As another round of behind-closed-door talks aimed at creating a massive new trade pact for the Pacific Rim took place in a posh Beverly Hills hotel on Wednesday, labor, environmental and public health advocates picketed outside to demand a voice for working people. During a press event and rally, they called on negotiators to release the negotiating texts, allow for greater public input and to ultimately deliver a “fair deal or no deal” on the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement. Another rally is planned for Friday at the University of California – San Diego, the site of more negotiations.
Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO:
It’s not right that Wall Street and big corporations have access to the negotiating documents, while the American public is kept in the dark. Past trade deals have put corporate profits ahead of working families both at home and abroad. Without more transparency, people are right to worry that this new pact will only deliver more of the same.
The Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement is currently being negotiated between the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, with bilateral discussions also under way for entry by Canada, Japan and Mexico. Unlike many other international negotiations, including even those at the World Trade Organization (WTO), these have been conducted with virtually zero transparency. While the American public is barred from knowing what their representatives are negotiating for and negotiating away, approximately 600 corporate advisors are given regular access to the negotiating texts and negotiators.
Many see a double-standard at work. When public health advocates attempted to hold a luncheon in the hotel to share their expertise with interested negotiators, they even had their room reservation revoked. Activists are angry that these negotiations have been so secretive, and warned that without greater public participation, the Trans-Pacific trade talks could deliver a corporate-backed “NAFTA of the Pacific.”
According to AFL-CIO Trade Policy Specialist Celeste Drake:
Far too many Californians have already had their jobs shipped overseas, and now corporations are crowing that they need to find low-cost labor alternatives to sweatshops in China. We’ve heard talk about ‘labor and environmental’ standards ever since NAFTA, and so far nothing offered has been adequate to protect jobs at home and human rights abroad. President Obama has promised better, but American workers would be more confident if the process were more open. In his State of the Union Address, he promised to bring manufacturing jobs back to America, and we hope he does that.
It’s hard to see the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement as a reasonable way to boost our manufacturing sector, given how similar trade deals have decimated it. NAFTA alone cost the U.S. nearly 700,000 jobs, and since China joined the WTO in 2001, we’ve lost over 6 million manufacturing jobs, or 1 in 3. Americans have caught on, too, with 69% considering FTAs job-killers, according to a recent poll. And they’re starting to voice their concerns.
Participants from across civil society participated in this week’s events, from labor, health, education, and environmental advocates to Asian Pacific Islanders, Latinos, and students. There were even some “hacktivists” from around the country pitching in by amplifying the message online. People are beginning to understand how dangerous this deal could be, particularly if the negotiations stay secret. And the more folks get involved, the louder our voice can be as we demand a “Fair Deal or No Deal!”
Tim Robertson is executive director of the California Fair Trade Coalition. This piece originally appeared on the California Labor Federation’s Labor’s Edge blog.