Throw Away the TPPA; Let’s Talk About What A Decent Trade Deal Should Look Like

The New York Times reported after the recently failed round of talks that one of the TPP negotiators has privately admitted that it is now almost easier to say “no” to the TPP than “yes”. It’s time to admit the TPP is a crock, throw it away and start again.

Unfortunately, promoters of the TPP have framed the debate as those who are for trade (“trade” meaning the TPP) versus those who are against trade. This has meant that many groups who have nothing to gain and much to lose, such as small businesses, have supported the TPP. They want to trade and they have been led to believe there is no alternative to the TPP. Nothing could be further from the truth. Now that talks have stalled it is a great time to seize the initiative and reframe the debate.

The US Congressional Progressive Caucus has set the ball rolling with its document ‘Principles for Trade: A Model for Global Progress’. They state trade deals must ”prioritize higher wages, safer work and environmental standards and a healthier world economy.”

Arguably we could and should aim higher than that, and trade agreements should globally:

  • reduce inequality
  • eliminate poverty
  • protect the environment
  • prevent climate change
  • respect human rights

The negotiations should be transparent, and stake holders such as unions, indigenous peoples’ representatives, human rights advocates, and environmental advocates allowed direct access to negotiators to plead their cases. Corporate lobbyists should not have direct access to negotiators.

Each country should put the draft agreements through their democratic processes before signing.

Here are some of the most salient points from ‘Principles for Trade’. They provide a good starting point for discussion about what a decent trade deal should look like:

  • Trade agreements should require signatory countries to implement and enforce domestic laws consistent with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
  • When disputes occur between a foreign investor and a sovereign nation, the case should be settled in domestic court or nation-to-nation dispute resolution.
  • Trade agreements should guarantee that every worker is respected, valued, and properly rewarded. Governments should have the ability to investigate and alter trade agreements if trade partners fail to enforce meaningful labour protections.
  • Trade agreements should contain robust labour protection provisions that are easily understood by unionists in partner nations and properly enforced. This must include protecting a worker’s right to organize and collectively bargain without interference or intimidation by their employer.
  • Trade agreements should respect all nations’ right to set government procurement.
  • Trade agreements should contain legally binding obligations for partner nations to adopt, maintain, implement, and strengthen domestic environmental laws and policies.
  • Trade agreements should respect sovereign laws and allow stronger climate and environmental protections in partner nations to take precedence over standards negotiated in a trade deal.
  • Trade agreements should allow governments flexibility to strengthen existing policies or implement new ones to protect the environment and climate after an agreement has been signed.
  • Trade deals should require countries to adopt maintain and implement commitments made in multilateral environmental agreements, including United Nations Convention on Climate Change.
  • Trade agreements should allow countries to adopt and implement policies to protect the health and safety of consumers without limit or exposure to challenge.
  • Trade agreements should safeguard affordable access to medicines for patients by preserving the ability of governments to negotiate reduced drug prices for public health systems.
  • Partner nations should maintain the ability to set domestic patent license periods, and reward or revoke patents.
  • Trade agreement should not contain provisions that allow for Investor State Dispute Resolution.
  • Trade agreements should not be approved until signatory countries adopt domestic labour rights as provided for in the core International Labour Organization Conventions.
  • Trade agreements should not limit the government’s ability to set contract guidelines.
  • Trade agreements should not establish unfair patent protections that delay access to affordable medicines.

It is generally agreed that trade agreements are about levelling the playing field for trade on a global scale. Free trade agreements like the TPP level the playing field at the lowest possible level so that there are no impediments to corporations seeking to maximize their profits. Decent trade agreements simply raise the level. Decent trade agreements set the playing field at a level that benefits all people and the planet.

It’s clear that our government is in denial about the viability of the TPP. They are not going to come up with a decent trade deal on their own. If we want a decent trade deal, we are going to have to tell the government what ought to go in it. Time to start talking.

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