Big tent coalition fights fast track for unfair trade deal

At a January 8 media conference in Washington DC, a broad coalition of groups announced that they would work together to prevent Congress from granting the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal fast track authority.

TPP, a trade agreement between 12 countries in the Pacific Rim, is in the final stage of negotiations, and once the negotiations are complete, President Obama will ask Congress to grant itself fast track authority, which means that there will be little opportunity for members of Congress to carefully review the terms to the complex deal or to offer amendments to it.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and now economics professor at the University of California Berkeley, recently called TPP an impending disaster designed to expedite “a global race to the bottom” by “giving big corporations and Wall Street banks a way to eliminate any and all laws and regulations that get in the way of their profits.”

The coalition opposing fast track authority for TPP, which Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen called “a big tent coalition,” includes more than 100 labor, community, religious, gay and lesbian rights, consumer, and environment groups that represent tens of millions of Americans.

“All these diverse viewpoints are united,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro at the media conference. “They are united in their opposition to fast track, a policy that is designed to ram trade deals through the Congress without serious debate or opportunities to amend.”

At the media conference, representatives of some of the coalition members explained why they opposed fast track authority for TPP.

“We know from Catholic sisters in Central America and Mexico that these trade deals (such as NAFTA and CAFTA) create a huge imbalance (in these countries) especially in rural communities,” said Simone Campbell of the Catholic Social Justice Lobby and organizer of the Nuns on a Bus social justice tour.

Campbell said that these imbalances have destroyed local economies, which in turn has led to a breakdown in social cohesion and increased misery.

Negotiations for trade deals “are often fixed on business interest, and they don’t think of the rest of the impact on society,” said Campbell. “The faithful way forward is to have a full disclosure where other points of view, not just those of business and economic interests are heard.”

“TPP if rushed through Congress will threaten our air, water, and communities,” said Debbie Sease of the Sierra Club.

One of TPP’s mechanisms for settling disputes is an example for how the deal could degrade our environment.

Corporations that think that environmental and other regulations may hurt future profits can sue national governments to recover damages. Their suit would be heard by a secret tribunal at the World Trade Organization.

The threat of such suits may prevent countries from passing laws that protect their environment and may cause countries to weaken existing laws, such as laws in the US that protect clean water and air.

Tony Corso of Food and Water Watch said that TPP will make it more difficult to inspect imported food. The US’s food inspection system for both internally produced and imported food is already overburdened, and an influx of imported food resulting from TPP will completely overwhelm the system, said Corso.

CWA’s Cohen said that over the last 30 years wages in the US have stagnated and that NAFTA and other trade deals are partially to blame for this stagnation.

TPP, which will be the largest trade deal ever negotiated, will encourage more US corporations to ship good paying jobs abroad and that will make it harder for workers here to get the kind of wage increases they need to maintain or in many cases recover a decent standard of living.

Workers don’t deserve another “raw deal” like NAFTA, which resulted massive job losses and caused the decline of local communities such as Detroit, whose auto industry was especially hard hit by NAFTA, continued Cohen.

Cohen also said that unions are prepared to work with its coalition partners in every Congressional district in the US to demonstrate the broad opposition to TPP.

We won’t be acting separately as labor or environment or consumer groups; we’ll be acting together as concerned citizens who want a global economy that works for all of us, not just a few of us, said Cohen.

The coalition’s first action will be nationwide call in on January 26 where supporters will be calling their members of Congress and urging them to oppose fast track authority for TPP.


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