Congress is now debating fast track legislation that will pave the way for the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) unfettered free trade agreement. At a time when our middle class is disappearing and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider, this anti-worker legislation must be defeated. Here are four reasons why.
First, the TPP follows in the footsteps of failed trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China, and the South Korea Free Trade agreement. Over and over again, supporters of these agreements told us that they would create jobs. Over and over again, they have been proven dead wrong.
Since 2001, nearly 60,000 manufacturing plants in this country have been shut down and we have lost over 4.7 million decent paying manufacturing jobs. NAFTA has led to the loss of nearly 700,000 jobs. PNTR with China has led to the loss of 2.7 million jobs. Our trade agreement with South Korea has led to the loss of about 75,000 jobs. While bad trade agreements are not the only reason why manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have declined, they are an important factor.
The TPP continues an approach towards trade which forces Americans to compete against workers in Vietnam where the minimum wage is 56 cents an hour, independent labor unions are banned, and people are thrown in jail for expressing their political beliefs. This is not "free trade." This is the race to the bottom. While we must help poor people around the world improve their standard of living, we can do that without destroying the American middle class.
Secondly, when we are talking about the TPP it's important to know who is for it and who is against it.
Large, multi-national corporations that have outsourced millions of good paying American jobs to China, Mexico, Vietnam, India and other low-wage countries think the TPP is a great idea. They understand that this legislation will allow them to accelerate efforts to hire cheap labor abroad. The TPP is also strongly supported by Wall Street and large pharmaceutical companies who believe their global profits will increase if this agreement is passed.
On the other hand, every union in this country, representing millions of American workers, is in opposition to this agreement because they understand that the TPP will lead to the loss of decent-paying jobs and will depress wages. Virtually every major environmental organization, including the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and 350.org[350.org], among many others, also oppose this legislation. They understand that the TPP will make it easier for multi-national corporations to pollute and degrade the global environment. Major religious groups such as the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the United Methodist Church, also oppose this legislation because of what it could do to the poorest people on earth.
Whose views should we trust on this legislation? Wall Street and corporate America or organizations that represent working families, the environment and the religious community?
Third, the TPP would also undermine democracy by giving multi-national corporations the right to challenge any law that could reduce their "expected future profits" through what is known as the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system. Under existing trade agreements, Phillip Morris is using this process to sue Australia and Uruguay for passing laws designed to prevent the children in those countries from smoking. These countries should be rewarded for taking action to protect the public health of their citizens. Instead, they are being taken to an international court because their laws are hurting the bottom line of one of the largest tobacco companies in the world.
Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company, has used this process to sue Germany for $5 billion over its decision to phase out nuclear power. Should the people of Germany have the right to make energy choices on their own or should these decisions be left in the hands of an unelected international tribunal?
A French waste management firm, Veolia, used this process to sue Egypt for $110 million because Egypt increased its minimum wage and improved its labor laws. In other words, Egypt's "crime" is trying to improve life for their low-wage workers.
Do we really want to tell governments all around the world, including the U.S., that if they pass legislation protecting the well-being of their citizens they could pay substantial fines to multi-national corporations because of the loss of future profits? What an incredible undermining of democracy! But that's exactly what will happen if the TPP goes into effect.
Fourth, this legislation, strongly supported by the major drug companies, would substantially raise the prices of medicine in some of the poorest countries on earth. The drug companies are doing everything they can to prevent countries from moving to lower cost generics, even if it means that thousands will die because they cannot afford higher prices for the drugs they need. That is unacceptable. Doctors Without Borders has stated: "The TPP agreement is on track to become the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines in developing countries."
Enough is enough. If we are serious about rebuilding the middle class and creating the millions of good paying jobs we desperately need, we must fundamentally rewrite our trade policies. NO to fast track, and NO to the TPP.
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