The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, sounds like a friendly little cooperative endeavor, doesn't it? Or maybe a new kind of bathroom tissue? Well, it's neither of those things. It's a proposed "free trade agreement," like NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), but with 11 countries instead of three. The negotiations, held at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, brought out almost 200 union members along with allies from Occupy San Diego, La Fuerza Unida, Friends of the Earth and other groups on Monday to express concern about the possible ramifications to their jobs, their families and the American economy. Trade negotiators from the U.S. were at the Hilton all week working on the negotiations with representatives from Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Mexico and Canada were recently added to the TPP—but have not yet participated in the talks.
So-called "free trade agreements" have been the favorite tool of multi-national corporations over the last 20 years to promote an agenda of weakening labor law enforcement and degrading the environment while promoting big bank deregulation. For corporations, this agenda has worked fantastically: American multinational corporations are making record profits, paying record bonuses and sitting on piles of cash—freezing or downsizing the American workforce while pressing for further tax breaks and deregulation.
That's why the AFL-CIO and the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council (SDICLC) worked with numerous community allies to tell TPP trade negotiators, "Enough is enough!" Fair trade, not free trade, is what working families need. SDICLC Secretary-Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez, U.S. Representative Bob Filner, and more than a dozen other speakers told the negotiators and the press what working families need is not "free trade," but "fair trade" that promotes good job creation, respects labor and human rights, preserves the sovereign right of nations to make public interest policy and doesn't weaken our ability to Buy American. A key theme of the rally was "Bring Jobs Home."
Members of Laborers, Communications Workers of America, Theatrical Stage Employees, Machinists, Electrical Workers, UNITEHERE!, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Painters and Allied Trades, Office and Professional Employees and many other locals attended the rally, as well as grassroots activists working on food sovereignty, global economic development and indigenous rights issues. Some of the negotiators even wandered out from the air conditioned negotiating rooms to see what all the fuss was about—I hope they got an earful.
A major difference from past trade agreements is that a completed TPP would allow new countries to join, or “dock on,” at any time. “Dock on” could be one of the most critical aspects of the entire agreement, as it would allow any country in the world, such as Japan or China, to join the agreement at a later date. It is also not yet clear whether the TPP will ensure that Congress gets an up or down vote for each new entrant. Now, new entrants can join the World Trade Organization (WTO) without such a vote. The results of Japan or China joining the TPP without a Congressional check could be devastating for our economy. Unfair trade with China since it joined the WTO has displaced more than 2.8 million U.S. jobs—1.9 million workers in manufacturing alone. We cannot afford a free trade agreement with either of these countries unless and until our negotiators get the rules right.
Though interested citizens can make noise outside the negotiating venue and even get appointments with individual negotiators if they are lucky—the actual negotiations for the TPP are closed to the public, and the text of the TPP agreement remains classified. Senators and Members of Congress have even had difficulty getting access to the negotiation text! This is not a good sign for American workers.
Unfortunately, the U.S. press has largely ignored the negotiations, even when they have happened on American soil, like this TPP session in San Diego happening right now. The American public seems largely unaware of it and, therefore, not engaged in the process—which is why everyone who learns about TPP should consider educating friends and family.
During TPP negotiations, 130 state legislators from all 50 states and Puerto Rico sent a letter to President Obama's senior trade official warning that they will oppose the deal unless some changes are made:
The lack of transparency of the treaty negotiation process, and the failure of negotiators to meaningfully consult with states on the far-reaching impact of trade agreements on state and local laws, even when binding on our states, is of grave concern to us.
The July 2 rally was just the first in a week-long series of events to involve and engage more Americans. Other events included five community teach-ins (July 2-6), a pots-and-pans march and rally (on Saturday, July 7) and a petition delivery to the U.S. trade representative on Monday, July 9.
Trade isn't bad in and of itself. I mean, think of the imported products we enjoy (including coffee, bananas and Swiss cheese). But our "free trade" agreements have been bad for workers: offshoring jobs (700,000 and counting because of NAFTA), lowering wages and making it harder for workers to organize—all while letting foreign corporations challenge our environmental and other laws. Join the petition for fair trade by clicking here. And send this blog post to a friend. You can be part of the fair trade solution (don't let San Diego workers have all the fun).