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Time for a New Track: Trade Policy Making Must Be Transparent, Democratic and Participatory

February 23, 2015

America’s working families oppose Fast Track.

Today, the trade policies of the United States are undermining the interests of working people.  When decisions about economic policy are made behind closed doors, those decisions tend to advance the policy preferences of political and economic elites, not the broad interests of the populace at large.  U.S. trade policy decisions have been made this way for years, and America’s workers, small farmers, small businesses and domestic producers have paid the price.  Unfortunately, we see no sign that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and other trade negotiations currently underway are likely to make trade policy materially better from the perspective of workers or the public interest.

Trade negotiations, trade promotion authority (known as “TPA” or “Fast Track”) and economic policy are inextricably intertwined.  Because “trade” agreements include provisions on environmental policy, labor rights, foreign investment, food safety, anti-trust policy and more, these decisions should not be made behind closed doors—away from the eyes of the people and their elected representatives. 

U.S. trade deals—from NAFTA and CAFTA to Korea and Colombia—form a mountain of broken promises made to workers.  With NAFTA and Korea, we were promised more jobs and higher wages because the deals would make it easier to export U.S. products.  Instead, the deals made it easier to export U.S. jobs, in part by including powerful legal rights for foreign investors, known as ISDS that provide an added incentive to move production offshore.  As a result, our trade deficit has spiraled out of control, taking U.S. manufacturing, including about 5 million family-wage manufacturing jobs, with it. 

When Congress supported the NAFTA, CAFTA and Colombia deals, they also promised us the deals would fix rampant labor rights violations and create decent jobs for our neighbors to the South.  Instead, our brothers and sisters in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Colombia have experienced increasing labor repression, often in the form of threats and violence.  The lack of decent work, combined with a flood of subsidized agricultural exports from the U.S., has driven too many workers and farmers from their homes and into the U.S. in a desperate search for jobs and safety.

To work for people who work, a new trade negotiating authority must:

  • Ensure Congress approves trade agreement partners before negotiations begin;
  • Create negotiating objectives that are specific to the trade partners involved and advance a trade model that provides balanced, inclusive benefits for all rather than a corporate-rights agenda;
  • Ensure an effective check on the executive branch so that it cannot unilaterally determine whether congressional trade objectives have been met after an agreement has been negotiated, or whether agreements should qualify for expedited consideration;
  • Ensure Congress has effective opportunities to strip expedited consideration from trade deals that fail to meet Congressional objectives or fail to incorporate Congressional and public participation;
  • Increase access to U.S. trade policy making, trade proposals, and negotiating text for Congress, congressional staff, and the public;
  • Be part of a larger trade and competitiveness package that addresses shortcomings in existing trade enforcement and remedies and provides complementary domestic economic policies that will help ensure that all can benefit from trade, not just a few.

To advance this agenda, the AFL-CIO commits to working with a broad coalition of allies to defeat “Fast Track” trade authority and instead develop more democratic and participatory trade negotiating procedures that lead to fairer and more balanced trade deals that put people and the planet over profits.  To that end, we commit to:

  • Continuing to educate our members—and all workers—about the negative effects of Fast Track trade deals and that there is a better way;
  • Reporting and publicizing to our members and the general public where elected officials stand on Fast Track and other trade policies that displace jobs, reduce wages, and diminish our democracy and standard of living;
  • Demanding greater transparency and inclusiveness in creating U.S. international economic policies, consistent with democratic principles;
  • Expanding our fair trade coalition to include civil rights leaders, people of faith, small business people, seniors and veterans;
  • Working with allies, both international and domestic, to end ISDS and other special corporate privileges that undermine democracy in our trade deals;
  • Mobilizing our members and allies in target districts and states using every tactic from office visits, workplace flyers, rallies, town halls and social media, to make sure that elected officials know that their constituents support a fair trade policy and oppose Fast Track.
  • Ensuring that the U.S. trade and economic policies reflect the progressive reforms needed to make U.S. producers and their employees more competitive in the global marketplace, including:
    • Enacting currency legislation that ensures the administration can treat currency manipulation as a countervailable duty;
    • Enacting expanded and enhanced skills training for all workers, not just those whose jobs have been displaced by trade;
    • Increasing federal funding  to upgrade and rebuild ports, airports, railroads, roads, schools, water systems and other critical public infrastructure so that the United States does not lose private investment due to its old and crumbling public facilities;
    • Strengthening trade enforcement and remedies;
    • Ensuring that the Export-Import Bank and other export support programs do what they are supposed to do: support U.S. exports and jobs;
    • Strengthening “Buy America” and “Buy American” laws.; and
    • Strengthening domestic laws that protect fundamental human rights to form a union and engage in collective bargaining.
  • Fighting to defeat any trade agreement that fails to prioritize the needs of working families and advance shared prosperity in the global economy;
  • Holding our elected representatives accountable for their trade policy positions and votes, and ensuring that U.S. voters have the information they need to make informed decisions about who elected officials stand with: America’s working families or global corporations who use the U.S. as a flag of convenience.

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