Backdoor Deals over Fast Track Show the Bankruptcy of the Corporate Trade Agenda

AFL-CIO Communications Department

FastTrackRally

[Editor’s note:  This may be our last post before the crucial vote in the House on “Fast Track.”  This statement from the AFL-CIO Communications Department updates the latest cynical maneuvers to ram this deeply anti-democratic payoff to corporate capitalism down the throats of the 99%.

However I quibble over one bit of terminology – namely the reference to the “Democratic” values and concerns that are being savagely violated by this legislation.  Worker rights, human rights, climate justice, internet freedom are genuine “small d” democratic values, but if they were indeed the concerns and values of the “large D” Democratic Party, then why is the titular head of the Democratic Party and his Administration so committed to the passage of Fast Track and the TPP? 

In fact a battle has been joined over the divided soul and essence of the Democratic Party.  Fast Track may or may not prevail by a few votes tomorrow, but in any case the AFL-CIO may have to decide whether to join other progressive movements  in a firm commitment to create our own autonomous political institutions apart from pro-business-as-usual centrist Democrats. – Paul Garver]

The House Republican amendments to the suite of trade bills that began in the Senate back in April demonstrate—for anyone who still had doubts—the total bankruptcy of the corporate trade agenda. In order to advance an unpopular, undemocratic, failed trade policy, the Republican majority has to play games that make sausage making look good.
When House Democrats refused to fall in the trap of cutting Medicare in order to pay for trade adjustment assistance, the Republican leadership relented by changing the pay-for, but in order to save the Fast Track bill, the procedural mechanism developed by the Rules Committee will allow Democrats to vote against the Medicare cut before they vote for it.
In order to buy votes from a skeptical Republican caucus, Republican leadership has loaded up what had been a positive and useful trade enforcement package with new “trade negotiating objectives” that undermine long-held Democratic values, like addressing climate change and ensuring rights for migrant workers. Two of the TPP’s major weaknesses include inadequate worker protections and no climate change provisions. These new trade negotiating objectives could ensure these provisions never make it in to the TPP or any other trade agreement.
A currency provision has been stripped from the Customs bill. This provision, supported by Senators Schumer, Brown and others, was potentially the most critical enforcement tool in the entire package. It would have allowed the US to treat currency manipulation as a countervailable subsidy. Stripping this provision will cost jobs.
On the other hand, language weakening a provision that would have forced countries to address human trafficking before that country could be included in a fast-tracked trade deal with the US has been added to the Customs bill. This weakening undermines the promises made about how the TPP will protect workers.
All of these last-minute procedural manipulations and unconscionable amendments are designed to secure Republican votes, with no consideration whatsoever for Democratic concerns or values.

Desperately seeking a new model for trade

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.

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.

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.

 

Message from Iowa To Presidential Candidates: Which Side Are You On?

by Larry Cohen

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More than 500 active leaders from 56 organizations spent Saturday at Iowa State University in general sessions and workshops uniting around issues and strategies at the Working Families Summit. I had been to Iowa in previous presidential election years as presidential campaigns warmed up, but Saturday’s conference was not about a candidate or even a platform. It was broader than that. Recognizing that the leading candidates who are eventually the party nominees will raise and spend in excess of $2 billion, on Saturday, Iowans were energized by the longer road through the nominating process, the 2016 election and beyond. Big money in politics has changed our democracy, but on Saturday populism was alive and well, despite the hard path ahead.

We were labor and green, students and seniors, farmers and community organizers, urban and rural, immigrants and native-born, all realizing that more than ever, we have a common narrative based on democracy and economic justice that goes beyond our organizational silos, as important as those silos may be.

In years past, hosts of a meeting like this might have invited presidential candidates. But these 56 organizations with tens of thousands of Iowa members realize now that the path to real change on the national level is blocked by structural issues in our democracy and will likely continue to be blocked for years to come.

For a presidential candidate, the current debate on fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership is central to credibility on any claim to a populist agenda. The issue in Iowa is not trade or no trade, as some apologists for fast track try to argue. The issue is what kind of ground rules do we want so that we can evaluate trade deals after 20 years of corporate trade agreements that mostly are meant to protect the investment profits of multinational corporations.

For example, why is the U.S. the only nation of the 12 current TPP partners considering fast track? Under fast track, Congress all but signs off on adoption of trade deals for the next six years with no authority to amend, and agrees to quick up or down votes. This goes well beyond the TPP and President Obama, since fast track would likely last for six years. Eight of the 12 TPP nations are democracies and their parliament or congress will read the full document before taking any action. With 90 percent of the TPP already negotiated, the only real reason for fast track for the TPP is the growing realization that the TPP never would be adopted if it was subject to careful review and meaningful congressional oversight.

Why has there been little modification in the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process in the leaked chapters of TPP despite rising global opposition? ISDS means private and virtually secret tribunals where multinational corporations can sue national and local governments for any governmental action that limits the corporation’s future profits. Currently there are 500 such cases pending. Philip Morris has sued Australia and Uruguay for implementing plain package cigarette labeling. Occidental Petroleum has won a $2.3 billion judgment against Peru for limiting its right to drill based on environmental concerns.

The U.S. Trade Representative answers the criticism by saying the U.S. has not lost a case yet. But Ambassador Michael Froman knows full well that ISDS provides incentives for moving investment outside the U.S., by guaranteeing that future profits are insulated from stronger environmental or other regulations in other nations.

Democratic presidential contenders campaigning in Iowa need to step up now and tell us “which side they are on.” The president controls trade policy so what these candidates say on trade is far more consequential than on issues that require congressional approval.

For Democrats campaigning in Iowa, the case is even clearer. Two-thirds of Senate Democrats and 80-plus percent of House Democrats are opposing fast track. Are we going to nominate a presidential candidate who turns her/his back on those who are running for office at the same time? Just as importantly in Iowa and across the nation, the entire base of the Democratic Party is saying “no” to fast track. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and other Democrats in Iowa owe it to the party to speak out now when it matters. Particularly in the House, the vote in several weeks will be very close. Dodging the issue will lead to little accountability in the campaign and in the years ahead.

Saturday was inspirational for so many reasons. For me it renewed my hope that working families in Iowa and across our nation are ready to Stand Up and Fight Back!

Larry-Cohen-avatar-1413481216-60x60Larry Cohen will step down as President of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) on June 8, 2015

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: The Undemocratic Job-Killing Trade Scheme

by Leo Gerard

No Fast Track
Free traders in Congress formally proposed last week that lawmakers relax, put their feet up and neglect the rigor of legislative review for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade scheme.

The TPP is a secret deal among 12 Pacific Rim nations that was covertly negotiated by unelected officials and corporate bosses. It’s so clandestine that lawmakers elected to represent the American people were refused access to the deliberations. It would expand secret trade tribunals that corporations use to sue governments over democratically established laws and win compensation from taxpayers.

The Congressional free traders want to Fast Track authorization of the TPP. Fast Track enables Congress to abdicate its constitutionally mandated duty to regulate international trade. Instead of scrutinizing, amending and improving proposed trade deals, lawmakers use Fast Track to gloss over the specifics and simply vote yea or nay on the entire package as presented. With elected officials excluded from the talks, details of the treaty deliberately shrouded in secrecy and free traders demanding lawmakers ignore the deal’s effects on constituents, this process condemns democracy.

As usual, the free traders say, don’t worry, the TPP is gonna be great, just great! Trust us, they say.

For opponents of the deal—unions, environmentalists, human rights groups and Congressional progressives—there’s no trusting free traders. That’s because they’ve proven to be nothing but flimflam men. Deals they’ve peddled previously, like NAFTA, CAFTA and KORUS, have not, in fact, been great. They’ve dramatically increased the nation’s trade deficit, prompted corporations to ship manufacturing offshore, cost millions of American workers their jobs and suppressed wages.

President Barack Obama, who is pushing the TPP, admits opponents are right to be wary. During a meeting recently with small business executives, he conceded, “Trade deals have not always been good for American manufacturing. … There have been times where because the trade deal was one way, American workers didn’t benefit and somebody else did.”

Even so, he too sought trust, adding: “Well, we intend to change that.”

There’s no trust when 32 percent of American steel mill production is idled and more than 6,000 steelworkers are laid off or warned of impending furloughs because of unchecked imports of illegally subsidized steel from China.

The AFL-CIO, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, the United Steelworkers and others have pleaded with the administration for years to provide relief from China’s price-distorting currency manipulation. The administration responded with inaction.

There’s no trust when free traders promised workers that NAFTA would generate hundreds of thousands of jobs, but as it turned out, those jobs were poverty-wage positions in Mexico created when American manufacturers took advantage of NAFTA provisions to close American factories and move them across the border.

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch examined the effect of NAFTA and wrote in a report issued in February of 2014, “Twenty years later, the grand projections and promises made by NAFTA’s proponents remain unfulfilled. Many outcomes are exactly the opposite of what was promised.”

The most devastating upside-down outcome is jobs. The Global Trade Watch report notes that more than 845,000 U.S. workers qualified for Trade Adjustment Assistance after having lost their jobs as a result of imports from Canada or Mexico or relocation of U.S. factories there. It’s extremely difficult to qualify for Trade Adjustment Assistance, so this number probably understates the total job losses significantly.

