The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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February 19, 2014

Fast-track trade will harm workers

The Feb. 7 editorial in favor of fast track authority deserves a rebuttal. The Editorial Board’s argument in favor of what I believe would be suspending the Constitution to take Congress out of the trade negotiation process is a very naïve view of what trade policy actually covers, and completely forgets the history of what 20 years of free trade policies have done to our community and our country.

Trade negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement are classified. That’s because the United States trade representative has chosen to use his diplomatic privilege to classify them. That means for the last four years the public, the media and, up until recently, even members of Congress, couldn’t see what our own government was proposing in our names.

However, over 600 people, over 90 percent of whom represent multinational corporate interests, have lobbied the executive branch to be granted “cleared adviser” status, meaning they can read and help write the proposed deal. The agreements these negotiators come to are binding and override all federal, state and local laws that exist in the participating countries. That means we’ve literally set up a system of lawmaking where the lobbyists write the laws behind closed doors.

Trade negotiations used to deal exclusively with tariffs on goods coming across borders, and how much could be shipped. Now, however, the big push by multinational corporate interests is to address “non-tariff barriers to trade.”

What is a non-tariff barrier? It’s any law or regulation that could impede the profits of a company. It might be a minimum wage law, it might be a law saying you can’t pollute the water supply, it might be a law designed to curb youth smoking. You can imagine, and it’s been borne out in previous free trade agreements, that when lobbyists for corporations get to write the laws, the laws heavily favor the corporations, and not our quality of life in Minnesota.

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