Fair trade activists to Cargill: What’s the big secret?

Members of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition protest outside Cargill’s offices in Hopkins.

If free-trade agreements like the forthcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership are in the public interest, then why are they negotiated in private?

That’s the question supporters of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition asked during a July 9 rally in Hopkins. The coalition of labor, environmental and agricultural organizations is mounting a public campaign to pressure the Obama administration into opening Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to public scrutiny.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an 11-country free-trade deal that could eventually encompass half of the world,” coalition director Josh Wise told a crowd of about 50 demonstrators. “It’s huge. It’s big. And the public is being entirely shut out.”

So, too, are journalists and members of Congress. The agreement could create legally binding policies regarding agriculture, workers’ rights and intellectual-property rights – without any input from U.S. lawmakers during negotiations.

Not surprisingly, 132 members of Congress have signed a complaint, addressed to the Obama administration’s chief trade negotiator, that Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations have not been sufficiently open to public or congressional scrutiny. Protesters in Hopkins echoed those concerns.

Protesters line the sidewalk outside Cargill, protesting the company’s influence on Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which are closed to the public.

“We could say that transparency is synonymous with truth,” Colombian fair-trade activist Gerardo Cajamarca told the crowd via a translator. “When we’re demanding transparency, we’re also demanding truth and justice.”

Cajamarca and other demonstrators gathered outside offices of Cargill, the multinational food- and agriculture-based corporation headquartered in the Twin Cities. Cargill is one of a handful of companies granted access to – and influence on – Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

That multinational corporations have been granted access to the trade talks worries fair-trade activists, who suspect the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be written to benefit companies like Cargill at the expense of workers, small farmers and the environment.

“It is lies that companies like Cargill use to impose free-trade agreements,” Cajamarca said. “They have told the world that free-trade agreements are going to bring prosperity and progress and development to the rest of the world. This is false.”

Indeed, the track record of existing free-trade agreements – NAFTA, CAFTA and the Korea Free Trade Agreement, among others – has not been good, particularly for manufacturing workers in the U.S.

Bob Ryan, a representative with the United Steelworkers union, said companies already are flooding the American market with cheap products, made by low-wage workers overseas. Free-trade agreements only make that process easier, and that’s bad news for American workers.

Ryan offered this example: The Korea Free Trade Agreement, he said, enables automakers like Nissan to build cars with cheaply made auto parts and export them to the U.S., where they compete with cars built in the U.S. by Ford and General Motors.

“Ninety-five percent of every car that’s made in the United States, the Steelworkers represent the workers who make those parts,” Ryan explained. “Every car that comes into the United States (from Korea) is one less job for us.

“Companies like Cargill, they’re just out for their pockets – nobody else’s. They don’t care about the environment. They don’t care what they do to workers. That’s why we’re here today; we’ve got to stop these rotten trade agreements.

“We should keep these jobs in America.”

For more information on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or to get involved in the struggle for fair trade, visit the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition’s website.

%d bloggers like this: