As Senate debates “fast track” for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Senator Elizabeth Warren says the trade deals have failed workers.
ELIZABETH WARREN, D-MASS: No matter what promises are made, huge trade deals often just tilt the playing field further in favor of big, multinational corporations. JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: On Tuesday, Massachusetts Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the Trade Transparency Act. It would require the President to release the scrubbed bracketed text of any trade agreement at least 60 days before Congress grants fast-track authority to free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, otherwise known as the TPP. Currently the TPP, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of the global economy, has been negotiated in complete secrecy. Members of Congress have access to the text, but can’t discuss the details. And anyone who has read the text of the agreement could be jailed for disclosing its contents. Those who have read the text, like insider Michael Wessel, a board member of Goodyear Tires and lobbyist for United Steel Workers of America, says Senator Warren is right for being concerned. He writes in a political article, quote: “Nothing being considered by Congress right now would sure that the TPP meets the goal of promoting domestic production and job creation.” A new report from Senator Warren’s office titled Broken Promises points out how past free trade deals have failed American workers. It examines both past Republican and Democratic presidents’ rhetoric on free trade, and how it often doesn’t match the reality of upholding labor standards. Warren has been going tete-a-tete with President Obama over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The President has called the TPP the most progressive trade agreement in history. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It’s the highest standard trade agreement in our history. It is the most progressive trade agreement in our history. It’s got strong provisions for workers. Strong provisions for the environment. And unlike some past trade agreements, all these provisions are actually enforceable. DESVARIEUX: But Warren says trade deals in the past have been purported to be enforceable, but never really work out that way in reality. Back in 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, also known as NAFTA. He promised that it would have real teeth to enforce labor standards. FMR. PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: To the men and women of our country who were afraid of these changes and found in their opposition to NAFTA an expression of that fear, what I thought was a wrong expression, and what I know was a wrong expression, but nonetheless represented legitimate fears. The gains from this agreement will be your gains, too. DESVARIEUX: But those promised gains turned into losses. More than one million U.S. jobs have been lost since NAFTA was enacted 20 years ago according to the non-partisan think tank Public Citizen. And last year the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, conducted an assessment of the U.S. government’s implementation of labor provisions in existing free trade agreements. Investigators found, quote: “Persistent challenges to labor rights, such as limited enforcement capacity, the use of subcontracting to avoid direct employment, and in Colombia and Guatemala, violence against union leaders.” Attorney and activist Kevin Zeese has been on the front lines fighting against the TPP, protesting before the Senate Finance Services Committee back in January. Zeese says this bill at the end of the day is about protecting corporate interests. KEVIN ZEESE, CO-DIRECTOR, POPULARRESISTANCE.ORG: The United States government is so polluted by corporate power and corporate money that they really don’t investigate these abuses very thoroughly, and almost never bring any kind of enforcement action. I think Obama’s brought one enforcement action. Prior to 2008, there were none. And Obama’s was an action that originally was complained about six years ago. Justice delayed is justice denied, so a six-year delay before a complaint is brought, and then you have X number of years beyond that for it to be resolved. It [may well has] not have even brought the complaint. So it’s a burdensome, slow process because corporate power really infects our government. DESVARIEUX: But the Obama administration argues that if America doesn’t lead, China will. And without these agreement conditions, it would be much worse for workers. MICHAEL FROMAN, U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE: And those regional agreements that are being negotiated, they don’t focus on labor and environment and intellectual property rights, and state-owned enterprises, and the free internet. They don’t try and raise the bar in a way that levels the playing field for our workers and our firms, creates a real opportunity for us to compete in what is the fastest growing region of the world. DESVARIEUX: But Warren argues that these deals are not in the interest of workers, and create advantages for corporations. For example, corporations can act outside of a country’s judicial system through corporate-friendly arbitrators. WARREN: If a country wants to adopt strong new protections for workers, like an increase in the minimum wage, a corporation can use these corporate-friendly panels to seek millions or billions in taxpayer compensation because the new rules might eat into the company’s profits. But boy, it doesn’t work in the other direction. If a country wants to undermine worker rights by allowing child labor or slave labor or paying workers pennies an hour, there’s no special worker-friendly process for challenging that. Instead, advocates for workers are stuck begging their governments to enforce their actions and their rights. DESVARIEUX: Now the Senate is on the verge of approving fast-track. That gives the President the authority to sign a trade agreement before Congress can even vote on the deal. It also guarantees that Congress will vote on the bill within 90 days with all floor amendments forbidden, and a maximum of 20 hours of debate. A path the Senate could be on by the end of the week. For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.