by Michael Brune and Randi Weingarten
[Ed. note: The Senate has just voted 68-32 for cloture after an all-too brief debate on this insidious and dangerous legislation. However the outcome is by no means bleak in the House, since both Democratic and Republican legislators are bring swamped by mail and phone calls from their constituents against enacting Fast Track and the Trans Pacific Partnership. A very broad coalition of representative American organizations is mobilizing against “fast-tracking” gigantic trade and investment agreements that would cement in place global corporate domination over popular democratic rules and safeguards. Here is a joint statement from the Sierra Club and the American Federation of Teachers.]
Fast-tracking bad trade deals would shrink protections for communities, the economy and the environment.
Each of us has a stake in the legacy we leave our kids. The members of the respective organizations that we lead — the Sierra Club and the American Federation of Teachers — share a commitment to creating an America that is safe, healthy and economically secure. But over the past three decades, the American dream has moved out of reach for too many families, and our communities have borne the brunt of extreme weather and an increasingly disrupted climate.
To make matters worse, Congress is considering a dangerous plan that would put the health and livelihoods of many Americans at risk. The Hatch-Wyden-Ryan trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation would fast-track deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It limits Congress’ ability to debate and amend such deals by granting the administration the authority to sign a trade deal before sending it to Congress for a vote. Fast track removes the ability of our elected representatives to ensure that trade pacts don’t sacrifice the health of communities, the economy and the environment.
Although the TPP has been in the works for more than five years, all the negotiating has happened behind closed doors. Hundreds of corporate executives have been involved in shaping the agreement, while ordinary citizens have been left out. The TPP would dwarf the North American Free Trade Agreement and apply to more than 40 percent of the world’s total GDP. Its reach would extend far beyond traditional trade matters such as tariffs and quotas. The TPP includes rules that would expand the power of multinational corporations while limiting the ability of our government to protect our workers, communities and environment.
Put simply, the TPP is toxic for the health of people, our economy and the planet. It is riddled with problems that give serious pause to all of us who care about economic security and future generations. These include provisions that allow foreign corporations to sue our government if they think our industry safeguards might hurt their profits. The investor-state dispute settlement provision could have a chilling effect on our ability to regulate in the public interest.
Consumer protections such as ensuring affordable prescription drug prices and country-of-origin labeling are also in jeopardy because of the TPP. Buy-American procurement rules would be undermined by a provision that would force the U.S. in some instances to treat foreign bidders the same as American ones. Also, the TPP not only fails to address climate change but would exacerbate the crisis by granting new rights to big polluters and encouraging investments in the countries with the weakest environmental protections.
Some are touting the TPA legislation as an opportunity for Congress to shape the contents of the deal. But this is simply not the case, for a number of reasons. First, after more than five years of negotiations, the TPP is nearly complete, and the TPA would remove any remaining leverage that Congress has to shape the deal. Second, any worker, consumer, environmental or human rights protections that Congress identifies as priorities under the TPA would be completely unenforceable. Legally, they are goals rather than obligations, and a deal that doesn’t achieve them still gets a luge run through Congress. The negotiating guidelines in the bill won’t even help protect workers and the environment. For example, there is not a single mention of climate change in the legislation.
We commend Congress for considering trade adjustment assistance, which provides support to workers who have been affected negatively by the loss of jobs because of past free trade agreements and offshoring. But packaging fast track with other legislation such as trade adjustment assistance will not prevent it from hurting the jobs and wages of working families.
As advocates for working families and the environment, we ask ourselves, Will our trade policy help us fulfill our collective obligation to our kids? Will they have clean air to breathe and water to drink? Will they have access to quality education and health care? Will we keep our promise to them that if they work hard and play by the rules, they can build decent lives for themselves? The Hatch-Wyden-Ryan bill would set us on the wrong path on all those fronts and must be opposed.
We need a new model for trade that doesn’t prioritize corporate profits over the health of our communities, the economic security of everyday Americans and the future of our kids.
Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club.
Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Reposted from Al Jazeera Opinion page.