FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

From the Folks Who Brought You NAFTA

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.

And because this is where things (motivations, expectations, limitations) get a little hairy, we need to resort to a baseball analogy.  It’s a truism in baseball that no team ever intentionally makes a trade it believes will hurt them.  Indeed (except for extraordinary circumstances), the only reason a team ever agrees to a trade in the first place is because they think it will benefit them.  Which brings us to Vietnam.

Not to pick on anybody, but when it comes to labor abuses (low wages, sweatshop conditions, anti-union hysteria) Vietnam has a deplorable reputation.  How deplorable? The modestly paid unionized auto workers in India’s northern Haryana state are constantly being told by management that if they don’t stop their bitching, the company is going to pull up stakes and move the whole damn operation to Vietnam.

So why would Vietnam sign an agreement that required them to treat workers in ways they never, not in their wildest dreams, ever considered?  Why would Vietnam tolerate something as repellent as collective bargaining?  The obvious answer is that access to exciting new markets would make it a fair trade-off.  But the not-so-obvious answer is that Vietnam has no intention whatever of complying with TPP’s labor provisions.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  Pretending we can enforce labor practices in faraway Vietnam (or Brunei or Singapore) is a fantasy.  We can’t even do it here at home.  It’s true.  Labor statutes right here in the U.S. get violated with impunity everyday, which why so many ULP (unfair labor practice) charges are filed each year with the NLRB.   Unless we arm TPP with the most extravagant and menacing penalty clauses ever written into an FTA, this whole deal could turn out very ugly.

David Macaray, CounterPunch’s labor correspondent, is a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition). He was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail