Hoffa and Brown try to put brakes on Pacific trade pact

WASHINGTON (PAI)–With the Obama administration moving ahead with negotiations with Pacific Rim nations about another trade pact, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Teamsters President James Hoffa teamed up to try to stop the rush through new legislation setting standards for such pacts in advance.

Joined by several business leaders, including a vice president of Ford, the Ohio lawmaker and the union leader unveiled the bill in a June 27 conference call. They say Congress must have the chance to order U.S. negotiators to include pro-worker standards in trade pact texts, before bargaining begins.

But it is unlikely that lawmakers will approve Brown’s bill before the next bargaining session on the Pacific pact, in San Diego on July 8.

Brown’s “21st Century Trade Agreements and Market Access Act” would also order the executive branch to report on worker rights, labor protections and enforcement in any potential trade pact partner nations before negotiations start.

“This legislation would help set standards for global trade deals to ensure they create good jobs and improve working conditions not only at home, but with potential trading partners throughout the world,” Hoffa said. It “lays out the foundation of how a trade agreement should be negotiated, providing fair trade with labor standards that workers everywhere deserve.”

The talks are on a proposed Trans-Pacific Pact (TPP) enacting so-called “free trade” between the U.S. and other nations around the Pacific: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Canada, Mexico, and Japan also intend to join the TPP.

The AFL-CIO started its own campaign to warn Obama not to move ahead on the TPP. It’s circulating an on-line protest petition, to be sent to the White House.

“Past free trade agreements accelerated the shift of jobs overseas, made it harder for our own government to spend our tax dollars on Made in America products and put corporate profits before the interests of working families here and in other countries,” the petition says.

“It’s past time for our leaders to support trade rules that reward companies that invest in America so we can rebuild our nation. Creating good jobs at home starts with a commitment to a new trade policy-not more of the same failed policies of the past.

“If we want to bring jobs home, the last thing we need is another bad trade agreement,” the federation petition declares.

Union leaders, including Hoffa, joined Brown in prior years to introduce similar legislation, the Trade Act, setting standards for U.S. trade bargainers. It went nowhere.

“The Teamsters have said all along we’re not fighting trade – we are fighting trade that destroys good jobs and lowers standards,” Hoffa said. “We are for trade that creates jobs and improves working conditions. And we are for this bill that would rewrite the rules for global trade to help protect workers everywhere at this critical time. We have to make sure labor rights are not an afterthought, but the first thought.”

“It’s time for an honest assessment of what our trade agreements yielded and recognize where changes are in order. After we’ve seen more than 5 million jobs lost to our ‘trading partners,’ in NAFTA, CAFTA, and China, and with new export opportunities not enough to offset our trade deficit, it’s time for a new direction in trade policy,” Brown said.

“The TPP is an opportunity to learn from the past. And that means demanding our trade partners uphold the same labor, environmental, and human rights standards that we do. The rules of trade and the processes for negotiating the rules matter. We should export American products, not American jobs,” Brown concluded.

Photo: Back in 1996 Teamsters were protesting NAFTA trucking regulations in San Diego. They are longtime proponents of fair trade with labor standards that benefit workers everywhere. Denis Poroy/AP


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.