The April 19 editorial (“U.S.-E.U. trade pact would bring benefits”) deserves a rebuttal. Until the flawed process of trade negotiations is addressed, so-called “free-trade agreements” are going to continue to be a tool for multinational corporations to further deregulate themselves and hamstring local governments and communities in protecting their quality of life.
Trade treaties are negotiated by the Office of the United States Trade Representative, which is headed by a diplomat and is part of the executive office of the president. This agency has the power to keep negotiations classified. That means that the public, the media and even Congress cannot see what is being negotiated in the name of the American people until the treaty text has been finalized.
However, those who lobby the executive branch may be named “cleared advisers” and have access to parts of the negotiating texts. In current negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, there are more than 600 listed advisers, more than 90 percent of whom represent corporate interests.
Additionally, every major trade agreement since the time of the Nixon administration has been accompanied by what is know as trade promotion or fast-track authority, under which Congress abdicates its constitutional responsibility to regulate international trade by guaranteeing that it will not amend a treaty once the president has signed it and that it will vote on the treaty within 90 days of receiving it. It is important to remember that once these agreements are signed, they become the law of the land.
What we have is an alternative system in which laws literally are written by lobbyists in secret, with our elected representatives having little to no chance for input.
It should be no surprise that these treaties have served to benefit the people who wrote them. The terms “market access” and “barriers to trade” are often thrown about without really being unpacked. They should be understood.
Lowering barriers to trade means deregulation, be it environmental regulation, food-safety regulation or, of course, labor standards. The classic example is “country of origin” labeling for food.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has decided, via a trade tribunal, that you and I as consumers do not have the right to know if our meat comes from Mexico or China or wherever, because just the fact that we know discriminates against foreign producers. Ominously, both the United States and the United Kingdom want to eliminate barriers to trade in the financial sector, which likely means further deregulating the banks that caused the Great Recession.
When you hear “market access,” what should come to your mind is privatization. Ever since the Central America Free Trade Agreement, government procurement — how our tax money is spent — has had its own chapter in bilateral agreements, as well as under the WTO.
What these chapters have done is to force governments to open their public services to private bidders, in addition to setting restrictions on what local governments can require as standards for bids on public contracts.
Indeed, the E.U. was the primary driver for requiring state and local governments in the United States to be bound by the failed expansion of the General Agreement on Trade and Services. This would have effectively banned prevailing wage and “buy local”policies.
Of course, there’s the claim that more trade equals more jobs. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the United States lost nearly 700,000 jobs to NAFTA and more than 2 million to permanent normal trade relations with China. That’s net jobs, meaning it takes account of any jobs that may have been created from exports.
So, if trade talks with the E.U. can be done through a transparent process that allows the public to have real input and sets high standards for global quality of life — then great! But I’m not optimistic.
Until we can break the corporate stranglehold on trade treaty negotiations, then regardless of who is in the White House or Congress, these deals are only going to continue the global race to the bottom for wages, the environment and consumers.
Josh Wise is director of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition.