Opinion: Not so fast on trade pact
This year is the 20th anniversary of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Americans have good reason to be skeptical about its legacy. It takes more than just lipstick for this pig; they need the full kit of beauty aids. The promise was that by opening our borders to so called “free trade” with Mexico and Canada, the United States would gain jobs and wealth. Instead, the United States has lost nearly a million manufacturing jobs; American livestock producers are undermined by a flood of Canadian and Mexican beef; foreign corporations interfere with our democratic process; and industry after industry has adjusted compensation downward, shrinking America’s middle class.
Despite 20 years of failed NAFTA, trade promoters are looking to impose another even larger agreement that will encompass most of the countries on the Pacific Rim. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty will expand everything that’s wrong with NAFTA. This is why the trade lobby cannot afford an open discussion over the TPP, and are pushing for Congress to agree to “fast-track” the ratification process. In other words – no debate in Congress about the trade deal or public input allowed. We don’t know – have not been allowed to know – what is in the TPP and our only opportunity for input is through the Congressional process. If Congress agrees to “fast-track,” this avenue will be closed.
Everything about the way the trade treaties have been negotiated is asymmetrical. The benefits flow to the “Too Big to Fail” banks and trans-national corporations; the costs are piled on ordinary people. The U.S. trade deficit runs at about $50 billion every month. After 20 years that adds up to a pile of dough that has transferred from the pockets of working people to the offshore bank accounts of trans-national corporations.
We need trade and we have always had trade. Our country raises wheat that other people need for their bread and we build airliners that the world needs to fly from one spot to another. In return there is much that I love – from French wine to inexpensive computers with parts from almost every country in the world. The point is that the treaties that govern trade should be fair to all and symmetrical as to who benefits. We elect our government to represent our interests – not just investment bankers and trans-national corporations. Maybe it is inconvenient to negotiate complicated trade issues in the open, but that is what democracy means. So I urge you to contact your senators and representative and ask them to oppose fast track authority and fix the fatal flaws of NAFTA before ratifying the TPP.
Gilles Stockton is a rancher from Grass Range, Mont., and member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, a regional network of conservationists and family farmers and ranchers based in Billings, Mont.