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Working Families Need Fair Trade, Not Free Trade

(source: The Huffington Post, by Larry Cohen, President, Communications Workers of America)

Working families haven't seen much of an economic recovery, and we definitely can't afford to lose more manufacturing and service jobs to yet another free trade agreement written by the State Department and multinational corporations.

But that is exactly where we're headed if the Trans-Pacific Partnership moves ahead unchallenged.

This massive trade deal would govern trade and other relationships among the United States, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, Canada, Singapore, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Brunei.

It's not surprising that most people haven't heard much about it. Yet, we still have a chance to make sure that this trade deal reflects the concerns of all of us, not just wealthy corporations looking for the lowest wages and costs they can find. Congress must put the brakes on TPP by stopping or changing the "fast track" process, which provides for an up-or-down vote only, with no amendments, on trade deals. 

The next and possibly final round of TPP trade negotiations gets underway this week inBrunei. And as was the case at other TPP bargaining sessions, the American public, journalists and even many members of Congress will be largely shut out of the process.

Corporate leaders and lobbyists have had full access to all the drafts and discussion. But the public, consumer groups, workers, free speech and intellectual property rights advocates, environmentalists, food safety and public health groups and others are permitted to see just a small part of the picture, if even that. That's a sharp contrast to previous trade negotiations. In 2001, the United States and 33 other countries released the draft text of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and the World Trade Organization frequently makes its draft texts public.

Why the extreme secrecy? Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), one of the few people who have read the draft text of the TPP, said, "I would characterize this as a gross abrogation of American sovereignty. And I would further characterize it as a punch in the face to the middle class of America." Grayson acknowledged he was barred from publicly discussing any of the provisions. But it's clear that TPP is good news for multinational corporations and bad news for everyone else.

For U.S. workers, the TPP clearly would put jobs at risk, including call center, technical and other service sector jobs, as well as manufacturing work. TPP would encourage corporations to invest overseas, when we all know that every other nation promotes trade policy to encourage national investment.

The U.S. would be barred from implementing "Buy America" provisions, the "Press One for America" call center bill and green and sweatshop-free obligations. Foreign firms would have equal access to U.S. federal procurement contracts, meaning taxpayer dollars would be going to fund jobs abroad, not at home. Corporations would expand their work in countries like Vietnam, where workers are classified as "labor contractors" to reduce even further the meager wages workers earn and workers' rights are non-existent.

The TPP would result in even greater income inequality in the U.S. and would worsen the race-to-the-bottom labor and wage standards that too many corporations are chasing, from the Middle East to Vietnam. The Economic Policy Institute recently concluded, "The TPP would significantly increase the threat that rapidly growing trade deficits and job losses in the United States would be locked in if the TPP is completed."

Under the TPP, the future for working families is grim: An even more distressed U.S. manufacturing and service sector that drives down wages or drives out jobs. We need fair trade policies that benefit all of us. It's not too late to turn the TPP around.