US: trade deals and resistance

29 April 2015

Ask people on the streets in the USA about TTIP and they are less likely to know what you’re talking about than if you ask the same in the UK. Certainly the secrecy around the deal in the States is even more intense than in the UK, and the media is complicit with a similarly business-pages-only coverage afforded to the negotiations. There’s another dimension: that of NAFTA and TPP.

NAFTA, the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, implemented by the US, Canada and Mexico in 1994, has left a very sour taste in Americans’ mouths. The deal heralded a flight of manufacturing jobs from the US to Mexico and impoverished many. Before the deal, the predictions were of a jobs bonanza. When signing the deal President Clinton said:

"NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't support this agreement."

According to the AFL-CIO (the US equivalent of the TUC in the UK) 700,000 jobs were lost to Mexico thanks to NAFTA. The main story from NATFA was job losses.

TPP, The Trans-Pacific Partnership, is currently being negotiated between 12 countries around the Pacific Ocean, including Brunei, Chile, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Peru. Whilst not as comprehensive as TTIP, it is easy to see how a fear of a flight of jobs via TPP could happen. Whereas with TTIP, as the EU has more developed economies and better levels of pay and workers’ rights than some of the TPP partners, the problems are of a different nature.

TTIP is more about a corporate takeover of decision making and increased competition, concepts which aren’t as immediate and threatening as unemployment. The more controversial parts of TTIP, especially Investor Protection provisions in the form of ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement), are presented as essential protection for investors based in the US, not as threats to democracy and infringements on a state’s right to choose its own path in future legislation.

Then we have the huge issue of Fast Track (or more formally the Trade Promotion Authority). I touched on this in a previous blog post. Fast Track now seems an essential part of the process of agreeing TPP and TTIP and getting both agreements approved by the US government. Such is the opposition amongst (mostly) Democrats in the House of Representatives, the President needs strong arm tactics to get TPP and TTIP agreed and signed. Fast Track will ensure there can be no filibustering of any debate on trade deals and that no Representative can table amendments to the deal as it is presented.

The coming vote looks close. Most of the 188 Democrats are opposed to Fast Track, although a small handful will be supporting Obama. The 244-strong Republican side of the House is naturally supportive of TPP and TTIP, but is reluctant to grant Obama the powers contained in Fast Track. It looks like the result will come down to the efforts of campaigners and the deals struck in various meetings and one-to-one conversations and arm-twisting behind the scene. House of Cards fans may be familiar with the democratic machinations at play here.

Both sides realise that the likelihood is that Fast Track, if approved, will still exist when the next president is elected, whoever that may be, adding a mysterious and potentially dangerous twist from all viewpoints

So, US campaigners are concentrating their fire power on Fast Track. This week they issued a 2,009 signatory letter from organisations across civil society, an unprecedented response from a usually fragmented section of society. The letter quoted Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees:

“Fast Track is rigged to give special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers. We’ve seen this before and it has led to massive job loss. We cannot get better trade agreements until we get our priorities straight.”

There’s a lot up for grabs stateside at present. We offer our backing and our solidarity to all resisting the onslaught of neo-liberalism in the form of trade agreements in the States right now.

Above image: A protest at the TTIP negotiations in New York City on Thursday 23 April



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