In addition, when workers who lost jobs landed new ones, they got paid less, with the average reduction greater than 20 percent.

KORUS is the same sad story. Free traders pledged three years ago that the deal with South Korea would produce tons more exports that would, of course, create lots of new American jobs. Instead, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea grew 84 percent, excluding the value of foreign-made goods that pass unaltered through the United States on their way to Korea.

Calculating with the trade-to-jobs formula that free traders used when they were promoting KORUS, the U.S. trade deficit with Korea translates into the loss of nearly 85,000 U.S. jobs—in just three years.

This does not engender trust.

Still, free traders now are huckstering the TPP with promises of job gains. They’re not fooling everybody, though, with their claim that it will create 650,000 jobs. In January, the Washington Post fact checker gave this promise its highest liar-liar-pants-on-fire rating of four Pinocchios.

Using the free traders’ own method of calculating, the Post determined TPP would create no new jobs. That would be a fabulous result after the track record of these trade pacts causing massive job losses. Fantastical probably is a better descriptor, though, for a no-job-loss outcome.

But don’t worry, the free traders say, TPP will include Trade Adjustment Assistance to help workers thrown out of jobs by offshored factories and employers bankrupted as a result of dirt-cheap imports produced by exploited workers in countries without pollution controls. Trust us, the free traders say, displaced workers can use tax dollars to train for brand new jobs that pay 20 percent less!

Based on broken promises, Americans don’t like free trade schemes. So free traders in Congress, like Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, are trying to fast track Fast Track before the public notices. The New York Times explained this: “Both the Finance and Ways and Means committees will formally draft the legislation next week in hopes of getting it to final votes before a wave of opposition can sweep it away.” The Times quotes Hatch saying about the rush to legislate: “If we don’t act now, we will lose our opportunity.”

Earlier former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk explained why the administration refused to disclose the contents of the TPP, a task that Wikileaks took on instead. Kirk told Reuters that telling the publicwhat the deal contains would make passage impossible.

Concealing potentially job-killing trade schemes from the American public thwarts democracy. Rushing unpopular legislation through Congress before American citizens have an opportunity to review it and tell their elected representatives how they feel about it obstructs democracy.

No trade treaty, no matter how great free traders cross-their-hearts-and-hope-to-die it will be, is worth damning Americans’ cherished democracy.
Leo Gerard is the President of the United Steelworkers international union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18.  Numerous USW locals were among the 2009 organizations that signed a letter to Congress as part of the Citizen’s Trade Campaign demanding Fast Track and the TPP be rejected.

Gerard’s statement is reposted from the Working In These Times blog.

Teamsters Call for Defeat of Fast Track and TPP

by James P. Hoffa

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[Ed. note:  Leaders of the U.S. labor movement are unanimously opposed to the passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Along with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and CWA President Larry Cohen, IBT General President James Hoffa has been a vocal critic of anti-worker “trade legislation.”  Even though even a united labor movement by itself may not be able to prevail against the unholy alliance of President Obama, the mainstream Republican and Democratic party leaderships, and the Business Roundtable and America Chamber of Commerce, a large and diverse coalition of progressive political movements, citizens’ action, religious and environmental groups has been mobilizing alongside organize labor to oppose Fast Track and the TPP]

The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has for years been shrouded in mystery. But last night, WikiLeaks gave U.S. workers a real gift when it pulled back the curtain on a portion of the proposed trade deal that shows what a boondoggle the agreement would be for big business.

Language included in the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) chapter of the TPP would grant new rights to companies to challenge limitations and exceptions to copyrights, patents and other intellectual property. That means corporations could sue the U.S. or other countries included in the deal if they didn’t like their laws. Such challenges would be handled by an unaccountable international arbitration forum. And taxpayers would end up paying the tab if the private sector wins.

Companies are already challenging governments around the globe when they feel elected officials are holding down their profit margins. Tobacco giant Philip Morris, for instance, is currently appealing Uruguay’s regulation of advertising on cigarette packages because it believes the nation’s rules are tamping down on sales in that South American country. But the TPP language would make it worse.

Trade experts agree the ISDS provisions would be very bad news for the public. “With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that would undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law,” said Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

An analysis of the ISDS text by Public Citizen shows, among other things:

  • Foreign investors would be allowed to challenge new policies that apply to both domestic and international corporations on the grounds that they undermine foreign investors’ “expectations” of how they should be treated.
  • The amount that an ISDS tribunal would order a government to pay to a foreign investor as compensation would be based on the “expected future profits.”
  • There are no new safeguards that limit ISDS tribunals’ discretion to create even broader interpretations of governments’ obligations to foreign investors and order compensation on that basis.

