Five Questions President Obama Doesn’t Want to Face as He Meets with Vietnam’s President Today on the Trans-Pacific Partnership

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Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch: Maggie Henderson (202) 454-5108

Five Questions President Obama Doesn’t Want to Face as He Meets with Vietnam’s President Today on the Trans-Pacific Partnership

WASHINGTON - Following yesterday’s release of a report on the abysmal labor conditions in Vietnam that confirms the U.S. Labor Department’s 2012 downgrading of Vietnam to the worst category of labor rights violators, President Obama will meet with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang today in Washington. The two leaders will discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade and investment agreement that the Obama administration seeks to conclude with Vietnam in October. Human rights and labor organizations have called for suspension of the talks until Vietnam can meet basic labor and human right standards.

In its 2012 country report, the U.S. State Department cited Vietnam for serious human rights and labor rights violations. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs downgraded Vietnam to a critical list of just four countries that use both child and forced labor in apparel production. Vietnam’s goal in the TPP is to obtain more access to the United States for such products. These reports raise questions that President Obama would undoubtedly rather avoid:

  • Why does President Obama view Vietnam as an appropriate partner for a trade agreement given the insurmountable proof that the country flouts the most fundamental labor rights – banning independent unions, jailing labor organizers and tolerating widespread child labor?
  • Given the administration’s termination of preferential access for Bangladesh’s textile and apparel goods after dangerous working conditions resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 workers, why is the administration rushing into a pact that would eliminate its right to take the same measure with Vietnam, despite recent reports of similarly unsafe conditions?
  • The Obama administration claims that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will include enforceable labor rights requirements and it hopes the deal will be done this fall. So, will Vietnam be denied the pact’s new market access into the United States unless and until the country can meet the labor standards, which would require fundamental changes to the country’s political system and laws that currently tolerate no independent unions?
  • Why would the United States rush into a trade agreement with Vietnam after an American diplomat was attacked there in 2011 while trying to visit a “dissident” priest as part of a human rights investigation, causing the United States to lodge a formal grievance over the matter?
  • Given Vietnam has become a job-offshoring venue of choice – with wages at a fraction of those in China and brutal suppression of labor rights – and given that average per capita income of $1,400 provides little demand for U.S. goods, a trade deal with Vietnam is not a good deal for U.S. workers. If the deal is supposed to help Vietnamese people, please explain why U.S. negotiators are demanding medicine patent extensions and limits on generic drugs that would dramatically raise drug prices and hinder the availability of medicines for Vietnamese people living with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses, including by raising prices for PEPFAR drugs supported by U.S. taxpayers.
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