by Tom Ellis
ALBANY, NY: I do not know any local people who better understand the relationships between trade policy, jobs, immigration, the environment, and poverty than Susan DuBois and Mark Schaeffer. Thus I was very pleased when Sue agreed to speak about the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the January 15 Save the Pine Bush dinner and Mark attended.
Sue said she first got involved in trade issues in the late 1980s. She said TPP, now being secretly negotiated between the US and eight other Pacific rim nations, is far more than a trade agreement, and may be established as a “docking agreement” that other nations can later join.
Sue said corporate executives have considerable insider knowledge and input to TPP negotiations while members of Congress must gain permission to read the text, are forbidden to take any notes or make photocopies, and must promise to not discuss details.
Of its 29 chapters, only five deal with trade issues. TPP would be “an incredibly broad agreement,” with sections on 15-20 other non-trade topics. The Obama Administration is applying considerable pressure on other nations to finalize the negotiations.
President Obama is asking Congress to “fast-track” TPP. With fast track, Congress would agree before seeing the agreement, to limit debate to 20 hours, allow no amendments, and vote either yes or no to the agreement as proposed within 90 days after receiving it.
Fast-track authority is not currently in effect in the US. Many analysts believe TPP can not be enacted in the US unless fast-track authority is first obtained. If TPP is open to careful debate and analysis, and subject to proposed amendments and public hearings, it would never make it through Congress because once the nation learns TPP details, they will force Congress to reject TPP.
Sue twice visited the US-Mexico border with delegations from the NYS Labor-Religion Coalition to examine the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on immigration, labor rights, and working conditions. Sue is a long time member and treasurer of the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District and a retired NY state worker.
Sue compared NAFTA and TPP. NAFTA — a “trade” agreement between the US,Mexico, and Canada — was approved in 1993 and took effect on the first day of 1994, the same day the Zapista uprising was launched. NAFTA is an example of classic neoliberalism: an economic ideology that involves privatizing government services, massive deregulation, cuts in health and education spending, etc.
Sue said NAFTA was a huge success for large corporations. NAFTA concerned far more than trade. NAFTA provisions allow corporations to bring grievances before secretive arbitration tribunals for resolution. In the USA in 1993, organized labor had mixed opinions on the NAFTA proposal with some opposing it and others willing to support some form of free trade agreement but “not this NAFTA.” Sue described several cases where corporations, using NAFTA, successfully sued Mexico and Canada, winning payments. Investors have won $400 million in their 13 winning cases.
Sue said NAFTA devastated farming in Mexico and land ownership patterns; Maquiladoras (low wage factories in Mexico adjacent to the US border) “exploded” after NAFTA. NAFTA led to vastly increased Mexican immigration to the US and contributed to US wage stagnation. A million jobs were lost in the USA within ten years despite predictions from NAFTA proponents that it would lead to an increase of 170,000 new US jobs per year. Some 845,000 US workers have been certified by the US government as having lost jobs as a result of NAFTA. Sue said the so-called NAFTA side agreement of labor was “toothless.”
Sue said that subsequent to NAFTA, two trade agreements were blocked by citizen opposition: the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the Multilateral Agreement on Investments.
During his five years in the White House, President Obama has enacted three free trade agreements: with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea.
TPP is controversial in many nations for differing reasons and TPP is mostly unreported by the US news media. Opposition gained momentum in the USA in November when Wiki Leaks leaked the draft TPP language on intellectual property rights. Almost simultaneously, three letters from groups of US representatives were sent to Obama opposing fast-track: one from 151 Democrats including Tonko and Owens, another from 21 Tea Party Republicans, and a third from 6 more-moderate Republicans including Rep. Gibson.
Legislation to enact fast track approval was introduced in Congress on January 9. However, President Obama was unable to obtain a House Democrat sponsor.
Sue said Occupy Albany and the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District are both active in opposing TPP. Sue said four independently produced anti-TPP flyers were distributed at Governor Cuomo’s January 8 State of the State speech in Albany.
Sue said Public Citizen has good TPP information, as does the Citizens Trade Campaign. Mark Schaeffer agreed. He said 600 corporate lawyers serve as “advisers,” there are no rules for conflict of interest, TPP has been negotiated for four years; TPP is “not a trade agreement but a corporate wish list” of many items they could not get enacted without fast-track.
Sue said TPP has many important environmental implications: its terms could limit an individual US state’s ability to ban fracking, transportation of oil, or siting liquefied natural gas terminals.
Mark continued; he said fast-track, if enacted, would apply for five years to all trade agreements. He said, “Neoliberalism is the opposite of American liberalism.” Sue said TPP enactment would amount to a “corporate coup.” She said the increasing commodification of water is now a huge trade controversy. Mark said TPP opponents should consider holding teach-ins on TPP and our positive-vision alternatives.
Sue concluded saying opposition to TPP is far more public, widespread, and advanced in many other nations than the US. She urged attendees to call US Rep. Owens and urge him to oppose fast-track authorization, said the Albany County Legislature may consider a resolution opposing TPP, and urged stepped-up cross-border organizing.
Published in March/April 2014 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter