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Trans-Pacific Partnership

Pacific trade deal has lots of protections for businesses — but not for workers

LIMA, Peru — It’s the largest trade treaty ever negotiated, intended to reduce barriers and establish a level playing field for goods and services in countries making up 40 percent of the global economy.

President Barack Obama wants the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) so badly he has even allied with Republicans in Congress, against his own party, to push it through.

If the mega-trade deal is eventually approved by the United States and the 11 other Pacific Rim negotiating nations, from Chile to Vietnam, it will open up their economies to massively increased competition from each other.

That will boost growth and create new jobs, advocates say.

To ensure that the competition is fair, the treaty texts — being negotiated behind closed doors and only publicly available as leaks — have swelled with regulations to stop governments from giving local industries any sneaky advantages. 

But the playing field is not so level when it comes to workers’ rights, according to the pact’s many critics. Abuses already common in several TPP nations will continue, they warn, even as those countries have greater access to U.S. markets. That would unfairly undercut American jobs.

One major issue is that the TPP will require members to have a minimum wage — but allows each government to set it as low as it likes.

That means U.S. citizens will be competing even more with workers earning starvation wages in countries like Vietnam or Peru, says Celeste Drake, a trade specialist with U.S. labor group AFL-CIO.

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The leaked texts also fail to protect migrant laborers or ban employers from retaining their travel documents, a practice common in some TPP countries, such as Malaysia. 

The pact does appear to guarantee freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. But so did U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs) with Peru and Colombia without making any difference on the ground, says Drake.

Jairo Saavedra, vice president of the Workers Confederation of Colombia, the country’s largest grouping of labor unions, adds: “Colombian workers have not noticed any difference as a result of the FTA.”

“They are still sacked on a daily basis for joining a union, and the right to collective bargaining is simply not respected here.”

Yet the TPP provides foreign corporations investing in member nations with all kinds of protections.

Some of them would even allow companies to sue governments in international tribunals if environmental enforcement or other national laws affect their investments.

How did that happen?

“It’s no mystery,” says Saavedra. “Unlike business, ordinary workers are never consulted when these treaties are negotiated.”

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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