In a hearing on U.S. trade policy Tuesday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the Senate Finance Committee, “We don’t believe we can build strong and sustainable economic growth on a foundation of stagnant wages and disempowered workers.”
And a key component of a raising wages economy is a new approach to trade and globalization—one that puts good jobs, safe products and a clean environment at the center of global economic integration—not enhanced corporate power and profits.
He said that the AFL-CIO has been advocating for a new trade policy more than two decades and that “far from being ‘opposed to trade on principle’:
We have supported trade deals when warranted. We have engaged with policymakers in both parties and at every level to work toward a new generation of trade policies that will create a virtuous cycle of demand-led growth while strengthening our democracy, protecting workers’ rights globally and promoting sustainable global economic development. Key to reforming our trade policies is abolishing the outdated, unaccountable, undemocratic Fast Track process.
For far too long, he said, trade decisions have been made behind closed doors and with excessive secrecy “that serves the policy interests of political and economic elites, not the broad interests of the American middle class.”
The stakes for allowing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to be considered under Fast Track “couldn’t be higher,” Trumka said. It covers 12 countries that represent about 40% of the world’s economy and, under its terms, could be expanded to even more nations.
The idea that Fast Track lets Congress set the standards and goals for the TPP is a fiction—the agreement has been under negotiation for more than five years and is essentially complete. Congress cannot set meaningful negotiating objectives in a Fast Track bill if the administration has already negotiated most of the key provisions. And Congress will lose crucial leverage over any few remaining provisions by agreeing to Fast Track at this late date.
He said trade agreements such as the TPP affect foreign and domestic investment, financial services, food safety, labor rights, environmental protections, Buy American procurement policies, consumer safety, health care and more.
These agreements put in place rules that could limit the ability of Congress and the states to legislate in the public interest now and for decades to come. Yet the public and Congress have too little say in the important details of these deals.
Previous trade agreements that have been passed under Fast Track authority, Trumka said, “have failed to include ‘meaningful accountability mechanisms’ and:
cede important and long-lasting decisions about our economy to a few negotiators in a small room in the middle of the night. This is undemocratic. It’s wrong. And it has led to disastrous policies for America’s workers and producers.
Urging lawmakers not to pass Fast Track legislation, Trumka said, “the short time allotted between introduction of the bill, hearings, committee consideration and floor action is a sign that this bill cannot stand on its own merits. It is losing support fast.”
It seems that its proponents see their only hope for passage is to rush it through before anyone has had a chance to review it properly. The American people deserve better.
(See Trumka's full testimony in the video above.)