In late August, hundreds of activists marched in Minneapolis to raise awareness and alarm about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If enacted, the partnership could have a major and negative effect on a broad range of Minnesota and American industries, ranging from sugar and dairy to pharmaceutical to beef production.

By: Mona Meyer, Duluth News Tribune

In late August, hundreds of activists marched in Minneapolis to raise awareness and alarm about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If enacted, the partnership could have a major and negative effect on a broad range of Minnesota and American industries, ranging from sugar and dairy to pharmaceutical to beef production.

And Minnesota environmental, human rights and labor communities have concerns about that potential impact.

This proposed deal between a dozen nations would be the largest trade agreement in U.S. history. Yet, despite its size, complexity and potential wide-reaching influence over our lives, the only people at the negotiating table are government negotiators and corporate lobbyists. And after more than three years and nearly 20 major rounds of negotiations, the American public still does not know important details of the agreement. This secrecy persists despite requests for greater transparency by members of Congress and the public.

Congress should exert its constitutional authority, exercise additional oversight over negotiations, and reject automatic fast-track trade authority for the partnership. We deserve a long look at its details — not a request from the government and corporate America to “trust us.”

What we have been able to learn about the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not encouraging.

For example, some of the countries involved — Vietnam in particular — are specifically marketed to investors as low-cost labor alternatives to China. Yet a recent report from the Worker Rights Consortium, titled, “Made in Vietnam,” documents an array of human-rights and worker-rights abuses in the nation. These include forced labor and child slave labor, pregnancy- and gender-based discrimination, health and safety hazards, and excessive working hours and inadequate wages.

Enacting the Trans-Pacific Partnership would reward this record by extending trade benefits to Vietnam, a nation whose human-rights record actually has gotten worse since it entered into negotiations for the partnership.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership also includes rules that would help American companies move more jobs overseas, especially in fields such as manufacturing, call center and customer service, accounting and medical diagnostics. At a time when our national economic recovery is just getting off the ground, putting more American jobs at risk to offshoring would be devastating. For example, Minnesota has about 80,000 jobs in the call-center and customer-service industries. Enacting the partnership would further accelerate the offshoring trend that already has driven many of these jobs overseas to India and the Philippines.

To make matters worse, companies in any nation that joins the Trans-Pacific Partnership would have access to the majority of government contracts for goods and services. This means that instead of being used to create and keep good jobs in America, our taxpayer money directly would benefit foreign companies and foreign workers.

Just as worrisome is that the Obama administration is asking Congress to fast-track consideration and review of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a status that hands much of Congress’ constitutional authority over trade agreements over to the executive branch. Given that the partnership is the most significant U.S. trade pact in decades and that we still lack important details about its content, Congress should be seeking greater, rather than less, authority over it.

Particularly during these precarious economic times, Americans deserve a trade policy that creates local jobs and places workers’ interests ahead of the interests of multinational corporations. Unfortunately, the legacy of recent trade agreements has been just the opposite. Congress should reject attempts to ram through the Trans-Pacific Partnership via fast-track authority. Minnesotans and Americans need to know what’s in a trade deal of this magnitude and to have a full and vigorous debate.

 

Mona Meyer is president of the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Council of the Communications Workers of America, or CWA.

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