The United States hosted the most recent APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii, Nov. 8-14. APEC includes 21 countries along the Pacific Rim, from Japan and China to Australia, Chile and Canada. Among the numerous declarations and statements released at the event was the "Outline of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement" issued by the United States. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed trade agreement currently being negotiated by nine APEC members (the United States, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Peru, Chile, New Zealand and Australia). It is President Obama's first opportunity to negotiate a brand-new trade agreement that's not based on the NAFTA model, and agreement that would provide jobs and opportunities to working families, not just global corporations.
Although it is too early to tell whether the TPP will give average Americans a trade agreement they can believe in, some of the declarations and statements released over the weekend are cause for concern. For example, with regard to labor rights, the "outline" reads "TPP countries are discussing elements for a labor chapter that include commitments on labor rights protection and mechanisms to ensure cooperation, coordination, and dialogue on labor issues of mutual concern," but fails to mention ILO core labor standards or even whether the labor provisions will be enforceable. The TPP should not go back on the progress made in recent years—that's why the AFL-CIO has been fighting hard for a strong labor chapter that ensures that workers in any TPP country—including Vietnam—can exercise basic rights like the rights to free association and collective bargaining. While the president agrees with us, it is not yet clear that the other TPP countries do.
In another concerning development, the "outline" indicates that the TPP is likely to include much of the same investment text as NAFTA—including the provisions that give foreign investors the extraordinary right to bypass U.S. courts and sue the U.S. government in an international arbitration panel if the investor feels it hasn't been treated "fairly" or if a federal, state, or local law interferes with its expected profits. These same rules give U.S. firms an incentive to invest overseas (taking U.S. jobs with them), so they can bypass the judicial process in foreign countries and sue our trading partners (often developing countries) before international arbitration panels. We can't let another trade agreement give U.S. companies more reasons to send jobs offshore!
It is also unclear whether consumer interests were considered at the APEC Summit. In the Ministerial Meeting Statement, all APEC countries agreed to "facilitate trade in products derived from innovative agricultural technologies." "Innovative agricultural technologies" include genetically modified seeds that often raise costs and financial risks for small farmers in developing countries while racking up profits for a select few corporations. Add to that a commitment to "advance regulatory convergence and cooperation" that emphasizes the economic costs, rather than the societal benefits of regulation. Rather than "converge" on a regulatory scheme that assumes all regulations are inefficient, the APEC countries would better spend their time figuring out how to work together to ensure that we avoid repeats of the toxic toothpaste, pet food, and toy scandals of recent years. These events cry out for stronger regulations, not weaker ones. At a time when our trade policies are interfering with the U.S. right to engage in the most basic labeling and consumer protection functions (like dolphin-safe labels for tuna or country-of-origin labels for beef), it seems like APEC may be heading in the wrong direction. Will the TPP adopt these potentially troublesome ideas, weakening our consumer protection laws?
Although not all the news coming from APEC was good, it is too early to tell if the TPP will live up to its promise to create great opportunities for America's working families. Now is the time to speak up. If you have concerns about some of these announcements, too, now is the time to speak up—the TPP is still being negotiated.