FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

From the Folks Who Brought You NAFTA

by DAVID MACARAY

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

January 23, 2018
Carl Boggs
Doomsday Panic in Hawaii
Mark Ashwill
If I Were US Ambassador to Vietnam…
Jack Rasmus
US Government Shutdown: Democrats Blink…Again
Nick Pemberton
The Inherent Whiteness of “Our Revolution”
Leeann Hall
Trump’s Gift for the Unemployed: Kicking Them Off Health Care
Dean Baker
Lessons in Economics For the NYT’s Bret Stephens: Apple and Donald Trump’s Big Tax Cut
Mitchell Zimmerman
Law, Order and the Dreamers
Ken Hannaford-Ricardi
The Kids the World Forgot
Dave Lindorff
South Korea Slips Off the US Leash
Ali Mohsin
Extrajudicial Murder of Pashtun Exposes State Brutality in Pakistan
Jessicah Pierre
Oprah is No Savior
John Carroll Md
Keeping Haiti in Perspective
Amir Khafagy
Marching Into the Arms of the Democrats
January 22, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
It’s Time to Call Economic Sanctions What They Are: War Crimes
Jim Kavanagh
Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory
Sheldon Richman
Trump Versus the World
Mark Schuller
One Year On, Reflecting and Refining Tactics to Take Our Country Back
Winslow Wheeler
Just What Earmark “Moratorium” are They Talking About?
W. T. Whitney
José Martí, Soul of the Cuban Revolution
Uri Avnery
May Your Home Be Destroyed          
Wim Laven
Year One Report Card: Donald Trump Failing
Jill Richardson
There Are No Shithole Countries
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
Are the Supremes About to Give Trump a Second Term?
Laura Finley
After #MeToo and #TimesUp
Howard Lisnoff
Impressions From the Women’s March
Andy Thayer
HuffPost: “We Really LOVED Your Contributions, Now FUCK OFF!”
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail