With Trans-Pacific Partnership pact apparently dead, labor, allies start advancing principles for ‘what comes next’ in trade

With the jobs-destroying Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” pact apparently dead – set aside, due to overwhelming public pressure, by politicians ranging from President-elect Donald Trump and GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to even, reportedly, President Barack Obama – labor and its allies in the years-long campaign against the lopsided deal are turning their attention to “what comes next” in trade.

And one thing they’re all very clear on, in a November 16 conference call hosted by the Sierra Club and including Thea Lee of the AFL-CIO, is that no future trade pacts can be written behind closed doors and based on decades-old models that cater to corporate interests, as the TPP was. As far as that pact goes, though, “We don’t want to see a new TPP,” Lee added.

“And when we talk about negotiating a better deal, it’s to lift up workers’ rights and to lift up democracy over corporate power,” she said on the conference call.

The apparent death of the pact between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations did not stop thousands of unionists and their allies from rallying on Capitol Hill on November 17, or flooding lawmakers with phone calls three days before, as part of massive lobbying against it. They wanted to make sure the nails are in TPP’s coffin. The rally became a victory party.

“The era of corporate trade deals is over,” declared Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune the day before. The club and the Steelworkers co-founded the BlueGreen Alliance of environmentalists and unions. And “corporate captivity” over trade negotiations must end, all the speakers added.

What’s needed, the Sierra Club’s fact sheet on the environmental chapter of any coming deal says, is a regime of transparency in any coming trade talks, with everyone – workers, consumers, farmers and lawmakers included – having seats at the table.

But when it comes time to negotiate new trade deals, Lee said both on the call and in a follow-up interview with Press Associates Union News Service, unions, workers and their allies have specific principles any proposed trade pact must follow. Lee, the federation’s longtime trade policy expert who is now the fed’s Deputy Chief of Staff, said they include:

• Strengthening both provisions that write workers’ rights into trade pacts and ways to enforce them. Lee pointed out in the interview that experience with U.S. “free trade” pacts with Guatemala, Peru and Colombia shows both standards and enforcement are weak.

“The Colombia and Peru pacts have good labor chapters, but they haven’t been enforced,” she told PAI. “The Guatemala” worker rights “chapter is weaker” since that pact was negotiated by the GOP George W. Bush administration. “And there hasn’t been a resolution of the labor rights case under it that we filed eight years ago. That’s very frustrating.”

“We’ll continue to bring cases and document abuses and call on our government to stand up to them,” she said. “I don’t know what kind of success we’ll have on that, though.”

• Coordination of trade policy, domestic policy and immigration policy. Lee said they all must work in tandem to protect workers and prevent exploitation, both here and abroad. Trade pacts, including the TPP, encourage exploitation of low-paid, oppressed foreign workers by multi-national corporations seeking larger profits, studies show.

And U.S. firms often use the threat of moving abroad, or of importing undocumented workers to exploit, to drive down U.S. wages, benefits and workers’ rights to unionize.

• Elimination of the secret pro-corporate “trade court,” the Investor-State Dispute System (ISDS). The ISDS lets an unelected panel of pro-trade lawyers override any state, local or federal laws and orders – including Buy American rules and job safety laws, for example – that could reduce present or future corporate profits.

• Addressing problems with rules of origin for products. Tougher rules of origin would order firms that import goods to other nations to say where they came from – thus exposing use of labor in nations that exploit or oppress workers.

• Coordinated tax regimes to prevent companies from playing off countries against each other and winning low or no taxes in return for relocating plants. Without that, both corporations and governments “try to game the system,” Lee said.

• Definition of and enforcement of laws against currency manipulation by nations to keep the costs of their exports low and imports high. Lee told PAI that neither “free trade” agreements nor the World Trade Organization pact “laid out a way” to solve that problem. “Currency manipulation is a huge competitive disadvantage” for U.S. workers, she explained. “Our government doesn’t even use the tools we now have within trade agreements to protect ourselves. We should be doing that” as well as writing new anti-manipulation tools into pacts.

• Tough standards for national responses to climate change. Unions, led by the Steelworkers and other BlueGreen members, see erection of new factories to build devices to reduce global warming and slow climate change as a source of tens of thousands of new jobs.

Speakers on the conference call noted the TPP did not say a word about climate change. But the ISDS, they noted, could be used to invalidate environmental laws and rules.

The larger problem, Lee said, is that nations with rampant worker repression could use that as an enticement to lure such climate change device factories to their shores.

Whether the incoming Trump administration, much less the GOP-controlled 115th Congress, will listen to all this is up in the air. Speakers noted Trump won the election by carrying key Midwestern states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio – whose workers lost tens of thousands of jobs due to past “free trade” pacts that he opposed. But his specific policies, speakers said on the conference call, are still very much unknown.

Source: PAI