The North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada was supposed to promote commerce between the three countries creating the world’s largest “free trade” area by removing tariff and quotas on U.S. goods.
It was supposed to increase employment and prosperity across borders.
But there was nothing free about NAFTA.
It turned out to be a devastating trade for nearly a million American workers, whose jobs were exported to other countries where wages are lower and U.S. companies aren’t subject to worker, health and environmental rules, and got nothing in return.
Millions of workers in Mexico’s small-scale agriculture also lost their livelihoods because they couldn’t compete with subsidized U.S. corporate agribusiness, which flooded Mexico with corn.
Look out, because there’s a new “free trade” Frankenstein on the horizon. Because the public has gotten wise to the big lie of “free trade,” the authorities have changed the labeling – they call this one a “partnership” – the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
So far, it includes U.S., Australia, New Zealand and several Pacific Rim nations.
Who’s not included in the partnership?
Anybody from the public, or advocates for consumer, labor, environmental rights, improved health care, or anybody else that would question the notion of giving the corporate giants who have exclusive access to the negotiations anything they want.
According to critics, these deals should be more accurately labeled “corporate rights agreements,” because that’s what the real focus is – protecting corporate interests and their private property rights against any interference from environmental, labor or financial regulations they disagree with – either in the United States or any other country.
For example, the World Trade Organization, which judges trade disputes, recently ruled against a number of U.S. regulations designed to protect consumers, like labeling meat with its country-of-origin, and a ban on clove cigarettes to reduce teen smoking.
These trade agreements allow corporations to challenge national laws they don’t like in special courts. As in the secret negotiations, the public has no right to appear in those courts.
In addition, critics fear that the negotiations could lead to the imposition of strict intellectual property protections for companies that would have wide-ranging impacts, including limiting the availability of less expensive generic medicines, including AIDS drugs, critical to Third World countries’ efforts to limit illness and disease.
U.S. negotiators, led by trade representative Ron Kirk, insist the negotiators need secrecy to be able to negotiate freely.
Trust us, he insists.
But the negotiations aren’t secret from the lobbyists for the corporations whose rights and profits are at stake – they have full access, through “trade advisory groups” that review documents that are off limits to the public.
Corporate bigwigs also gain access to the negotiations while wining and dining with trade negotiators and politicians at fancy dinners at swank restaurants.
At one recent dinner in February in Washington D.C., the sponsors included a who’s who of corporate power – Amgen, Chevron, Dow Chemical, GE, Microsoft, Target and Wal-Mart, along with industry groups such as the Business Roundtable, Chamber of Commerce and PhRMA.
Fortunately, all the issues and secrecy around the talks have attracted attention.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has become a leader in the fight to open up the TPP talks. Meanwhile several other groups, including Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, the California Fair Trade Coalition, and the Citizens Trade Campaign, have launched campaigns against the secrecy surrounding the TPP and raising issues about the substance of the agreements.
We don’t need more assurances that the trade negotiators and lobbyists are protecting our interests. We don’t need any more PR about how trade will create jobs in America. We can predict the unfortunate outcome of the TPP talks if they remain closed to the public, with only the insiders working to pursue their interests.
We need the most open process, public participation and the toughest scrutiny possible to avoid a massive rip-off at the hands of our secret “partners.”