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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

July 24, 2017
Patrick Cockburn
A Shameful Silence: Where is the Outrage Over the Slaughter of Civilians in Mosul?
Robert Hunziker
Extremely Nasty Climate Wake-Up
Ron Jacobs
Dylan and Woody: Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad
Dan Glazebrook
Quantitative Easing: the Most Opaque Transfer of Wealth in History
Ellen Brown
Saving Illinois: Getting More Bang for the State’s Bucks
Richard Hardigan
The Media is Misleading the Public on the Al-Asqa Mosque Situation
Matthew Stevenson
Travels in Trump’s America: Memphis, Little Rock, Fayetteville and Bentonville
Ruth Fowler
Fire at Grenfell
Ezra Kronfeld
The Rights of Sex Workers: Where is the Movement to Legalize Prostitution
Mark Weisbrot
What Venezuela Needs: Negotiation Not Regime Change
Binoy Kampmark
From Spicy to the Mooch: A Farewell to Sean Spicer
Wim Laven
Progress Report, Donald Trump: Failing
Weekend Edition
July 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Kevin Zeese
Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Red State, Blue State; Green State, Deep State
Paul Street
“Inclusive Capitalism,” Nancy Pelosi, and the Dying Planet
Anthony DiMaggio
Higher Education Fallacies: What’s Behind Rising Conservative Distrust of Learning?
Andrew Levine
Why Republicans Won’t Dump Trump Anytime Soon
Michael Colby
Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes
Bruce Dixon
White Liberal Guilt, Black Opportunism and the Green Party
Edward Hunt
Killing Civilians in Iraq and Syria
Matthew Kovac
Is the Flint Water Crisis a Crime Against Humanity?
Mark Harris
The Revolutionary Imagination: Rosa for Our Times
David Rosen
America’s Five Sex Panics
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia: the Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All
Jack Heyman
Class War on the Waterfront: Longshore Workers Under Attack
Kim C. Domenico
Marginalize This:  Turning the Tables on Neoliberal Triumphalism
Brian Cloughley
Trying to Negotiate With the United States
John Laforge
Activists Challenge US Nukes in Germany; Occupy Bunker Deep Inside Nuclear Weapons Base
Jonathan Latham
The Biotech Industry is Taking Over the Regulation of GMOs From the Inside
Russell Mokhiber
DC Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox Won’t Let Whistleblower Lawyer Lynne Bernabei Go
Ramzy Baroud
The Story Behind the Jerusalem Attack: How Trump and Netanyahu Pushed Palestinians to A Corner
Farzana Versey
The Murder of Muslims
Kathy Kelly
At Every Door
David W. Pear
Venezuela Under Siege by U.S. Empire
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuelan Opposition Now Opposes the People
Uri Avnery
Soros’ Sorrows
Joseph Natoli
The Mythos Meme of Choice
Clark T. Scott
High Confidence and Low Methods
Missy Comley Beattie
Glioblastoma As Metaphor
Ann Garrison
Organizing Pennsylvania’s 197: Cheri Honkala on Frontline Communities
Ted Rall
What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer
Colin Todhunter
Codex Alimentarius and Monsanto’s Toxic Relations
Graham Peebles
Europe’s Shameful Refugee Policy
Louis Proyect
Reversals of Imperial Fortune: From the Comanche to Vietnam
Stephen Cooper
Gov. Kasich: “Amazing Grace” Starts With You! 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail