8 Things You Need to Know About Trade Deals This Year

8 Things You Need to Know About Trade Deals This Year

A lot of the buzz about the new Republican-controlled Senate is about international trade deals, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and so-called Fast Track authority. As we previously discussed, the problems with Fast Track and TPP are plentiful. They aren’t good for working families. They cost jobs and increase inequality. Here are eight things you need to know about TPP, Fast Track and other potential trade deals this year:

1. Trade deals are confusing enough, but they’re made worse by the alphabet soup of acronyms needed to figure out what’s going on. TPP stands for “Trans-Pacific Partnership,” and is a trade and economic policy deal being negotiated in secret between the United States and 11 other countries, including labor and human rights violators such as Vietnam, Brunei and Mexico. Allowing human and labor rights violators into the agreement gives them a free pass (why work any harder to raise standards when they have the access to the U.S. markets they want?) and accelerates the race to the bottom in wages that is already hurting U.S. workers like you and me. The deal also could increase corporate control over our economy and weaken our ability to respond to a recession. The TPP could still be fixed, but none of the negotiators seem interested in challenging its corporate power agenda—and how can working people have a real influence when the actual text of the deal is secret?

2. TTIP, which stands for “Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,” a trade and economic policy deal being negotiated in secret between the United States and the 28 countries of the European Union. Unlike the TPP, the TTIP’s main goal isn’t to send more U.S. jobs overseas and turn them into sweatshop jobs (though some of that could happen). What the TTIP is really about is eliminating “regulatory barriers” to trade. The problem is, one person’s regulatory barrier is another person’s essential standard (whether that means lead in lipstick, or reporting requirements for big banks, or the right of local governments to protect their drinking water supply). So the TTIP still poses risks if it’s not negotiated correctly.

3. TISA, which stands for “Trade in Services Agreement,” a trade and economic policy deal being negotiated in secret between the United States and 49 other countries. The biggest risk of the TISA is that it hands over essential public services to the private sector—who will squeeze out every last dime of profit from the taxpayers while degrading services and turning decent jobs into minimum wage, no benefit, dead-end jobs.

4. The deals are being negotiated in secret with important people who will be affected by the deal, most notably working families, not represented in the negotiations. (While some labor unions do get to “advise” the president on trade policy, business advisers outnumber labor advisers by about 15 to 1. And we do not get to participate in the negotiations or see the negotiating texts.)

5. If Fast Track is approved, Congress must vote on the TPP within 90 days of the date the president submits it to Congress, which means that there will be little time to read the agreement to find out what’s even in it.

6. Fast Track would limit the ability of anyone to fix the agreement to make it better. The vote will be all or nothing with no chance to add amendments.  Meanwhile, supporters will try to round up votes by predicting dire consequences if the deal doesn’t pass.

7. Fast Track will also prevent senators who oppose a trade deal to filibuster it.

8. But the most important thing you should know about trade in 2015 is that the story isn’t written yet. The battle for jobs is not over, and you can make a difference. Most of the mainstream media isn’t reporting much (if anything) on the TPP, TTIP, TISA or Fast Track. And they certainly aren’t highlighting the risks.  So you have to speak up. Be the voice of the news for the people who don’t know the risks. Call your member of Congress and sign the petition here to stop Fast Track in its tracks.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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AFL-CIO Joins Broad Coalition to Fight for Affordable Medicines

Yesterday, the AFL-CIO’s own Thea Lee joined AARPDoctors Without BordersOxfam America and the Generic Pharmaceutical Association in urging President Obama to fix proposals in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a trade and economic governance deal currently under negotiation—that could leave us all paying more for life-saving prescription medicines.

One of the most harmful of the provisions Lee warned against including in the TPP was part of the U.S.-Korea FTA. It gives companies that make drugs or medical devices special rights—over and above those they already have under domestic law—to appeal government decisions about whether to include a drug or device in a government health program (such as Medicare) and how much to pay for it.

