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A Salt Lake City protest against the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is calling for increased transparency around trade negotiations. (Photo: Jerrick Romero-Backbone Campaign/flickr/cc)

'There is an Alternative': Progressive Caucus Puts Forth Worker-First Trade Vision

Lawmakers champion principles would 'strengthen working families, not sabotage them'

Deirdre Fulton

Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said this week that it is unlikely that a Fast Track trade bill will come before lawmakers for consideration before April.

According to Reuters, "Hatch said talks on the trade bill, seen as key to finalizing the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), were 'stuck' over Democratic demands to allow unsatisfactory deals to be taken off the fast track."

While the delay affords time for Republican leaders to line up votes in favor of the corporate-friendly trade agreement, it also provides a window for "a long overdue serious national debate on our global trade and tax policy," writes Robert Borosage, founder and president of the Institute for America's Future, in an op-ed published Friday.

A good starting point for that debate could be the alternative trade strategy (pdf) released this week by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC)—a set of broad principles "to establish standards for U.S. trade policy that put workers first, balance trade deficits, and improve labor and environmental protections around the world."

"The CPC seeks more trade, but on terms that will strengthen working families, not sabotage them," Borosage writes.

The Caucus charges that since implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, "the U.S. has lost millions of jobs in key sectors like manufacturing, wages have stagnated, and the standard of living for working families has dropped." Current trade deals up for negotiation, such as the TPP and the equally troubling Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe, offer the American people more of the same, the progressive lawmakers say.

"The United States must stop using trade agreements as investment deals for the world’s wealthiest corporations and instead prioritize higher wages, safer work and environmental standards, and a healthier world economy," said the CPC in a statement. 

Among other things, the Caucus's proposed model calls for:

  • Fast Track authority "to be replaced with a process appropriate to today's expansive trade agreements," one that embraces transparency and gives Congress a "robust role" in developing trade policy.
  • Meaningful labor protections "that are easily understood by unionists in partner nations, and properly enforced."
  • Legally binding obligations for partner nations to adopt, maintain, implement, and strengthen domestic environmental laws and policies.
  • Affordable access to essential medicines.
  • Elevation of consumer rights above corporate well-being.

In addition, the CPC would terminate the creation of a private court system for foreign investors, strengthen trade adjustment assistance, and prohibit currency manipulation.

"All of these principles are basic common sense," Borosage argues. "All are elements of a trade policy that represents the interests of the American people, as opposed to the interests of global corporations and investors.

He adds: "If accepted they would provide a framework for expanded trade in which workers both here and abroad would benefit. If refused, we could continue to trade with various countries, but without locking ourselves into trade deals that steal our jobs, undermine our wages and trample our courts."

Perhaps most importantly, Borosage concludes, the CPC's proposed model "shows there is an alternative" to secret trade deals written for—and by—multinational banks and corporations.

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