Urge to lawmakers: Use Trans-Pacific trade pact to favor workers

WASHINGTON - The AFL-CIO is urging Congress and the Obama administration to use negotiation of the proposed Trans-Pacific Pact, a trade treaty linking the U.S. with at least eight nations on both sides of the ocean, to redo U.S. trade policy to support workers, not multi-national corporations.

But whether Obama will heed them is open to question. Celeste Drake, the AFL-CIO specialist who discussed the TPP at a congressional hearing on May 17, praised Obama officials for listening to labor's analysis and suggestions, "especially when compared to the prior administration." But she does not know if Obama U.S. Trade Rep Ron Kirk will adopt any of labor's ideas.

The TPP pact is running into increasing congressional flak. A news report May 24 said Senate Trade Subcommittee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would introduce legislation to make its text and communications with Congress public.

And earlier in the month, 61 lawmakers protested to the Obama administration that leaked details show the pact would ban any "Buy America" legislation.

Late last year, in a meeting with Pacific nation leaders, Obama pledged to get the TPP done quickly, both to boost U.S. exports - his stated goal - and to also curry favor with business, his unstated political goal. His decision to successfully push trade pacts with Colombia, Panama, and Korea, over labor opposition, was for the same reasons.

Eight nations, including developing nations such as Malaysia and Vietnam and the trading powerhouse of Singapore, are part of the TPP talks. China and Japan are not, yet. But Obama officials say the door is open for them to join, with conditions. With the TPP's text not yet released, the AFL-CIO seized the opportunity to tell lawmakers what should be in it - and what shouldn't.

"USTR and its partners must embark on economic development policies that explicitly address the creation of good jobs, the development of a thriving middle class, and respect for domestic policy space," Drake told a GOP-run House subcommittee. "Such an approach would require abandonment of the status quo.

"It would also require the cooperation of global corporations, many of which are used to using their leverage to play off one nation against the other in a race to the bottom in wages, benefits, social protection strategies, conservation, and public health and safety measures. The AFL-CIO cannot recommend strongly enough that, for a trade agreement to benefit workers here and abroad, it must prioritize fundamental labor rights, creation of high-wage, high-benefit jobs, and balanced, sustainable trade flows.

"When workers can exercise their fundamental rights, as well as have a secure and hopeful future and sufficient incomes, their demand will help businesses and the global economy grow in a sustainable way," Drake stated.

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