Public health advocates, doctors and patients don’t receive similar rights—they aren’t even mentioned in these provisions. No  trade agreement should “stack the deck” toward higher prices for life-saving drugs and devices. Yet the U.S.-Korea FTA does, and the TPP might do the same. America’s working people can’t afford unnecessary price increases for pharmaceutical products—to say nothing of our brothers and sisters in developing countries.

Another potentially harmful provision reportedly included in the draft TPP is patent protection so extreme  it will lead to “evergreening” (indefinite perpetuation) of medicinal patents, thus preventing price competition from generic drugs. The AFL-CIO has a long history of supporting intellectual property rights—after all, workers in creative and innovative fields rely on intellectual property protection to support their pay and benefits. But extreme patent protections (like rules requiring a new 20-year patent term every time the drug changes from liquid to pill to capsule, or rules that prevent people from challenging the validity of a patent) are unnecessary and can put our families’ health at risk. That’s just wrong. Such rules hurt patients and simply shouldn’t be in international trade deals.

Finally, to expand access to affordable medicines, many in the coalition argued the TPP must omit investor-to-state dispute settlement, also known as ISDS or corporate courts. These, too, have been in trade deals like NAFTACorporate courts provide foreign investors with private justice, complete with their own special rules and their own private “courts” staffed by private lawyers, unaccountable to the public. Pharmaceutical companies could use ISDS to challenge states’ Medicaid drug pricing policies, such as their use of drug formularies or rebates. These challenges could raise costs for these programs (making it less likely states will pursue the ACA Medicaid expansion).

The TPP must not straitjacket nations’ policy choices regarding how to organize their health care delivery systems. Instead, these agreements should promote U.S. medical and pharmaceutical exports in ways thatrespect the human right to health care and national choices about how to best defend that right. 

Read the full AFL-CIO/AARP/MSF/GPHA/Oxfam letter here.

Sign a petition here demanding the TPP not interfere with affordable medicines or harm working families in other ways.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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7 Reasons Fast Track Is Off Track

During the secret discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, extreme corporate interests are pushing for a Fast Track process that would not only hurt working families in the United States, but in the other countries involved in any final deal. Here are seven reasons why Fast Track is off track.

1. People oppose it: More than 60% of voters oppose Fast Track for the TPP free trade deal.

2. It doesn’t reflect modern values: Fast Track is a copy of the approach to trade taken by President Richard Nixon, pursuing the passage of trade deals regardless of the effects a deal might have on wages, jobs, small businesses and the environment.

3. It’s a job killer: Past trade deals have cost American jobs in large numbers. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement led to the loss of more than 682,000 jobs.

4. It makes it harder for workers to get a raise: Previous Fast Tracked deals have depressed wages and weakened the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain.

5. It increases inequality: Previous trade deals have greatly exacerbated CEO-to-worker pay disparities, so that the current ratio is 354-to-1.

6. It’s undemocratic: Fast Track limits debate and prohibits amendments and doesn’t give the public the opportunity to influence the process.

7. It gives corporations more power: By including “investor-to-state dispute settlement” provisions, foreign investors in the United States and U.S. investors operating in foreign countries can skip traditional methods of complaining about laws they don’t like and sue nations directly in private arbitration tribunals made up of for-profit arbitrators. This would give corporations and foreign interests an influence over our economy that the rest of us don’t have.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Want to Create 5.8 Million New Jobs? Here’s How

If the United States acted forcefully to end currency manipulation by China and other nations—and there is legislation to provide the government the tools to do so—it could create as many as 5.8 million jobs (40% in manufacturing) and reduce the nation’s trade deficit by as much as 72.5%, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Currency manipulation is the largest single cause of the U.S. trade deficit, and the Chinese government is the world’s biggest currency manipulator. It deliberately keeps the value of its currency artificially low and that artificially raises the price of U.S. exports to China and suppresses the price of Chinese imports into the United States. This artificial price advantage is one of many pull factors that encourages U.S. businesses to shut down operations here and manufacture in China instead. Says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

U.S. workers can compete with anyone in the world, but they cannot compete successfully on a lopsided playing field. [Currency manipulation] is a major contributing factor in our lopsided trade relationship with China. Meanwhile, U.S. manufacturing companies and workers bear the brunt of these unfair policies.

