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AFL-CIO Welcomes Canadian Workers to TPP Talks

Celeste Drake speaking about the TPP at the British Columbia Federation of Labor Convention, November 2012.

Outside of hardcore trade policy wonks, few in the United States or Canada have ever heard of the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (commonly referred to as TPP) or know much about it—and it's time that changed. The TPP is a trade agreement based around the current "P-4" (Chile, New Zealand, Brunei Darussalam and Singapore). Since 2010, the United States, Australia, Vietnam, Peru and Malaysia have been in negotiations to join the P-4 and create a new grouping known as the TPP.  In Auckland, New Zealand, in early December, Mexico and Canada participated in their first full round of TPP negotiations, bringing the TPP grouping to 11 countries.

As the AFL-CIO's trade policy specialist, the week after Thanksgiving, I traveled to the Pacific Northwest to embark on a speaking tour to educate union members and others about TPP. The tour took me as far south as Olympia, Washington, and as far north as Vancouver, British Colombia.

The United States Trade Representative (USTR), the agency of the U.S. government responsible for negotiating trade agreements, announced the general outline of the agreement in the fall of 2011. The outline makes clear the agreement will include chapters that have been problematic for the world's working families in the past, including investment, cross-border trade in services, government procurement and food safety.

The idea of the speaking tour was to increase public knowledge about these under-the-radar talks so that the people of the United States and Canada will demand that their governments do better for working families, small businesses and communities than they have in past trade agreements, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

While speaking to the Washington Federation of State Employees, I emphasized the impacts of trade agreements on the public sector. For example, did you know that getting the language of the cross-border trade in services chapter right is critical to ensuring that we don't have to open up publicly provided services (like education, water, sewer and social services) to competition from private foreign enterprises? Or that when factories close up and move overseas, this affects local and state governments by shrinking the tax base and reducing revenues available for public services like law enforcement or public parks?

Next, I spoke to the British Colombia Federation of Labour's annual convention. Union members there seemed especially interested in how labor can work together across national boundaries to fix the mistakes of NAFTA instead of repeating them. Only by working together as part of a global labor movement can we guarantee that workers in all TPP nations are free to organize and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. Our Canadian brothers and sisters also strongly agree that the extraordinary investor rights included in NAFTA's Chapter 11 (which provide special legal forums not available to domestic companies) should be curtailed, not expanded, and that human rights must not be subservient to property rights.

When I spoke to the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, its members asked many questions about how trade agreements can restrict public interest regulations: we discussed how foreign corporations are busy challenging such laws and regulations around the world, including Philip Morris' current challenge of anti-smoking initiatives enacted in Australia (one of the TPP countries). We also discussed ideas about how to get the word out about the importance of trade policy to those who aren't policy wonks. 

Finally, at a fair trade rally held at Peace Arch Park on the U.S.-Canada border, more than 300 union members and allies interested in labor and human rights, jobs, environmental protection, access to medicines and indigenous peoples called on the U.S. and Canadian governments to ensure that the TPP does not repeat the mistakes of NAFTA. We discussed the need for a new model of trade that works for the 99%, not just the 1%. The crowd enthusiastically chanted, "No More NAFTAs." 

Please help the AFL-CIO spread the word about the TPP. Without more public participation, the corporate voices (asking for rules that favor them) will drown out the voices calling for fair trade. Share this blog post on your Facebook page. Tweet it to your followers. Email it to a friend. And don't forget to sign the  petition calling on President Obama and the USTR to make sure the TPP works for working families. 

Note: The tour was organized by WFTC with lead involvement from the WSLC, IBEW Local 46, SPEEA and WFSE.

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