Unions, environmental groups brace for lame-duck fight over Trans Pacific pact

call-congress-today-to-stop-tpp_blog_post_fullwidthOn the night of the third presidential debate, a small group of activists gathered inside a union hall in Minneapolis, but their focus was not on the outcome of the 2016 election. It was on what might happen between Nov. 8 and the inauguration, specifically when it comes to trade.

President Obama is expected to make one last-ditch attempt to push the sprawling, NAFTA-style Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement through Congress during the “lame-duck” session, possibly as soon as this month.

If that happens, fair-trade activists will be ready to push back.

Already, more than 90 organizations, including the AFL-CIO, are planning to flood the congressional switchboard Nov. 16 with phone calls in opposition to the TPP. Two weeks later, unions and labor federations from across the country will lobby together in Washington, D.C., making their final case against the deal, which “would be incredibly devastating to working people here and across the globe,” Kayla Berg of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition told activists.

The meeting in Minneapolis, sponsored by the state’s Industrial Union Council, drew representatives of environmental and student groups, offering a glimpse of the broad-based opposition to the TPP, which was negotiated in secret by 12 member nations with Pacific borders.

Six of those 12 countries – Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Chile and Brunei – have low-wage economies. Labor unions have expressed concern that the agreement will only hasten the outsourcing of U.S. jobs and further the exploitation of workers in developing countries.

Unions also point to weak – or nonexistent – protections for workers who seek to organize in several TPP countries. It’s a complaint echoed by the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, which point to equally weak environmental regulations.

Another shared concern: Extra- judicial “corporate courts” created by the TPP would empower global firms to fight local or state regulations they view as “barriers to trade,” including consumer protection laws, land-use regulations or buy-local procurement practices.

In fact, if TPP passes, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies would be forced to treat bidders from every TPP country as if they were U.S. bidders when making purchasing decisions.

It’s no surprise so many citizen groups are taking on the fight against the TPP, Machinists union representative Rick Ryan said. The only question, he said, is whether activists can ensure a victory that kills the TPP and, potentially, changes the way future trade deals are negotiated.

“We need to bring these groups together to build the power to stop TPP,” Ryan said. “Instead of fighting individual fights, we need to fight one big fight.”

For more information on the TPP, go to www.citizen.org/TPP.

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