- Written by Rosemary Jenkins
24 Jan 2014
THE VIEW FROM HERE-I was duped! Back in the ‘90s, President Clinton had me convinced that NAFTA (the North Atlantic Trade Agreement) was a good thing. Teamster and other union leaders, even then, foresaw, quite rightly, that it would evolve and devolve into a downright disaster—at least for the 99%.
Two decades later, on January 16, 2014, Councilmember Paul Koretz was joined by Teamster President, Jimmy Hoffa, and other individuals and alliances to denounce another (but considerably worse) program, the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement (TPTA), usually referenced as TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).
Koretz, this week, followed up on his press conference announcement and introduced a motion before the LA City Council to put the Council officially on record as opposing the fast-track approach to TPP. According to a press release, “The supposed ‘free trade’ agreement is NAFTA on steroids and will continue the outsourcing of jobs, one million since NAFTA” went into effect.
NAFTA was supposed to raise all boats among three countries, Canada, the U. S., and Mexico. Clinton promised it would raise the standard of living in those countries, particularly Mexico, so that fewer laborers would try to cross our borders illegally to compete with our own work force. The trade agreement was purported to create huge numbers of higher-wage jobs (on both sides of the border) and to improve environmental conditions, among other promises, which included transforming Mexico from essentially a third-world economy to one that would be a major partner importing our goods. (A proper import-export ratio is essential for any country to have a healthy economy.)
This issue was a bitter part of the ’92 Presidential campaign during which time, Ross Perot (a perspicacious wealthy Texas businessman), who was running as an independent, famously stated that if NAFTA were approved, we would hear jobs being sucked out of the U. S. People ignored his prognostications but his prediction was all too well-founded. It came to pass, and we are still hearing the echoes of that sound!
In fact, the NAFTA roll out (1994) fulfilled Perot’s prognosis. It eliminated close to a million U.S. jobs and “undermine(d) democratic control of domestic policy-making and threaten(ed) health, environmental, and food safety standards.” Then and now, NAFTA opponents include labor, religious organizations, environmental and consumer groups. Perhaps today, Americans and our elected representatives will listen to the NAFTA concerns and apply them to the proposed TPP agreement.
NAFTA has cost us a third of our manufacturing jobs. Sixty thousand factories no longer exist. We presently have the worst trade deficit in the world, a situation in itself which has created alarming unemployment numbers.
The TPP proposal is really no different and in many ways is much worse than the earlier pact. If signed into law, it would be the “biggest Free Trade Agreement in (our country’s) history.” Countries such as Japan, Peru, New Zealand, and Australia (which already have health and safety regulations in place) and the United States (which is beginning implementation of such rules) would be prohibited from enforcing their own laws. South Korea and Viet Nam would be advantaged by this agreement to the detriment of the U. S. consumer. As per the “normal” course of things, however, Wall Street/Corporate America would make millions and even billions in new profits.
The autonomy of U. S. markets is at stake should this pact be authorized. The partners could challenge in the World Court our current health and safety laws, resulting in increased environmental pollution, food contamination, and safety risks. On the other hand, “citizens of the involved countries [would] have no control over food safety, what they will be eating, where [and under what conditions] it is grown, . . . and the use of herbicides and pesticides.” Passage could dramatically increase the cost of pharmaceuticals in other countries. Transaction taxes on Wall Street would be eliminated.
Monsanto is an international American corporation that controls about 90% of seed genetics worldwide. I find it interesting, though, that America’s chief negotiator for this trade agreement is a former Monsanto lobbyist. Conflict of interest?! Furthermore, while 600 corporations have had input in the negotiation process, the public has not. This agreement, if enacted, would supersede the laws in countries and localities (including our own) which prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our foods. Cross-pollination of GMOs and non-GMOs could then occur if these organisms are allowed to be planted next to or near each other. Food safety and environmental-protection rules would be overridden.
Small farmers and local food economies would be disproportionately impacted as they have been under NAFTA. “(One and a half) million Mexican farmers became bankrupt [under NAFTA] because they could not compete with the highly subsidized U. S. corn entering the Mexican market.” And what is even worse, Mexicans, who used to raise most of their own corn, an important food staple, are now paying more for imported Monsanto corn. No wonder we have so many undocumented immigrants coming from Mexico alone—let alone from other affected nations.
Ironically, Monsanto (in conjunction with Dow Chemical) manufactured Agent Orange which was responsible for the horrendous and barbaric deaths of many Viet Namese and countless soldiers during the Viet Nam War—and now it wants to perpetrate more horrors on these same people through unsafe, unhealthy, poorly paid jobs that come as a result of the TPP.
The trade partnership would produce income inequality at the bottom of the business pyramid with an ever-greater concentration of wealth at the top. It would allow child labor in places like Viet Nam, where salaries would average 29 cents an hour. How do American workers compete with such outsourced disparity?
It is obvious that the issue of fast-tracking TPP presents a major dilemma for our legislators—balancing the wants of big corporations and the needs of the “little people.” In fact, once the pact is formally introduced in Washington, Congress would have 60 days to vote on its passage with an up-or-down vote. No mitigating amendments would be allowed.
The TPP negotiations are currently cloaked in secrecy. Congressmembers can look at some of the considerations but are not allowed to take notes or share information with their staff members whose job it is to flesh out such proposals, nor can these representatives talk openly about it with constituents and the media.
This procedure should make us all very afraid. If we cannot be an informed constituency before the final vote, then we must ask, What deleterious and nefarious content is in it that must be kept from us?! What does this kind of process imply?!
I hate to say it but president Obama, just like Clinton before him (bite my lip), favors fast-track authority. We must urge him to revisit his position on the trade agreement.
Not only is the Pacific Partnership on the table but there is also talk of a subsequent Atlantic Trade Partnership. The two trade agreements together would impact two-thirds of the world markets. Where does this stop? When there is no American middle class at all? Under present practices, we are already well on our way.
We cannot be passive about this issue. It is not going to work itself out on its own. We must urge our House and Senate members “To just say No!” Currently, 190 combined House Democrats and Republicans (can you believe—a bi-partisan coalition?) are on record opposing fast-tracking the TPP. At the very least, we all have the right to know and understand what the agreement contains and how it will affect us before any final ratification vote.
Labor wants more protectionism to safeguard our health, safety, and wage standards [remember, this is at a time when President Obama wants Congress to raise the minimum wage to about $10 an hour, and when many groups are asking for $15 an hour for 40-hour-a-week workers (the latter salary would equal about $31,000 a year—still not a living wage)].
We can no longer tolerate the wage stagnation that we have all experienced over far too many years while the cost of living keeps rising. We must demand “respect and dignity for both the work and the workers.” We must together take a stand against the TPTA and fast-tracking for it.
Similarly, we must support Councilmember Koretz and his colleagues to go on record opposing TPP and its horrifying consequences!
(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Coalition. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts. She also writes for CityWatch.)
Vol 12 Issue 7
Pub: Jan 24, 2014