A Promise Obama Can Keep Before the Election: Make Trade Transparent

President Obama "talked the talk" about renewing the American manufacturing sector and the broader economy at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Now, he faces a "walk the walk" challenge.

The Obama administration's trade representative continues to engage in secretive meetings with multinational corporations as part of the process of negotiating a "new NAFTA" known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The secretiveness mirrors negotiations the led to the North American Free Trade Agreement and other deals that have been devastating to the American manufacturing sector. These are precisely the sort of agreements that take away the "level playing field" both Obama and Mitt Romney say they want for American workers. Yet, they keep being negotiated by Republican and Democratic administrations because they are not just favored by Wall Street and the multinationals, they top priorities of the CEOs, hedge-fund managers and speculators who form the donor class of American politics.

"NAFTA on steroids" is the term Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, uses to describe the direction behind-closed-door negotiations for the TPP appear to be headed. Indeed, argue Global Trade Watch analysts: "The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) 'free trade' agreement is a stealthy policy being pressed by corporate America, a dream of the 1 percent, that in one blow could:

* offshore millions of American jobs

* free the banksters from oversight

* ban the 'Buy American' policies needed to create green jobs and rebuild our economy

* decrease access to medicine (especially generic drugs)

* flood the U.S. with unsafe food and products

* empower corporations to attack our environmental and health-care standards."

More than 130 members of Congress -- including many prominent speakers at the Democratic National Convention (Maryland's Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards, Illinois' Luis Gutierrez, Missouri's Emanuel Cleaver) have urged Obama administration U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk "to engage in broader and deeper consultations with members of the full range of committees of Congress whose jurisdiction touches on the wide-ranging issues involved, and to ensure there is ample opportunity for Congress to have input on critical policies that will have broad ramifications for years to come."

Yet sessions shaping the agreement -- in consultation, according to the Citizens Trade Campaign, with Cargill, GlaxoSmithKline, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Nike, Wal-Mart and other major corporations -- continue to be held behind closed doors, with the latest taking place Sunday at the posh Lansdowne Resort in Virginia.

Protesters outside the event took steps to project pro-transparency slogans such as "Release the Texts" and broader messages such as "No More NAFTAs" on surfaces in and around the resort.

Activists gathered to deliver the same message outside the resort.

Ron Collins, chief of staff for the Communications Workers of America union, declared that: "The TPP is shaping up to become one of the biggest and most destructive trade agreements because it could lead to even more offshoring of our manufacturing and service sector jobs, downward pressure on wages and benefits, and the subversion of our labor rights and environmental protections. But the public is unaware that the TPP even exists because negotiators are keeping their proposals hidden. Americans deserve the right to know what's being proposed in our names."

Friends of the Earth US president Erich Pica adds: "The TPP would allow transnational corporations to challenge environmental laws that protect our air, land and water. The TPP could lead to an explosion in natural gas and other energy exports -- something that would expand dangerous fracking and accelerate global warming. With such dire environmental impacts, it is no wonder U.S. trade negotiators want to prevent this pact from being debated in the open."

They were joined by advocates for family farmers, who could be among the hardest hit by the agreement.

"It's outrageous that middlemen like (agribusiness giants) Cargill and Land O' Lakes are provided ongoing access to the negotiating texts, while the family farmers whose livelihoods will be affected by the TPP are being barred from commenting on specific texts until after the negotiations have concluded," says Kathy Ozer, executive director of the National Family Farm Coalition. "It's only reasonable to expect farmers, consumers and the environment to suffer under such an imbalanced negotiating process."

President Obama spoke in Charlotte about seeking "a future where we export more products and outsource fewer jobs." Trade agreements play a critical role in determining that future. Good trade agreements, grounded in "fair trade" values and a commitment to aid the workers of the U.S. and other countries, produce good results. Bad trade agreements, grounded in "free trade" fantasies and the demands of Wall Street speculators and lobbyists for multinational corporations, produce bad results.

What Americans need to know is whether the TPP, which is being negotiated in their name but without their informed consent, is headed in a good or bad direction.

In Charlotte, President Obama declared: "You elected me to tell you the truth."

He can start by ordering his trade representative to remove the cloak of secrecy, begin serious consultations with Congress and make TPP negotiations open and transparent.

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