A broad coalition of labor, community, environmental, faith and civil rights activists across Dallas is fighting the biggest trade deal of our time — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — because we know from experience that this deal is a giveaway for corporations that comes at the expense of our jobs, our communities and our standard of living. We’re working to slow down the “Fast Track” bill, also known as Trade Promotion Authority for the TPP, because we believe our members of Congress have the responsibility to fully review this trade deal and make it better, not just rubber-stamp it with virtually no discussion or debate.
If “Fast Track” is approved, it’s an automatic “OK” for a trade deal many Members of Congress haven’t even read yet. Voting “yes” on “Fast Track” not only means rubber stamping this deal, but giving the same special treatment to any other trade deal brought between now and the end of 2021. Why would we do that?
But we can do the math. Promises of more exports don’t make up for the flood of good Texas jobs that have gone overseas. Just two trade deals, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and our deal with China have resulted in the loss of 360,300 jobs in Texas, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Over the past five years, exports of agricultural products to NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada have actually plummeted, while imports from those countries have more than doubled. Consequently, our $280 million NAFTA agricultural surplus became a $1.3 billion NAFTA agricultural deficit by 2014.
Meanwhile, under a free trade agreement with Korea, the trade deficit in the top ten products that our state exports to Korea has increased. Texas exports have actually fallen as Korean imports have climbed.
When it comes to comparing our wages with those of workers in Vietnam, the average wage is less than $1 an hour and child labor is an extensive, continuous issue. In Malaysia, slave labor is a common practice, especially in the electronics industry.
Why does our country want to reward countries like Vietnam and Malaysia with trade benefits at the expense of our own citizens?
The TPP has been negotiated in secret for five years, with corporate executives and their lobbyists shaping the terms of the deal, while the rest of us — the public — have been left out in the cold.
The laws and regulations that we depend on for food safety and other consumer protections, for example, are at risk, because corporations have the right to challenge laws and regulations they believe will affect their “future profits” in a foreign tribunal. Unbelievable? Countries like Australia, Canada and Ecuador that have signed on to trade deals including these special “Investor State Dispute Settlement” procedures are facing big judgments levied by these tribunals.
We support fair trade that benefits ordinary families, not big corporations. We believe that labor, environmental and consumer standards should be accorded the same treatment as the corporations’ wish list on intellectual property rights. That’s not what the TPP does. If “Fast Track” is approved, corporations will take their complaints to the ISDS tribunals, where a prompt judgment will be issued by a panel of arbitrators accountable to no country.
The labor and environmental standards have no such enforcement mechanism. In fact, the murder of union activists in Colombia (more than 100 workers were murdered there in the last four years) isn’t even an unfair trade practice, according to the United States Trade Representative. Under the government’s “greatly improved standards,” environmental and labor complaints, even murder, get a report, but no real action.
Congress needs to say no to “Fast Track” and then get to work on a trade agreement that works for all of us. It’s not too late.
Cummings is vice president of the Communications Workers of America Southwest region, representing 65,000 workers in Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas.
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