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What’s Next in the Fight for Fair Trade?

By Lynne Dodson

For the past six months a broad coalition of labor, environmental, faith, and community organizations has been united in a single purpose: defeating Fast Track for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. With over 150 actions; thousands of letters, postcards, and phone calls to our Democratic congressional delegation; and more news coverage than trade issues have seen since NAFTA, in the end both our Senators and Representatives DelBene, Kilmer, and Larsen joined with Republicans in Congress and voted for Fast Track. Representatives Heck, McDermott, and Smith stood fast in the face of tremendous pressure from the White House, and voted against it.

While Fast Track ended up passing by a narrow majority in both the House and Senate, we stalled the vote for months, held over 100 actions in the five months leading up to the vote, and certainly raised the awareness around the problems with our status quo free trade agreements.

Fast Track gives the means to push free trade agreements (FTAs) through Congress without debate or amendments. Now that it has passed, we turn our attention to the two big agreements that are coming up – the TPP, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

First, let’s be clear – this hearty coalition is not trade adverse. Trade should benefit people in partnering countries. It should improve the standard of living, and bring benefits to people living in trading countries. What trade deals do is write the rules for globalization and for how our economy works. As one of the most trade-dependent states in the nation (so we hear again and again), it is particularly incumbent on us to ensure that trade agreements are driven by the values and principles of civil society. That is not the case with the current negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is at the heart of our opposition, though a similar deal – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is also of concern. Since Fast Track legislation is in place for the next six years, it is likely that other trade deals, like the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), are likely to come up during this time as well.

The agreements all have some things in common. First, their primary goal is to “liberalize trade” – increase the ability to profit, not “improve the lives of people.” Second, they are negotiated in secret, and the primary negotiators at the table hail from multinational corporations and investors. The fundamental process by which these deals are negotiated is flawed in ways that preclude meaningful input from civil society.

We have been assured that the TPP (for example) will contain higher labor and human rights standards than any previous trade deal. This may well be, but according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, monitoring and enforcement of standards is sorely lacking. Since 2008, the Department of Labor has accepted only five formal complaints, and only one – with Peru – was resolved. The Columbia FTA has the highest labor standards yet, and trade unionists continue to be threatened and murdered. The recent news of a change in Malaysia’s human rights status leads one to wonder how low standards can go in order to include countries in trade agreements. Half of the countries in the TPP have a current US State Department ranking of Tier 2 or 3 – poor standards on human slavery and trafficking.

From leaked text so far it is difficult to see any improvement in the TPP over NAFTA and similar FTAs. This is no surprise. The fundamental objective, to increase profits through the “liberalization’” of trade, remains the same. We can expect more of the same results, and this is what leaked text suggests – increased income inequality, more off-shoring of jobs, increased prices for medicine, prohibitions on “buy American” policies, and a roll-back of Wall Street and banking reforms.

As Stan Sorscher, President of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, says, “Trade creates winners and losers.” Those who are negotiating these status quo trade deals are not negotiating to be the losers. It is up to us to not only identify the problems with the TPP, TTIP, TiSA, and other trade deals. We also must identify what a trade deal would look like that benefits people. It’s also up to us to hold our elected representatives accountable for their actions on trade. They need to hear from their constituents as the TPP and other FTA’s unfold.

We don’t know when the negotiations will be complete on the TPP. We do know that once they are complete, public access to the text will be available, and we will be doing our analysis of the impacts on workers here and in countries with whom we trade.

We also must continue to work to create trade policies that truly benefit people. We’ll be doing that at the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, along with our partners like the WA Fair Trade Coalition. Please join with us as we work to change this trajectory and use trade not to erode our economy but to improve the standard of living for people in the new global community.

Lynne Dodson is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and a PSARA member

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