You don't have to blame mainstream media or be outright paranoid to think there must be a news blackout about the newest scheme by corporations trying to grease another way to move jobs overseas and move money around the world.
The lack of coverage of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), or "the NAFTA of the Pacific," as activists call it, is more because of the secrecy in which it's being written. Of course, that's not an excuse, but an explanation.
The possible results of another "free trade agreement"- as opposed to a "fair" trade deal accommodating labor rights, environmental protections and national sovereignty¨ -- could range from more closed factories like Maytag in Galesburg, Ill., to more despoiled lands and lives. That's just like NAFTA, the controversial U.S.-Canada-Mexico "free trade deal" which took effect in 1994.
Since GOP President George W. Bush signed it and Democratic President Bill Clinton jammed it through Congress over labor's strong opposition, NAFTA produced these effects in Mexico alone, along with the "giant sucking sound" of lost U.S. jobs:
Significantly lower birth weights. The impact on reproductive health is significant because there are over 350,000 women working in the maquiladoras, factories along the U.S.-Mexico border, who are of reproductive age.
Weakened food safety inspections. Mexican-grown strawberries, head lettuce, and carrots sold in Illinois groceries have violation rates of 18.4, 15.6, and 12.3 percent, respectively, for illegal pesticide residues.
Ozone depletion has increased steadily since NAFTA opened U.S. borders to Mexican trucks that don't meet U.S. safety standards. Fewer than one percent of the 3.3 million trucks entering the U.S. each year are inspected and 50 percent of those inspected are rejected for major safety violations. The Teamsters waged a long campaign to keep those dangerous Mexican trucks off U.S. roads.
The emergence of rural slums in an "American Calcutta" that stretches for miles along the U.S.-Mexico border, housing families whose members toil in maquiladoras.
Text of some of the TPP proposal recently leaked, released by the Citizens Trade Campaign. It shows the free trade proposal would ensure strong rights for investors but weak protections for labor, the environment, and national sovereignty.
The TPP is being drafted to include the U.S. and Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. In July, the 13th round of TPP talks were at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, where suggestions of also including Canada, Japan, and Mexico were made, sparking demonstrations there.
The next TPP negotiating round is scheduled for Leesburg, Va., Sept. 6-15. Of the 28 chapters of the leaked TPP draft, 26 have nothing to do with trade.
As drafted, TPP would limit regulation of foreign corporations operating within U.S. boundaries, giving them more rights than U.S. firms.
It also would extend incentives for U.S. firms to move investments and jobs to lower-wage countries, and set up an alternative legal system giving foreign corporations new rights to circumvent U.S. courts and laws, including letting them sue the U.S. government before foreign tribunals and demand compensation for lost revenue due to U.S. laws they claim undermine their TPP privileges or even investment "expectations."
"While the public has no access to the full text, 600 representatives from lobby groups like the American Petroleum Institute and corporations like Johnson & Johnson do, and negotiators seek those representatives' advice," writes Labor Notes reporter Cynthia Phinney, an Electrical Worker (IBEW) and the labor representative on Maine's Citizen Trade Policy Commission from 2003-2010.
There have been few protests in the U.S., probably due to the secrecy around planning of the TPP. One was in July outside the Cargill headquarters in the Twin Cities suburbs, organized by Minnesota's chapter of the Citizens Trade Campaign. Cargill, the big agribusiness giant, was one of the corporations whose reps were inside the negotiations room in San Diego, while labor and citizens were kept out.
Because NAFTA-like trade pacts make it easier to offshore jobs to low-wage countries, they have profoundly hurt American workers. Elsewhere, "provisions promoting competition in agriculture have driven many subsistence farmers off their land and into cities to seek work, creating a downward wage spiral for workers in other countries as well," Phinney wrote.
Both consequences contribute to the "giant sucking sound," as 1992 independent presidential candidate Ross Perot put it, in describing one negative effect of NAFTA, which he opposed. Coined during that year's campaign, Perot's phrase referred to the sound of U.S. jobs heading overseas if NAFTA took effect, as it did in 1994.
Estimates of U.S. jobs lost to NAFTA range from 700,000 to nine million. TPP, like other trade pacts in intervening years, is modeled on NAFTA.
Such trade deals also have troubling language that limits democratically elected governments' power to act in the public interest, if that interest can be interpreted as impeding competition and profits.
Most importantly, in Article 12 - TPP's chapter on Investments - the texts show negotiators are considering a dispute resolution process that would grant transnational corporations special authority to challenge countries' own laws, regulations, and court decisions in international tribunals that circumvent domestic judicial systems.
TPP's 52-page investment chapter can be found online here.
"We are just beginning to analyze the new texts now, but they clearly contain proposals designed to give transnational corporations special rights that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens," said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign.
"A proposal that could have such broad effects on environmental, consumer safety and other public interest regulations deserves public scrutiny and thorough public debate. It shouldn't be crafted behind closed doors."
If corporate investors or financial interests feel that laws or other regulations interfere with profitability, they may sue the government responsible for the regulation, but the case is decided by a trade tribunal instead of a court accountable to citizens.
President Obama unfortunately is acting more like the corporate-cozy Clinton than a progressive. In 2008, candidate Obama often criticized NAFTA and similar deals, but his administration has made trade deals with Colombia and South Korea, over strong objections by many unions and allied groups.
"Our hope is the U.S. Trade Representative (Ron Kirk) will answer the growing calls for transparency in the TPP," said Stamoulis. "If not, the time has come for members of Congress to intervene." Some 132 lawmakers have already written to Kirk demanding full release of the TPP drafts and explanation of his negotiating priorities. "Americans deserve the right to know what U.S. negotiators are proposing in our names," Stamoulis says.
Adds Dr. Brian Moench, a physician and member of the Union of Concerned Scientists: "This sellout to foreign corporations is not just a rogue brain cramp of President Obama. Mitt Romney demanded this agreement be signed months ago, and called Obama's 'the most hostile administration to business in recent history.' If the TPP trade agreement is 'hostile' to business, God help us if we have an administration, presumably Romney's, 'friendly' to business."
Photo: John Bachtell/PW