fresh voices from the front lines of change







As the administration tries to sell Congress on passing fast-track trade promotion authority in order to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, we may be seeing some familiar tactics at work. This time it is an effort to get people to jump on a supposed bandwagon, claiming the treaty has momentum.

The Financial Times has a story today, "Obama challenge on selling trade deals to resurgent left," that Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism says, "looks to be a clear media plant" that is "falling in with the official line."

The FT story says Obama and his team do not consider TPP to be, as they put it, "for the benefit of its multinational corporations, rather than ordinary workers, exacerbating wage stagnation and income inequality." FT writes that the administration "have vowed to do things differently this time, by insisting on tougher standards on workers’ rights, environmental regulations, the role of state-owned enterprises and intellectual property protections."

Are they "doing it differently this time?" Do consumer, health, labor, environmental and human rights groups have input into and access to the negotiating process? Or is it just another giant-corporate-rigged process? Is there transparency, or do we have to read about the treaty in documents leaked to Wikileaks?

So far, it doesn't look like they are "doing it differently this time."


FT says Obama has been "shy" about selling the treaty this way, that if he sells the deal he could win over "liberal critics, including labour unions" and "could still change their minds, or not fight as ardently as expected. And moderate, pro-trade Democrats may well come on board enthusiastically. Meanwhile, business groups will lobby feverishly for the deals."

Smith says that story is an attempt by the administration to make it appear that the administration's approach to TPP and fast track have momentum, which in itself could drive support,

One of the tricks of dealmaking and legislating is to try to create the impression that the negotiations/vote herding are going well, even when they aren’t. That tactic was fully on display with the Administration’s failed effort to get Congressional approval for intervention in Syria. The White House kept messaging that it was getting support lined up even when whip counts showed that putting the measure to a vote would result in an overwhelming rejection.

Are Liberals And Labor "Uninformed"?

The pro-TPP effort is trying to marginalize opponents, casting them as the ignorant dirty hippies who don't understand how they are holding back progress.

Smith at Naked Capitalism writes about the tone of the FT story: "...[N]otice how opposition to the deals are subtly presented as uninformed, as mere prejudice? The resistance is based on mere “belief”. In fact, NAFTA led to nearly a million lost jobs, and as we recounted in a weekend post, also wrecked much of the agricultural sector in Mexico."

That's right, NAFTA (and similar "trade" agreements") made things much worse for most Americans, while dramatically enriching a few "investors" at the top. By allowing companies to move factories to low-wage thugocracies with few environmental protections, thereby reducing "costs" (namely, you and me) they broke the unions, instilled job fear and enabled employers to cut wages and threaten anyone who speaks up with moving their job, too. These agreements have made democracy, in which people say they want good wages and environmental protections, too "expensive," turning democracy into a competitive disadvantage in world markets. This movement of jobs and factories out of the country is represented by the huge trade deficit that is dragging down demand in our economy.

As I pointed out last week in "NAFTA At 20: 1 Million Lost Jobs, 580% Increase In Trade Deficit," a new report from Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch aptly named "NAFTA at 20: One Million U.S. Jobs Lost, Mass Displacement and Instability in Mexico, Record Income Inequality, Scores of Corporate Attacks on Environmental and Health Laws" documents the harm this agreement has done to regular people in our economy,

“NAFTA created new privileges and protections for foreign investors that incentivized the offshoring of investment and jobs by eliminating many of the risks normally associated with moving production to low-wage countries. NAFTA allowed foreign investors to directly challenge before foreign tribunals domestic policies and actions, demanding government compensation for policies that they claimed undermined their expected future profits. NAFTA also contained chapters that required the three countries to limit regulation of services, such as trucking and banking; extend medicine patent monopolies; limit food and product safety standards and border inspection; and waive domestic procurement preferences, such as Buy American.”

Some of the effects of NAFTA that are highlighted in the report include,

  • $181 billion U.S. trade deficit with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada,
  • one million net U.S. jobs lost because of NAFTA,
  • a doubling of immigration from Mexico,
  • larger agricultural trade deficits with Mexico and Canada,
  • and more than $360 million paid to corporations after “investor-state” tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies.

The data also show how post-NAFTA trade and investment trends have contributed to:

  • middle-class pay cuts, which in turn contributed to growing income inequality;
  • how since NAFTA, U.S. trade deficit growth with Mexico and Canada has been 45 percent higher than with countries not party to a U.S. Free Trade Agreement,
  • and how U.S. manufacturing and services exports to Canada and Mexico have grown at less than half the pre-NAFTA rate.

Meanwhile my September post, "Do Free-Trade Agreements Create Jobs?," wrote about how the more recent Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, taking effect in March 2012, "had already cost the US 40,000 jobs and increased our trade deficit by $5.8 billion."

There is no momentum for these trade agreements. The public is fed up with these "trade" deals. They are engineered to pit American workers and our democracy against low-wage workers in non-democracies. This drags American working people down and keeps these low-wage workers in chains. Don't fall for it. Call your member of Congress and your senators today and let them know you are paying attention to this, and do not want "fast track" or TPP.

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