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Flawed legislation, treaty threaten American workers

David Newby

NAFTA is the flawed international trade agreement that cost us at least a million family-supporting, American jobs.

Subsequent so-called free-trade agreements have cost us millions more.

Now the multinational corporations have a new deal for us: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, also known as TPP. It’s a free trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations that includes about 40 percent of the world’s total production. Participating countries in the negotiations include Vietnam, Australia, Brunei, Malaysia and Peru.

We usually think of trade agreements as lowering tariffs, quotas and the like in order to promote trade. But that’s not what contemporary trade agreements are really about.

Only five of the 29 chapters of the TPP have to do with tariffs and quotas, for example. The rest of this 1,000-page treaty has to do with “harmonizing” standards and regulations of the participating nations.

The TPP has been negotiated in secret for more than four years. Even members of Congress do not have full access to our negotiating positions. Wikileaks, however, has published the not-yet-finalized Intellectual Property and Environmental sections of the TPP, and all indications are the TPP would “harmonize” standards — by seriously undermining the few financial regulations we have; banning “Buy American” laws and local ordinances; limiting internet freedom; undermining worker health and safety regulations; further threatening the viability of family farms; reducing environmental protections; extending drug patents and driving up drug costs; compromising safety of imported food; and giving foreign corporations the ability to bypass the American legal system. Those corporations could demand compensation if new laws or regulations reduce their “expected profits.” Such cases would be heard not by American courts but by unaccountable tribunals that are part of the World Bank.

That’s a multinational corporation coup.

How could our government be promoting such an assault on the rights and interests of ordinary citizens? In part because this trade agreement is being negotiated solely by the U.S. Trade Representative — who reports to the president — aided by 600 certified corporate advisers. Neither our elected representatives nor the general public or citizen organizations have any voice in these negotiations.

That’s where “Fast Track” comes in.

The previous U.S. Trade Representative actually stated that if the American public knew what was in this agreement, there would be such an outcry that it could never pass Congress. “Fast Track” is their means of getting the TPP approved before we even know what is happening.

What does Fast Track do? It allows the President to actually sign the completed agreement and write the implementing legislation. That legislation includes not only the provisions of the negotiated treaty, but it also changes existing federal law to bring it into conformity with the treaty’s provisions. Congressional Committees have only 30 days to review this text, then it goes directly to Congress.

Congress has just 60 days to consider this incredibly wide-ranging piece of legislation. Then they must vote on it. They are limited to 20 hours of debate — and no amendments are permitted! So even though our Constitution provides that Congress has the sole authority to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations,” Fast Track legislation gives this authority almost unchecked to the Executive Branch.

Fast Track legislation was introduced Jan. 9. To their credit, many members of the House and Senate have voiced their opposition.

Congressman Sean Duffy needs to know that we do not want Fast Track or TPP. We want international trade treaties that benefit American workers and farmers, and protect the environment — not new international laws that give multinational corporations more power at our expense.

David Newby is president of the Wisconsin Fair Trade Coalition and president emeritus of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.