Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal not fair trade that's needed

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 21, 2013 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not a household name. After three years of negotiations, it remains a secret text among 600 international corporations, to be completed by October 2013. Nicknamed "Nafta on Steroids," leaked documents and public interest participants indicate this latest "free trade" deal could seal the deal on international corporate control of our sovereignty.

Most of us don't feel we have any say in national, much less international issues; with decreased access to comprehensive media, and more challenging daily financial struggles, it's all we can do to cope with immediate crises.

But we must sound the alarm for democracy, as this sweeping new agreement will affect all of our lives. Past "free trade" agreements have been sold to us as promoting jobs and exports. Since Nafta, we have lost 3.6 million manufacturing jobs from 1994 to 2007. The trade deficit has ballooned from $100 billion to $700 billion, a worrisome figure, as this is money we owe not to ourselves, but to others.

According to the Global Development and Environment Institute, during that same period, corn imports to Mexico from U.S. megafarms rose from 2 million to 10 million tons, putting millions of Mexican farmers out of work. Simultaneously, Mexico lost 120,000 hog-farming jobs primarily to one megacorporation, Smithfield Foods. Chapter 27 of the Mexican Constitution was annulled, which had protected indigenous landowners from foreign expropriation. Cheap labor factories created a nightmare of environmental pollution, gangster rule and human rights abuses. This followed decades of land reform reversal by corrupt governments yielding to international financial pressures. Millions of unemployed came to this country looking for work.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an expansion of corporate, i.e. "investor" rights; participants include Goldman Sachs, Wal-mart, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Phillip Morris, Monsanto and others. "Investor rights" ensures that any corporation can sue through the World Trade Organization in Brussels, if they feel a country's labor, environmental, food or health safety, or banking regulation laws provide a "barrier" to their right to "free trade." Lawsuits based on past "free trade" agreements can be viewed at Public Citizen's "Global Trade Watch" site; examples include: Australia unable to enforce anti-smoking laws due to a Phillip Morris suit for millions of dollars ruled by the World Trade Organization to interfere with their right to make a profit. Mexico was successfully sued by Cargill for $35 million against their ban on high-fructose corn syrup.

If money is speech, Citizen's United is about to go global. Big banks will have no barriers to becoming bigger and more risky, drug companies will have extended patents, prohibiting affordable medications, internet freedom will be limited, our food could be unknowingly laced with chemicals.

Rep. Jeff Morris commented to a small gathering a few years ago regarding a coal train discussion: "we in this room may have nothing to say about it; it could get decided in Brussels." Likewise if Washington passes a genetically modified organism labeling initiative this fall, it could be nullified through an international tribunal.

There is something "we the people" can do. Trans-Pacific Partnership opponents suggest "write your Congresspersons," either Rep. Rick Larsen or Rep. Susan DelBene. Ask them to oppose "Fast Track," which would give the executive legal authority to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership without Congressional review. It is our representatives' right and duty to review and amend treaties. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced the "21st Century Trade and Market Access Act" that ensures consumer and labor protections, but needs a groundswell of support to re-introduce it.

Immigration reform needs public input to include fairness and an understanding of the cause of illegal migration. Cheap imported "guest workers" and border militarization will not solve the problem; fair trade will.

People on all ends of the political spectrum are rallying to this issue; Whatcom Democrats, the state Democratic Party, and Whatcom Green Party have passed resolutions against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Tri-National Unity Agreement authored by labor, environmental and faith groups in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. has over 400 organizational signatures. (Endorsement includes retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, who presided over the World Trade Organization demonstrations in 1999.) Sen. Rand Paul has called for an end to "Fast Track."

Citizens can and have intervened in corrupt corporate abuses. We call for fair trade, not "free trade."

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Dianne Foster, with Occupy Bellingham, wrote this in collaboration with Edgar Franks, outreach coordinator with Community to Community; Mark Lowry, president of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council; and Anne Mosness with the Mount Baker Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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