Posted: 03/15/2013 1:03 pm
Although there hasn’t been much mainstream news coverage, the U.S. is currently in negotiations with nine APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) countries on what could become the biggest, most ambitious, most comprehensive FTA (free trade agreement) in history. The proposed agreement is called TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). Basically, if approved in its present form, it would resemble NAFTA on steroids. And we all know how well NAFTA turned out.
The nine countries involved in TPP negotiations are: the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Mexico, Malaysia, Peru, Chile, New Zealand and Australia. Trade analysts have noted that should TPP be approved in its present, open-ended form, it would allow additional countries to sign onto it whenever they liked (without having to negotiate) which would mean, in effect, that TPP could be the last trade agreement the U.S. ever signed. In other words, it’s a critically important agreement.
And because it is such an important agreement, labor, human rights, and environmental groups are paying close attention. One concern is whether TPP will include the same controversial provision NAFTA had–the one that bestows upon foreign investors the privilege of circumventing the U.S. judicial system. Instead of going through U.S. courts, foreign investors who believe they haven’t been treated “fairly” can sue the U.S. government under the auspices of an international arbitration panel.
That was one of NAFTA’s major concessions, one that never should’ve been granted. By dangling in front of their eyes the opportunity to bypass the cumbersome U.S. judicial system (and take their chances with an arbitration panel), NAFTA encouraged U.S. companies to withdraw money from American enterprises and invest it in those of our trading partners. And why not? Under NAFTA they get a better deal going offshore than by staying put in the U.S. What gets sacrificed as a result is American jobs.
Another concern is the extent to which labor standards and practices laid out in the UN’s ILO (International Labor Organization) will be emphasized in TPP, and, equally important, whether TPP will include a mechanism insuring that these standards and practices are enforced. After all, if there is no reliable way to identify and punish violators, then all the well-meaning language in the world–no matter how noble and high-minded–is useless.
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