Sunday, August 28, 2011

Trade pact to be negotiated, and opposed, during Labor Day week

Government officials from at least nine Pacific Rim counties will gather in Chicago September 6-15 to pump some life into negotiations for a new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement. On September 5, Labor Day, unions and other critics of the agreement will hold a rally in Chicago’s Grant Park, near the downtown hotels housing the visiting delegations.

Frustrated by a stalemate in the World Trade Organization, the Bush administration almost a decade ago started concentrating on bilateral and regional channels to seek its objectives. So far, success has proved just as elusive, even with the support of the new Obama administration.

Widespread public opposition to FTAs of any kind prompted President Obama’s trade representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk, to launch an unprecedented 50-state “outreach” in 2010 to sell TPP. According to a November 2010 Pew Research Center poll, now only 35% of Americans believe that free trade agreements benefit the United States.

TPPFTA negotiations began in earnest on March 15 last year with the governments of eight countries -- Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, yes, Vietnam – on board with the U.S.

On March 14, Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, and the presidents of the Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore labor movements, issued a joint declaration on how the TPPFTA fails to meet the standards for a fair agreement. The shortcomings they cited were chiefly in the areas of transparency, worker rights, investment, environment, procurement, intellectual property, and consumer protection.

In a memo for reporters on August 26, the Citizens Trade Campaign summarized its case against TPPFTA. “With high U.S. unemployment,” it stated, “pressure builds for a fair deal or no deal.” (

The American Enterprise Institute, like other business organizations, strongly favors the agreement, to the point of considering it a possible model for all 21st century trade pacts. (

No one expects negotiations to be concluded by its deadline of November this year. The issues are so complex, and bound to become more so as other Rim nations join the current nine, that it doesn’t not seem possible – or desirable – for TPPFTA to be wrapped up even by November 2012. If ever.

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