CHICAGO – Warning of a new “NAFTA for the Pacific Rim,” labor and its allies are demanding a new free trade deal being negotiated for the Pacific region include protections for workers rights, health care and the environment.

Trade ministers from nine Pacific Rim countries will gather in Chicago on Labor Day weekend to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (TPP).

Labor, environmentalists, consumer, faith based, small business, farmers and public health organizations from the U.S. and globally are outraged negotiations are taking place in secret. A Labor Day protest here is demanding transparency and a voice for workers and their communities in drafting the new treaty.

This is the first trade agreement negotiations initiated by the Obama administration, which is already encountering stiff opposition to passage of Bush administration initiated free trade agreements with Korea, Columbia and Panama over similar issues.

The Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC) calls the TPP the next generation NAFTA and warns of job losses in the U.S., loss of tax revenues for struggling cities and states and a continued race to the bottom for workers here and in the Pacific Rim countries.

The CTC says the objective of U.S. negotiators is to guarantee U.S.-based transnationals maintain domination in the Pacific-Asian market. The U.S. has dominated Pacific region trade since WWII, but the emergence of China and India as global powers is threatening that domination.

The TPP includes the U.S., Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, Peru and Chile. However, China, India and Indonesia are not part of the negotiations.

The U.S. already has FTAs with several of the countries involved, but U.S. negotiators hope the TPP will serve as the basis for a comprehensive free trade agreement covering all of Asia, and allow for other countries to join at a later date.

Presently, U.S. trade with the TPP countries represents about 7 percent of total U.S. trade with Asian and 2 percent of global trade. Asian market constitutes 60 percent of global GDP and 50 percent of global trade.

The Obama administration has promised the TPP will a “be a 21st century trade agreement” and has promised to include labor and environmental standards. But critics are wary since no draft treat text has been made public and powerful corporate lobbying groups have deeply influenced negotiations.

Labor and its allies have a number of concerns with the framework being proposed for the treaty. Some of these issues are also contentious among the nations involved.

A 2010 joint declaration of labor federations in four countries, including the AFL-CIO, stated, “The TPP must at a minimum require that each party adopt and maintain laws and regulations consistent with the International Labor Organization core labor rights and effectively enforce those rights, as well as all domestic laws with regard to wages, hours of work and safety and health.”

One serious concern is inclusion of an “investor-state” resolution process. This would allow corporations to challenge laws, regulations and court decisions of sovereign governments if they felt they interfered with the trade. Such provisions are part of NAFTA and other FTAs.

Another area is intellectual property rights. The U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies want to undercut competition from inexpensive generic drugs. They want to extend the protection for brand name drugs another seven years, longer than even the World Trade Organization mandates. This could supersede domestic health care laws of Pacific Rim countries.

Other proposals would essentially handcuff government’s ability to regulate or even ban regulations that limit the size of financial institutions, erect firewalls between them or prevent the sale of toxic derivatives, including those that brought on the mortgage crisis.

In another concern, the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network maintains, “U.S. corporations want unrestricted access to Australian government contracts. They want changes to Australian government purchasing policies, which allow for some local employment and which require all government contractors to implement workers’ rights.”

The treaty would also remove protections and rules that ensure local programming content in the media. Pacific Rim countries would be at the mercy of U.S. media transnationals.

“When negotiations take place in the shadows they are a huge benefit to corporations, because they talk among themselves, said Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign. “But if we can drag the negotiations into the public light, it will send a message that enough is enough. We’ll either get a fair deal or no deal.”


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is national chair of the Communist Party USA. Previously he was Illinois organizer for the party, and is active in labor, peace and justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio and currently lives in Chicago with his family.