Too many supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership don’t want to debate TPP on its merits. They want to be able to say, “Trade is inherently good, and the TPP promotes trade, so any thinking person must support it, despite its flaws.” By implying, and often outright stating, that TPP critics are uninformed protectionists who just oppose trade in any form, they attempt to shut down debate. Ever since we were kids on a playground, we have all known that name-calling is a way to shut down debate and not shed light on real issues. So why are so many TPP advocates doing this?
The TPP is complicated. Very complicated. It covers not just traditional trade issues, such as tariffs and quotas, but sets rules that will limit how our government can regulate banks and whether the federal government can prefer U.S.-made products when it buys goods and services from the private sector. It even sets rules for how the United States can set food safety standards. Most importantly, the TPP creates new and expansive legal rights for foreign investors—including their very own private legal system that is outside the reach of U.S. courts and won’t apply U.S. law.
So when trade reformers—who range from the Natural Resources Defense Council to Revere Copper to the AFT to Oxfam America and the Presbyterian Church (USA)—are characterized as “anti-trade,” by those who support the current corporate trade agenda, this glosses over the huge issues at stake in the TPP. Issues such as:
- Are global corporations an oppressed class in need of additional legal rights in trade deals?
- Do neoliberal trade rules devised in the 1980s, based on economic theories developed in 1817, really work in the 2010s?
- Is the absence of enforceable currency rules in the TPP merely kowtowing to U.S. companies who produce offshore to avoid U.S. taxes, wages and environmental obligations?
- How will developing countries institute a modern regulatory agenda given the new deregulatory structure of the TPP?
- Will governments be able to reverse failed privatization efforts without paying off foreign companies for the right to do so?
- Why is the U.S. government focusing on the TPP when what the U.S. economy needs is domestic wage growth to drive domestic consumption?
- What in the TPP will require companies who profit from it to share gains with workers? (Sadly, the TPP contains no such provisions.)
In the end, the TPP empowers economic elites to the detriment of those of us who work for a living. We need to talk about this openly, not gloss it over with glittering generalities about how more FTAs with low-wage, low-rights manufacturing powerhouses will create U.S. jobs and raise U.S. wages.
So don’t believe the hype that TPP critics are anti-trade. The AFL-CIO is for trade. Period. Workers don’t benefit by building walls between us. But we care about the rules of trade, and we will never support a trade deal that locks in crony capitalist rules that benefit global companies at the expense of the rest of us.