covers traditional sectors like agriculture and manufacturing, but it also extends to banking regulation (or lack thereof), pharmaceutical regulation (making generic drugs harder to afford) and internet privacy (shutting down websites that reduce corporate profits). And if a foreign corporation doesn’t like a state or local law that protects the environment or consumers, it can sue to have its case heard by a panel of corporate lawyers, circumventing our own judicial system.

Finally, and perhaps most ominously, is what we don’t know about the negotiations currently happening. TPP negotiations have been closed to both the public and the media, and the only information coming out is what is being leaked. We do know, however, that more than 600 corporate lobbyists are listed as advisors. For the public not to know what is in such a large omnibus package that will override all other federal, state and local laws is unconscionable.

Of course, the corporations and politicians are taking the same line as always. This will make stuff cheaper and increase jobs in export industries. Here’s what you can tell them: For NAFTA alone, Minnesota lost nearly 13,700 jobs as nationwide trade with Mexico went from a $1.6 billion surplus in 1993 to a $97.2 billion deficit by 2010, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Among job losses nationwide due to NAFTA, 60 percent were in manufacturing, sending high-paying jobs that support families across the border, where safety and environmental regulations and workers rights are far less frequently enforced.

Trade should benefit all members of a society, not just the richest few, and the public has a right to know that our government isn’t negotiating away our economic freedom to line the pockets of those who have bought a seat at the table. So get on the phone to your members of Congress and tell them to publicly advocate for transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, and to stand up for workers around the world! For more information about how to get involved, visit www.mnfairtradecoalition.org.

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