Trade Is Good But Rules Must Be Fair

For several years now we’ve heard the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) called things like, “the secret trade deal you’ve never heard of.” This is starting to change since the introduction of the new Fast Track bill. Fast Track is the bill needed to give President Obama authority to move forward with the negotiation. It is the way Congress says, “we trust your judgment and don’t need to see the details first.”

Unfortunately, now that the deal is hitting mainstream media, much of the news and analysis is misleading or incomplete at best. At a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House earlier this spring, Obama said, “I’ve got some good friends who are opposed to this trade agreement, but when I ask them specifically what is it that you oppose, they start talking about NAFTA. And I’m thinking, ‘well, I … I had just come out of law school when NAFTA was passed!’ ”

He said this with a smile and the clear implication that these are people behind the times, as if the legacy of NAFTA is not still with us.

Just days before, the New York Times ran an article by N. Gregory Mankiw, an economics professor at Harvard, titled, “Economists Actually Agree on This: The Wisdom of Free Trade,” in which Mr. Mankiw opines about how good trade is for the economy and proposing that those who oppose the TPP and Fast Track oppose all international trade.

NAFTA Kills Jobs...Millions of farmers in Mexico lost their farms in the wake of NAFTA because they could not compete with subsidized imports coming from the US. Their own government was made powerless to protect them because large multi-national corporations can and do sue foreign governments when they feel their profits are jeopardized by that government’s domestic policies. Published reports showed that farmers in all participating countries saw incomes drop after NAFTA. Today’s immigration crisis and the farmworker crisis in Mexico can, in part, trace their roots back to NAFTA. The truth is, free trade agreements are free and beneficial only for those already in power.

In short, there is good reason to refer to NAFTA when discussing new trade deals. The public has been given no reason to believe the TPP will be any different and no indication that the legacy of NAFTA will be reversed.

And contrary to what Mankiw proposes, these very real concerns do not stem from an unwillingness to engage in international trade. Over 2,000 organizations signed a letter to Congress opposing Fast Track, among them organizations, like FWP, that actively promote trade and international relations, but simply want fair rules. Among those who have publicly signed letters, set up web pages, or posted on social media in opposition to Fast Track and TPP are several brands whose very business models depend on international trade. Deans Beans (coffee and tea), Equal Exchange (coffee, tea, chocolate, fruit, nuts, olive oil), Dr. Bronner’s (oil-based soaps), Maggie’s Organics (apparel), and Ben and Jerry’s (hard to make chocolate fudge brownies without a cocoa farmer) all fit this category. These are all brands who know that trade is essential, but also know the rules that govern trade need to be fair and support farmers they partner with.

To use the argument “trade is good, therefore we should all support the TPP” is akin to saying, “sports are good, therefore we should all support dog fighting.”

We live in a global world sustained by trade. It’s not just economists and the President of the United States who acknowledge that. Now it is time to take the conversation to the next level where we openly address very real concerns about past and current trade rules and make sure any new trade deals work for the 99%. After all, if we can’t slow down enough to examine the details, we can only assume there is something to hide.

Posted on June 9th 2015

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