In short, the ISDS language shows that based on this TPP chapter alone, the average worker is going to get screwed. The provisions will give corporations the ability to do an end-around on U.S. laws they don’t like. How is that fair? What about the rights of the American people? What about democracy?

Mind you, this doesn’t even address how Americans will be hammered by the other 28 chapters included in this Pacific Rim trade deal. But we already know they will. We’ve seen what NAFTA has done; we’ve seen what the recent U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement has done. Those two deals together have led to more than a million lost U.S. jobs.

Previous leaks have also let us know that lower wages, unsafe food and products, lessened environmental standards and reduced access to affordable medicines will result if the TPP becomes a reality. It’s why the Teamsters and our numerous allies have taken a stand against this terrible trade agreement. And it’s why we can’t let up now.

Want to stop this from happening? Let your members of Congress know you oppose fast-track trade authority. Forcing Capitol Hill to debate this agreement in the open on its merits is the only way hard-working Americans will be able to get a full picture of what the TPP will do. And it’s the best opportunity we have to halt TPP in its tracks.

James P, Hoffa is General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  His statement is reblogged from the Huffington Post with the permission of the IBT.

Union Members need to understand Fast Track

Map of Free Trade Agreements of Mexico. Green ...

Map of Free Trade Agreements of Mexico. Green is Mexico. Red are the other countries of the NAFTA. Blue are countries which have a FTA with Mexico. Orange are countries that want to have a FTA with Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast Track legislation allowed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to be rammed through Congress with weak labor and environmental side deals. Since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, North American workers have experienced downward pressure on wages and a tougher organizing environment. Twenty years later, we find an unbalanced system in which profits soar even as workers take home a diminishing share of the national income.

More recent trade deals, like the World Trade Organization trade deal, had no labor or environmental standards at all. And other Fast Track trade deals have included Colombia, a country in which nearly 3,000 labor leaders and activists have been killed since 1986, and Korea—a country with which our trade deficit is already rising, and which, under the very low standards of the deal, can receive tariff benefits for cars that contain only 35% Korean content.

To really have trade deals with high standards, the American public must have more say—and that means no Fast Track authority from Congress. Continue reading

SOTU: President’s Base Opposes Fast Track for TPP

 
Over 550 Labor, Environmental, Family Farm & Community Groups Send Letter to Congress Opposing Fast Track Legislation
 
tppWASHINGTON, DC — Over 550 labor, environmental, family farm and other organizations traditionally associated with President Barack Obama’s political base sent a letter to Congress today opposing Fast Track legislation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other pending trade agreements.  The letter comes just a day before the President’s annual State of the Union address.  Corporate interests that fought the president’s re-election are lobbying for him to use the speech to call on Congress to enact Fast Track authority for the TPP.  The President’s political base and many congressional Democrats stand in united opposition, emphasizing that the TPP threatens to exacerbate American income inequality.  Democratic Socialists of America is one of the groups that signed the letter.
 
“Income inequality and long-term unemployment are serious problems that the job-killing TPP would only worsen,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, which organized the letter.  “Calling for Fast Track in the State of the Union would undercut positive proposals to battle growing income inequality and create middle class jobs which are expected to be the central focus of the President’s speech.  As short-sighted as such a call would be, even more short-sighted would be for Congress members on either side of the aisle to answer it, as they’re the ones who would be dealing with the political repercussions this November.”

Free trade and the loss of U.S. jobs

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

When President Obama delivers his State of the Union address this month, he will surely highlight the issue of growing economic inequality and argue for such remedies as raising the minimum wage. He may also put in a plug for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement his administration is negotiating with 11 Pacific Rim nations and for fast-track legislation that would limit congressional input in the accord to facilitate its ratification.

If he does both — bemoan rising inequality and promote yet another free-trade agreement — his speech will rate a chapter in the annals of self-negation. Continue reading

CWA Members Join Fight Against Fast Track Trade Promotion

CWA Local 1103 Members Lobby Against Fast Track during work break

CWA Local 1103 Members Lobby Against Fast Track during work break

Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) are joining other citizens’ group in opposing
fast track authorizing legislation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, introduced on 9th January by Senator Max Baucus (Dem) and Representative Dave Camp (Rep).

CWA members are responding to this statement by CWA President Larry Cohen:

“Fast track is the wrong track when it comes to a trade deal like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that will affect our laws, our jobs, our food and our environment. Fast track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, forces Congress to give up its Constitutional right to amend and improve this trade deal, which now is reportedly more than 1,000 pages long. Continue reading