As president of the longshoremen’s union in Tacoma, I’m naturally pro-trade. Being from Washington state, I also get to witness the large volume of this state’s bountiful agricultural products flowing from Eastern Washington to all over the globe.
So many jobs are dependent in some form or fashion on the success of trade in Washington state. I’m proud to help export Washington goods to foreign countries and unload products to benefit people on our shores.
So it might come as a surprise that I strongly oppose what’s been billed as the biggest free-trade agreement in a generation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). If this agreement passes Congress, it may directly benefit my workforce through an increase in jobs, but in this day and age of globalization, it would be very shortsighted to think only about the effects of something so substantial through a lens of self-interest.
The reason is simple: TPP isn’t really about trade. Of the agreement’s 30 chapters, only six have to do with reducing barriers to trading goods and services. The deal is mostly about giving the world’s biggest corporations special rights and privileges that would come at the expense of workers, the environment, even consumers.
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Take, for example, the labeling of foods. Food safety laws, pesticide limits and the use of additives would be subject to challenge as “illegal trade barriers.”
It’s no accident that both parties’ presidential candidates and the vast majority of Americans now oppose TPP.
For a sense of what’s wrong with the deal, consider where it comes from: It was negotiated behind closed doors with help from hundreds of “advisers” representing companies such as Wal-Mart, Chevron and Cargill. Our laws and legislative bills are supposed to be created by government representatives for the safety and benefit of citizens, not corporations and their lawyers.
The deal also gives away national sovereignty and gives special rights to corporations in the name of free trade. It gives firms new rights to sue the U.S. government in front of unaccountable panels of corporate lawyers. The lawyers would be able to award the corporations unlimited sums of money — to be paid by American taxpayers — including for the loss of “expected future profits.”
These foreign firms would only need to convince the lawyers that a U.S. law or environmental protection measure violates their new rights.
TPP isn’t just a corporate power grab, it’s also a job killer. The U.S. International Trade Commission found that the pact would further gut the U.S. manufacturing sector. A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the deal would lead to pay cuts for all but the top 10 percent of U.S. earners. After the loss of 5 million manufacturing jobs in recent years, this could be devastating.
We need agreements that benefit the most people for the greatest good, not just corporations.
TPP would force many U.S. workers into direct competition with the workforce in countries like Vietnam, where laborers earn about 65 cents an hour.
While strong, cross-party opposition to the TPP continues to grow, a small but influential group in Congress is still scheming to quietly pass the TPP in the lame-duck session after the election.
Too many of our state’s representatives — including Democratic Congressmen Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck — are still undecided. This must change. Washington’s elected officials should understand that trade should be about expanding the economy and creating jobs, not increasing inequality and special corporate privileges.
There is some good news: Lawmakers have to listen to their constituents. For the sake of our economy, environment and democracy, let your elected representatives know why we oppose the TPP.
We have a saying in the ILWU: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” That is why we cannot support this agreement, and we encourage all citizens to get educated about it.
Dean McGrath is president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU 23) in Tacoma.