Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues., or Wed., March 30, 31 or April 1
The TPP – the Trans-Pacific Partnership, involving 12 countries in the Pacific Rim, making up about 40 percent of Earth’s economy – will be considered on Capitol Hill in April in a measure to “fast-track” the bill through Congress with limited debate before an up-or-down vote, said U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
It’s a “corporate coup,” some critics say. Others see the familiar threat of a job-killing outcome.
Recalling trade pacts started 20 years ago with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico and Canada, Art Pulaski of the California AFL-CIO said workers had one question for lawmakers: “How dumb do you think we are?”
Indeed, the U.S. Labor Department has certified that NAFTA cost the United States 845,000 jobs. Other studies say the number of jobs lost due to such trade pacts is closer to 5 million, and Pulaski agreed, adding, “Then came CAFTA, Chile, Korea, Peru – a total of 5.5 million jobs.”
Like such earlier trade deals, TPP doesn’t even address workers rights. However, worker advocates, everyday citizens or even legislators cannot include such protections because they’ve been shut out of the six years of TPP negotiations.
But not Big Business, who’s been involved throughout.
So labor, consumer, environmental and other groups are allied in opposition to TPP and fast-track.
The AFL-CIO’s President Richard Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler and Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre all signed a March open letter to Congress stating, “As the leaders of almost 20 million U.S. workers and their families, we share your commitment to strengthening the middle class. To rebuild our economy for America’s hard-working families, we ask you to join us in opposition to ‘fast-track’ trade promotion authority.
“Fast-track deals mean fewer jobs, lower wages and a declining middle class,” the letter said.
Besides claims of boosting economies despite past experience of the opposite, there’s the authoritarian process – and result. Whether killing labor, environmental or consumer protections or privatizing public assets like schools, water districts and social programs, TPP relinquishes the Republic’s rule by the people and their representatives.
That’s right: TPP not only would give corporations even more economic influence, but power over national sovereignty.
In one ominous provision, TPP provides for secret tribunals called Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which could override local, state or even national laws if corporations say they limit “expected future profits” – laws, regulations or programs ranging from the minimum wage to “Buy American” campaigns.
ISDS tribunals would consider corporate objections to labor, environmental, health, even land-use issues, etc., and the cases wouldn’t be held in open court but in private hearings before three lawyers from signatory nations. Corporations could stop development of electric cars, inspections of unsafe food or consumer goods, and more.
Further, “ISDS cases go in only one direction – multinationals can sue governments for unlimited amounts, but nations and citizens cannot sue multinationals,” said Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen.
Economist Dean Baker said vague language leads to far-reaching targets of popular programs if corporations object.
“Every provision in trade agreements will have ambiguities,” Baker said. “Trade deals all prohibit export subsidies, almost by definition. But what about publicly funded vocational training in which the government picks up much of an exporter’s training costs? What about publicly financed infrastructure that reduces the exporter’s cost to send its products out of the country? What about publicly financed research (like the National Institutes of Health) that hugely reduce the cost to private firms of innovation?”
Author Rivera Sun is more forceful in his forecast.
“Say hello to lead poisoning and sweatshops,” said Sun, who wrote “Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars.”
“Say goodbye to health benefits and living wages,” he continued. “Flip off the Civil Rights movement. The TPP is a return to dictators and despots wearing the mask of transnational corporations.”
[PICTURED: Mandel Ngan photo from rt.com]