-- by Jim Goodman
Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind has apparently never met a free trade agreement he didn't like. Note it is always a “free trade” agreement, never a “fair trade” agreement.
Free trade defines an agreement that has as a first (and sometimes only) priority, the best interests of corporations namely, their profits. At what expense those profits are taken is apparently of little concern to the trade negotiators and in particular the corporate representatives that are active participants in the otherwise secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.
Fair trade on the other hand would put the interests of people and the environment ahead of corporate profit. Fair trade would protect jobs rather than off-shoring them as has historically happened after passage of all free trade agreements.
Environmental protection under fair trade would also trump corporate profit--- destructive strip mines, mountain top removal, groundwater pollution, air pollution, all these byproducts of the less restrictive environmental protections, that again, always happen when free trade agreements are ratified, would have to be prohibited.
Free trade has no consideration for cultural preferences because it has no consideration for people. Japanese farmers and consumers prefer to grow and eat their traditional varieties of rice, not imported rice--- that should be their right, not so under the TPP.
Food safety standards under free trade would, by design, fall to the lowest common denominator. Lower safety standards on food imports, like lower labor safety standards, reduce operating costs and thus increase corporate profit.
Pharmaceutical companies would be granted extended monopoly patents, thus increasing health care costs and access to generic medications.
Banking interests insist on and will get, Financial Service Agreements that would severely limit the ability of governments to restrict the trade of risky financial products or in general their ability to regulate "too big to fail" banks.
Another secretly negotiated free trade agreement the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) which deals extensively with financial services, would actually further deregulate financial institutions and scrap much of the re-regulation that followed the world financial meltdown of a few years ago.
Perhaps most distressing to the U.S. economy, free trade agreements have always forced workers into a downward wage spiral. Jobs tend to flow to wherever wages are the lowest. The TPP would set the stage for member countries like Vietnam with its $2.75 daily wage to become an even lower cost labor alternative than China.
Free trade proponents like Rep. Kind who co-chairs the Friends of the TPP Caucus note that the U.S. is running a trade surplus with many of the small countries that it has bilateral trade agreements with. True enough, but it is hardly relevant to use bilateral trade statistics with a small country like Columbia as an argument for joining the TPP, a group that would comprise 40% of the world trade. And considering all the positive spin about trade surpluses from bilateral agreements with small nations, the U.S. still ran a trade deficit of over $470 billion in 2013.
We are told that establishing free trade zones will lower tariffs across the globe while encouraging higher labor and environmental standards. Say what? Tariffs are basically a non-issue having been nearly eliminated by previous trade deals while labor and environmental standards will be pushed to the lowest level possible, not elevated.
The Wisconsin State Journal calls Kind "a strong voice for free trade and the prosperity it brings to Wisconsin". Think about that, how many manufacturing jobs have left Wisconsin and been offshored due to free trade; Johnson Controls, AT&T, Georgia Pacific and Harley Davidson to name a few.
Farmers are told free trade will increase sales of agricultural commodities worldwide making us more profitable. Generally, farmers do not export, grain companies, food processors and livestock packers export and they import -- it all depends on global prices, but generally they make a hefty profit on both ends.
Agricultural commodities are bought wherever they are the cheapest and sold where they are the most profitable. Free trade pits farmer against farmer to see who will produce the cheapest, just as it pits workers against each other in a race to the bottom.
The Friends of the TPP would do well to look at the history of free trade agreements and decide if they really like this status quo, these agreements that profit corporations at the expense of people and the environment. Or perhaps they might do a better job of serving their constituents by supporting fair trade that brings everyone up rather than always seeking the lowest common denominator.
Jim Goodman is a organic beef farmer in Wonewoc, Wisconsin. The article originally appeared in Common Dreams.