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The 1 Percent’s Trade Deals

This week, the House of Representatives will consider three pending U.S. free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The push to further deregulate trade seems to be one of the few things that President Obama and Congressional Republicans can agree on. And it represents, in stark detail, why so many around the country are protesting excess corporate power in Washington.

There is no clarion call from the public for more free trade agreements. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last year found that 69 percent of Americans believe free trade deals cost Americans jobs, only 18 percent believe they create jobs (see Public Citizen’s trade polling memo for more).

Yet, despite public opposition, these three trade agreements may very well gain Congressional approval. Why? Multinational corporations, so powerful now in Washington, urgently want to further deregulate trade and investment rules. If the promises of job creation and economic growth sound familiar, they should. We heard the same rhetoric before the U.S. signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the launching of the World Trade Organization.

Thirty years of the free trade model has been particularly damaging to farmers. Last month, IATP and over 50 farmer, fisher and rancher organizations sent a letter to Congress opposing the new trade deals. “We believe these agreements serve to concentrate the benefits to large-scale traders, processors, and exporters of certain food products while failing to ensure fair prices for farmers, equity for workers, human rights, food security and environmental protection,” the letter read.

Earlier this year, IATP’s Karen Hansen-Kuhn outlined our concerns with the Colombia trade deal: “The U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement will leave farmers and consumers at the mercy of volatile prices and markets rather than learning from the very real experiences of very recent history to build a new approach that ensures fair, healthy and resilient food systems for all. We’re still waiting for a 21st-century trade policy.”

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has also come out against this latest round of free trade agreements. NFU President Roger Johnson says the trade deals repeat a deregulatory model that hasn’t paid off for U.S. farmers: “Agriculture has been one of the few sectors of the U.S. trade economy that consistently has a trade surplus. Since 1990, agriculture has had a positive trade balance every year. With countries that the U.S. has a trade agreement with, U.S. agriculture has a net trade deficit in seven of the past eight years.”

The Citizens Trade Campaign has set up an action alert to members of Congress. Let them hear from the 99 percent.

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Ben Lilliston

Ben Lilliston oversees programmatic work at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and is the co-author of the book Genetically Engineered Foods: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers.

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