The Democratic National Committee is meeting this weekend in Orlando to mark up a platform laying out the views and aspirations of the party. Up to this point, we have made good progress in helping to create the most progressive Democratic Party platform ever. But more needs to be done.
One of the major amendments that will be debated during this meeting is to make it clear that the Democratic Party is against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and will oppose it coming to the floor of Congress during a lame-duck session. In my view, the trade deal would result in job losses in the United States, make the global race to the bottom even worse, harm the environment, undermine democracy and increase the price of prescription drugs for some of the poorest people in the world.
This should not be controversial. It is the exact same position that Secretary Clinton and I have taken during the campaign, and opposition to the TPP is the position of the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress.
One of the major reasons why the middle class has been in a 40-year decline: poverty has been increasing and the gap between the very rich and everyone else has been growing wider and wider due to our disastrous trade policies. You do not need a Ph.D. in economics to understand that our trade agreements have failed.
Over the last 35 years, our trade agreements have been rigged by corporate America to shut down manufacturing plants in the U.S., throw workers out on the street and move to Mexico, China and other low-wage countries where workers are paid a fraction of what they are paid in the U.S. The new proposal would continue these destructive policies that have hollowed out the middle class and led to the deindustrialization of inner cities and factory towns throughout this country.
Since 2001, nearly 60,000 manufacturing plants in this country have been closed and we have lost more than 4.8 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs. Not all of these lost factories and jobs are due to our trade policies, but many of them are.
Over and over again, supporters of free trade have told us that unfettered free trade would increase jobs and reduce the trade deficit. Over and over again, they have been proven dead wrong.
In 1993, during the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement, the establishment promised us that this trade deal with Mexico and Canada would create a million jobs over a five-year period. Instead, the Economic Policy Institute found that NAFTA has led to the loss of 850,000 jobs. NAFTA turned a small trade surplus with Mexico into an annual trade deficit of $60 billion.
Six years later, we were told that Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China would create a thriving middle class in China that would purchase a plethora of American-made goods and products. We were promised that this trade deal was not NAFTA. This trade deal would be much better. As a matter of fact, we were told that it would be “a hundred-to-nothing deal for America when it comes to the economic consequences.”
Instead, it led to the loss of 3.2 million jobs as American workers have been forced to compete with some of the most desperate workers in the world. Since this trade deal was enacted, our annual trade deficit with China has ballooned from $83 billion to more than $365 billion.
In 2009, we were promised that the South Korea Free Trade Agreement would create at least 70,000 jobs and reduce the trade deficit. Instead, since it has gone into effect, we have lost over 100,000 jobs to South Korea and our trade deficit with that country has gone up by about 115 percent.
And today, the supporters of the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership are telling us to ignore the past and trust them when they tell us this time is different. This deal will really, really create jobs and be good for America, cross our hearts and hope to die.
But the reality is that this job-killing free trade agreement is based on the same flawed NAFTA trade model. It should be called what it is: NAFTA on steroids. Here are four reasons why we must do everything we can to defeat the TPP.
First, this trade agreement continues an approach toward trade that forces Americans to compete against workers in Vietnam where the minimum wage is 65 cents an hour. Even worse, this trade deal would give privileged access to the U.S. market to Malaysia where migrant workers in the electronics industry are working as modern-day slaves — workers who have had their passports and wages confiscated and are unable to return to their own countries. It is bad enough to force U.S. workers to compete with low-wage labor. They should not have to compete with no-wage labor.
This is not “free trade.” This is the race to the bottom. Not only have good-paying jobs been lost. The mere threat of corporations moving jobs to low-wage countries has forced too many workers in the U.S. to agree to unacceptable cuts in pay, health care, and pension benefits. We cannot allow that to continue.
Second, when we are talking about the TPP it’s important to know who is for it and who is against it.
Large, multinational corporations that have outsourced millions of good-paying American jobs to China, Mexico, Bangladesh and other low-wage countries think the TPP is a great idea. They understand that this legislation will allow them to accelerate efforts to hire cheap labor abroad. The TPP is also strongly supported by Wall Street and large pharmaceutical companies who understand that their global profits will increase if this agreement is passed.
On the other hand, every union in this country, representing more than 12 million American workers, is in opposition to this agreement because they understand that the TPP will lead to the loss of decent-paying jobs and will depress wages.
Virtually every major environmental organization also opposes this legislation. They understand that the TPP will make it easier for multinational corporations to pollute and degrade the global environment.
Major religious groups also oppose this legislation because it would reward some of the worst violators of human rights in the world.
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Third, the TPP would undermine democracy by giving multinational corporations the right to challenge any law or regulation that could reduce their “expected future profits” through what is known as the Investor State Dispute Settlement system.
Under NAFTA, TransCanada is suing the U.S. under the tribunal for $15 billion because President Obama had the courage to reject the Keystone Pipeline. The president made this decision because the Keystone Pipeline would have transported some of the dirtiest tar sands oil on the planet and made climate change even worse. We should not allow this decision to be threatened or second-guessed by an unelected international tribunal.
A French waste management firm, Veolia, used the same process to sue Egypt for $110 million because it increased its minimum wage and improved its labor laws, in violation of a contract it had made with the government. In other words, Egypt’s “crime” is trying to improve life for their low-wage workers.
Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company, has used the process to sue Germany for $5 billion over its decision to phase out nuclear power. Should the people of Germany have the right to make energy choices on their own or should these decisions be left in the hands of an unelected international tribunal?
Do we really want to tell governments all around the world, including the U.S., that if they pass legislation protecting the wellbeing of their citizens they could pay substantial fines to multinational corporations because of the loss of future profits? Of course not. But that’s exactly what will happen if the TPP goes into effect.
Fourth, the TPP would substantially raise the price of prescription drugs for some of the most desperate people in the world. Pharmaceutical companies are doing everything they can to extend their monopoly rights and make it harder to access lower cost generic drugs, even if it means that thousands will die because they cannot afford higher prices for the drugs they need.
According to Oxfam, over 125,000 people in Vietnam alone — more than half of HIV/AIDS patients living in that country — could lose access to the medication they need to survive if the TPP is implemented. Moreover, Doctors Without Borders has stated that: “The TPP agreement is on track to become the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines in developing countries.”
Enough is enough. If we are serious about rebuilding the middle class, we must do everything we can to prevent the TPP from coming up for a vote in the lame-duck session and beyond. Trade is a good thing, but it has got to be fair. And the TPP is anything but fair. I hope all of the Platform Committee members in Orlando will unify behind this amendment and work to fundamentally rewrite our trade policies to help all people, not just the CEOs of multi-national corporations.