A coalition of 403 progressive advocacy groups on Thursday outlined conditions they say must be met for a pending Indo-Pacific trade pact to achieve important labor and environmental objectives and urged the White House to promote them during upcoming negotiations.
"As organizations whose constituencies continue to experience the harm caused by past corporate-centered trade agreements, we have a strong desire to work with your administration to advance goals you have described for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF)—particularly in terms of a long overdue shift in direction for U.S. trade policy that finally places working people and climate action at the center," the coalition wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden.
The letter comes in the wake of a two-week Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Palm Springs—where trade justice campaigners rallied for a "worker-centered and climate-friendly" IPEF—and shortly before U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai's office is expected to unveil Washington's proposals for the agreement's labor, environment, and digital trade chapters during a key negotiating round later this month in Bali, Indonesia.
In order to secure a final deal that "corrects the errors of past trade pacts and becomes a useful model for future agreements that deliver real benefits to people and the planet," the groups explained their shared priorities for those three issues:
- Labor: "To advance your administration's promised worker-centered trade model, IPEF must include strong labor rights commitments based on standards set in the International Labor Organization's core conventions, and it must also include facility-specific enforcement mechanisms, building off the Rapid Response Mechanism in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). IPEF signatory countries must also be required to make the changes to their labor laws necessary to align them with their new IPEF obligations before the pact is signed by the United States. IPEF must take steps forward relative to the USMCA, not backward, on labor rights and labor enforcement."
- Environment: "Given that previous U.S. trade agreements, including the USMCA, fail to even mention the term 'climate change,' IPEF will need to be particularly ambitious in its climate provisions if it is to help the United States and Indo-Pacific region achieve their climate and environmental justice goals. Among other environmental measures, IPEF must require that countries adopt, implement, and maintain binding climate standards, and must likewise extend swift-and-certain enforcement mechanisms to those provisions."
- Digital Trade: "On the matter of 'digital trade,' IPEF's terms must not be allowed to undermine the administration's domestic anti-monopoly and tech regulation agenda by locking in international rules that threaten consumer privacy, data security, worker rights, civil rights, algorithm justice, and competition policy here and throughout the Indo-Pacific. In comparison to the USMCA's digital terms, any data flow guarantees or limits on safeguarding where data can be processed or stored must be scaled back significantly in any IPEF deal, with much broader exceptions added to better protect Americans' personal data, as well as to protect good-paying jobs in the digital
"A wide range of organizations across the United States are ready to fight for an Indo-Pacific trade deal that furthers the president's vision of creating a new model for trade and international cooperation that prioritizes working people, combats global climate change, and reins in Big Tech abuses," said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, which organized the letter.
"Whatever labor, environmental, and digital positions the U.S. ultimately introduces," he added, "will play a big role in determining whether IPEF is helpful in advancing these goals."
Signatories include the Amazon Labor Union, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Communications Workers of America, Greenpeace USA, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, National Family Farm Coalition, Public Citizen, Rethink Trade, Trade Justice Education Fund, and United Steelworkers.
"A wide range of organizations across the United States are ready to fight for an Indo-Pacific trade deal that furthers the president's vision of creating a new model for trade and international cooperation."
"We are heartened by and appreciate reports that IPEF will not include some of the damaging provisions found in past trade agreements, such as the anti-worker, anti-environment, and anti-democratic investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system and public procurement terms that could undermine 'Buy America,' 'buy local,' and 'buy green' programs," the letter says.
However, "the list of countries selected as initial IPEF partners... includes many with records of labor rights violations, including unionist assassinations, human trafficking, forced labor, child labor, and more," it continues.
The Biden administration announced this week that it plans to crack down on the exploitation of child migrants in the U.S., following a bombshell New York Times report exposing a surge in child labor law violations committed by several corporations.
The coalition's letter stresses that "so-called 'Good Regulatory Practice' provisions must not replicate the terms of past trade proposals aimed at delaying, weakening, and destroying future public interest policies before they are even created."
Moreover, "any agricultural provisions should allow for the creation of strategic food and grain reserves and other public investment in agricultural resilience and local food systems; include measures to stop land grabs and otherwise protect the human rights of farmers and farm workers; and set floors, rather than ceilings, when it comes to food safety and fair price measures for producers and consumers," states the letter.
Finally, the letter emphasizes the need to make the IPEF negotiating process more transparent and participatory:
The United States' requirement that IPEF negotiating parties sign confidentiality agreements undermines the ability for an informed citizenry to provide input on policy that impacts their livelihoods and communities; we urge you to terminate these confidentiality agreements. We also urge you to publish upcoming U.S. IPEF proposals for public comment prior to tabling them, including those on critical chapters like labor, the environment, and digital trade that we understand will be tabled soon, in addition to all other texts. And we urge the United States and other countries to publish proposals and any draft composite texts at the close of each IPEF negotiating round. A more transparent and participatory negotiating process for IPEF would allow for a wider set of interests to provide informed input and ensure equitable treatment of communities which are not part of the official U.S. trade advisor system, mostly representing corporations who now have access to U.S. proposals and other confidential IPEF texts.
"Reversing an unnecessarily bureaucratic and obtuse trade negotiating regime requires operating in a transparent manner and would facilitate broader public support and confidence among civil society organizations," the letter adds.
Ahead of talks last summer between the U.S. and 13 Asian and Australiasian nations, Jane Kelsey, a trade justice campaigner with Aotearoa in New Zealand, said that if the Biden administration "can produce a real alternative that puts people and the planet front and center, and can convince our governments to genuinely support that new paradigm, we will work to make it succeed."
"But if IPEF is just another way to promote the old corporate agenda, and a proxy for the U.S.'s geopolitical goals," she warned, "we will campaign against it like we did with the Trans-Pacific Partnership."