Bleak news for trade unions as TPP deal is agreed in principle

Unions and campaigners across the EU, Canada and the US will need to mobilise to stop unjust trade deals


Earlier this year the United States’ Mike Froman, the lead negotiator handling the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal (TPP) between the USA and 11 Pacific Rim countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam) said he intended to drive through the agreement this year as a precursor to pushing on with the US/EU Trade Deal TTIP.

Well, against predictions (including some from myself) and fierce opposition from unions in the USA, they have done what they said they would.

The TPP deal (five years in the making and covering 40 per cent of the world’s economy) has been agreed in principle. All that has to be done is for each country to ratify the deal – and in the US for President Obama to get the deal through Congress.

He will be able to do that using the ‘fast track’ mechanism he got Congress to agree to this year, which allows a straight ‘up and down’ vote on the deal with no line-by-line scrutiny.

Commenting on the deal, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

“Now that the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal has been finalised the Obama administration is telling anyone who will listen that it has the strongest protections for workers of any trade agreement in history. But nothing we know now about the TPP gives me any confidence that workers will end up with the good jobs and protections they deserve. There’s been a lot of talk about winners and losers in various aspects of this deal. Spoiler alert: Corporations seem to win at every turn at the expense of working people.”

Leo Gerard of the manufacturing based United Steelworkers union warned that TPP may finally kill off US manufacturing:

“Our producers and workers are under siege from other nations’ massive overproduction, foreign currency devaluation, our own lack of long-term infrastructure investment and the strong dollar.”

Specific concerns about TPP include currency manipulation, which US unions say has already caused thousands of factories to close and millions of workers to lose their jobs. The ALF-CIO says that the agreement without currency rules “turns a mighty river of off shoring into a tsunami”.

The inclusion of corporate courts (for investor-to-state dispute settlement) which gives multinational firms “who use the U.S. as a flag of convenience” but produce little in the USA can now invest in Australia, Japan and Malaysia, then sue over laws and regulations they don’t like. They will be able to collect billions from taxpayers to compensate for lost profits.

US unions are also concerned about the automotive sector. TPP will reduce US tariffs on cars and trucks notably from Japan, which are sold in the US. Unions say cars may have a Japanese name, but could be full of parts made in China. Trumka said:

“I don’t know how the US Trade Representative can look at any auto supply chain worker in the US (or Canada or Mexico for that matter) and tell them with a straight face that TPP is a good deal.”

The AFL-CIO says that while there may be some small improvements to the labour clauses the rules will be worthless without enforcement. “Until we see the actual text, we won’t know how much these promises live up to their hype,” it said.

While the final text of the agreement, which was announced this week, remains secret, leaks suggest that there will be major concerns amongst trade unions and other civil society groups.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said:

Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is a recipe for corporate greed. Powerful corporations were given an inside track in the secretive negotiations of the TPP and their influence is clear in the outcome.

Yet again, governments have put the interests of finance and big business ahead of ordinary people, with more financial deregulation, longer patents on medicines at the expense of the public, and restrictions on digital freedoms. Corporations will be able to sue governments under the infamous ISDS dispute procedures; there are no direct remedies for workers.”

Paul Bastian of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) said:

“The TPP trade deal has been signed without any input from the Australian public.

 Of particular concern is a provision under this agreement that allows foreign companies to sue the Australian government when we pass laws that hurt their profits. 

Also, we don’t know what the deal says about overseas workers and labour movement, which would impact jobs and potentially drive down wages and conditions, similar to The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

“Despite the Australian government having signed the agreement, it will be at least a month before Australian businesses, unions, community groups and the population at large will see the details for themselves”.

All this provides bleak news for the unions and other groups who campaigning against the proposed EU-Canada Deal (CETA) which has been initialled; the deal TTIP and the global investment deal known as TiSA.

In the US Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has said she does not support TPP. But that may not hold for long. Clinton backed TPP when she was secretary of state during Obama’s first term. Her main concern is on currency manipulation and excessively high drug prices.

Unions and campaigners across the EU, Canada and the USA will now need to mobilise more effectively than ever to stop the TTIP, CETA and TiSA deals following TPP.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite responsible for manufacturing.

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