The EPI report finds that:

  • Eliminating currency manipulation would reduce the U.S. trade deficit by $200 billion in three years under a “low-impact” scenario and $500 billion under a “high-impact scenario.” This would increase annual U.S. GDP by between $288 billion and $720 billion (between 2.0% and 4.9%).
  • The reduction of U.S. trade deficits and expansion of U.S. GDP would create 2.3 million to 5.8 million jobs, reducing the U.S. jobs deficit by between 28.8% and 72.5%.
  • About 40% of the jobs gained would be in manufacturing, which would gain between 891,500 and 2,337,300 jobs. Agriculture also would gain 246,800 to 486,100 jobs, heavily affecting some rural areas.

Read the full EPI report here.

Bipartisan legislation in Congress (H.R. 1267 and S. 1114) would crack down on currency exchange rate manipulation and hold countries that manipulate their currencies accountable. Trumka says:

We call on Congress to fight on the side of American workers and domestic manufacturers and farmers to put an end to currency manipulation now.

While China is the largest currency manipulator, other nations do so, too. Japan, which is one the 12 TPP nations, (China is not involved) has been accused of weakening the value of the yen to benefit its auto industry.

Currently Japan exports some 130 cars to the United States for every car that U.S. automakers export to Japan. One of the major reason for that imbalance is currency manipulation says the UAW.

As a consequence of Japanese government currency intervention, in a market such as the United States, Japanese imports have seen several thousand dollars in effective subsidies while, at the same time, exports from the United States to Japan have seen several thousand dollars in added costs….The impact of these policies undermines American auto exports and American jobs and the investment they support.

Yesterday, Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), both sponsors of S. 1114, said that without currency manipulation rules as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade and investment agreement and other pending trade agreements, Congress is unlikely to approve the trade bills. Says Brown:

The trade agenda is not moving until currency is part of it.

The Obama administration’s is pushing to have the TPP agreement considered under Fast Track rules in Congress.

Under the Fast Track process, Congress can only vote yes or no on the full agreement. It cannot amend or improve the bill.

Sign the petition to Congress to stop bad Fast Track trade deals over the next four years, including the TPP.

Also, if you haven’t signed a letter for a better TPP, do it here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Why We Don’t Like Fast Track: It’s an Outdated and Undemocratic Policy

Photo courtesy of StopFastTrack/Flickr

Fast Track—it’s a term that’s in the news more lately these days. And for good reason. Early in January, Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) have introduced a bill that would bring back a bad idea that’s been dead since 2007.

Sign the petition to stop Fast Track dead in its tracks.

This Fast Track bill would re-establish a process (first used in the Nixon administration) that allows a trade deal negotiated in secret to pass Congress under a process that allows no amendments, limited debate and not nearly enough public scrutiny. Ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), trade agreements have been about much more than reducing tariffs. Now they are about providing extreme patent protections for pharmaceutical companies, promoting deregulation, weakening “Buy American” policies and providing extraordinary legal rights and privileges to large, foreign corporations. Should those policies really be made behind closed doors, out of the public view?

Whatever justification there may have been in the past for this undemocratic policy, surely we can do better today. We know from experience that once legislators have the Fast Track ticket in their hands, they are likely to finalize an agreement that will send jobs overseas, hold down wages, harm small businesses and give global corporations even more influence over our economy. Workers, communities and small businesses—in the United States and in the countries we trade with—need updated, 21st century trade and economic policies that promote good jobs and benefits for all, not simply massive profits for a few.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Let’s Stop the ‘Fast Track’ to Bigger Trade Deficits and Lower Wages

