Protesters met in downtown Bellingham on Friday, Jan. 10, to rally against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a new bill in the U.S. Congress that would "fast-track" the president's ability to negotiate trade agreements.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or "TPP" for short, is one of those politically interesting animals that finds its enemies across the political spectrum. The tea party reportedly doesn't like the free-trade deal that is in the works between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries because it erodes U.S. sovereignty.
Occupy Bellingham is protesting in the streets because, the group says, the agreement would set back environmental protections, health-care opportunities, wages and food safety -- to name a few. Philosophically, the deal is unwanted because it hands the people's power over to corporations, which are supposedly advising the government on how this deal should be drawn up.
The comprehensive trade accord has been in the news recently, as members of Congress introduced a bill on Jan. 9 that would renew the president's fast-tracking power to negotiate trade agreements. Most of the in-house opposition to this bill is from Democrats.
Labor organizations and environmental groups also don't like it.
TPP does have its promoters, including the editorial board of The Washington Post.
The board argued on Jan. 16 that the Pacific Rim agreement would benefit U.S. exports by opening up protectionist countries such as Japan (one of the other 11). It also said the impact of free trade on the loss of U.S. jobs is often exaggerated.
The protection from imports the U.S. enjoyed in the mid-20th century was more by circumstance than anything else, the board said, and it "was bound to change once Germany and Japan recovered, Mexico modernized and China emerged from Maoist isolation.
"All of the above were hugely positive developments, both for those countries and for the United States. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. This country has been made more productive by broader international competition and more secure by broader international prosperity."
The same editorial board touted the new bill on Jan. 11, saying that it included language requiring labor and environmental protections, and it also reserved some oversight authority for Congress. Opponents of the fast-track say it grants too much power to the president and allows these trade deals to happen without public scrutiny.
Harold Meyerson in The Post on Jan. 14 has a dimmer view of free-trade agreements. TPP could suck away 22 to 29 percent of U.S. jobs, Meyerson argued, and will further widen the country's trade imbalance.
And here's a teaser: Meyerson and others expect President Obama will mention TPP -- perhaps prominently -- in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Jan. 28. If he does, Meyerson says, and also advocates for raising the minimum wage, he will be talking out of both sides of his mouth. or to quote Meyerson directly, "his speech will rate a chapter in the annals of self-negation."
Occupy Bellingham plans to protest again on Friday, Jan. 24. It is working on a statewide event for Jan. 31.