Let's Stop the 'Fast Track' to Bigger Trade Deficits and Lower Wages

Congress is considering new legislation that would “fast track” new trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), moving them through Congress more quickly by limiting the transparency, accountability and oversight necessary for such trade deals to serve America’s working families rather than extreme corporate interests.  Republicans Dave Camp (Mich.), Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced the fast track legislation and AFL-CIO has launched a petition calling on Congress to oppose this undemocratic and anti-worker legislation.  While proponents of these trade deals often make bold promises about the benefits of such agreements, in reality they do little more than increase trade deficits and hurt America’s working families.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently made it clear how strongly the labor federation opposed fast track:

The Trade Promotion Authority bill submitted today by Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and Senate Finance Ranking Member Orrin Hatch is out of date, poorly conceived and bad for American workers. For that reason, the AFL-CIO opposes this legislation in the strongest of terms and will actively work to block its passage.

As we’ve seen previously, such deals increase our trade deficits and they often do so at the detriment of not only the American economy, but the rights of workers in the countries we trade with.  NAFTA alone has led to the displacement of 700,000 jobs.  Workers in countries like Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Jordan and Bahrain, have been the targets of detention, persecution, threats, and murder.  These deals frequently lead to increased corporate profits and control of the world economy and less and less life, liberty, and happiness pursuit for workers.

Working families and their advocates are standing up against these trade deals and things like fast track that make these deals less democratic and accountable to the people.  In New York, a group of lawmakers, union, and environmental activists is took to the steps of City Hall to protest fast track.

New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said that the TPP proposal “will not provide adequate transparency, accountability, or oversight. It fails to protect American workers and American jobs.”  Rep. José E. Serrano (D-NY) echoed those sentiments: “Fast-tracking is simply a way in my opinion, of doing things without Congress really knowing about it. We’re always told that these trade agreements will create jobs, and a better environment, and then five years later we find out it’s not true.”

Sign the petition and tell Congress that repeating failed policies is not the way to create jobs and grow the economy.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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How Outsourcing Hurts Wisconsin, and How We Can Stop It

The people of Wisconsin may not see eye-to-eye on many recent political issues but one issue that most people can agree on is outsourcing. In a state like ours where manufacturing has been a major part of the economy throughout history, shipping jobs overseas has been a blow to nearly every Wisconsin community.

But here’s what you may not know: Current tax loopholes actually incentivize moving overseas for companies, while doing nothing to support companies that move back to the United States from abroad. Those tax incentives encouraged and rewarded 47 companies in Southeastern Wisconsin alone to move operations overseas – while doing very little for a company like Master Lock as it moved 100 jobs back to Milwaukee.

With such a large manufacturing base and a steady loss of jobs in the state the impact of outsourcing reaches just about everyone. Our organizers hear daily from members who either lost their job to outsourcing or know someone who did. The effects are so enormous that between 1994 and 2011 Wisconsin lost over 81,000 manufacturing jobs. A majority of those workers were certified as having lost jobs due to imports and offshoring.

Members from across the state have voiced their support for the Bring Jobs Home Act, a bill that would eliminate the tax loopholes for companies moving out of the country and reward them for bringing jobs back.

Vivian, a Working America member from Oshkosh, said, “We all want the American Dream: job, family, home and a good life. You cannot have this without a good job.”

As corporate greed increases, the American dream is disappearing. The current generation faces higher unemployment and lower wages even though they are better educated than those before them. This is first generation that will not be better off than their parents.

As Working America member Chris from Brown Deer put it, “Until we eliminate the incentives that corporations have to send high-paying, full-time jobs overseas, we will continue to suffer as a nation.”

Even now, corporate profits continue to soar and wages continue to decline; corporate CEO’s are more concerned about their bank accounts than they are about the people whose livelihoods depend on earning a decent wage. We need to reward companies that do the right thing instead of paying them to move jobs overseas. The Bring Jobs Home Act helps us move away from the “profits before people” mentality to make sure that the people of this country have the ability to buy the goods we are selling.

The thing is, many of these corporations that we pay to ship jobs away were made in America. They began here, found success here and they should be proud to attach “Made in America” to their products.

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