April 8, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – Seven of New York City’s 13 House members joined Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials at City Hall April 7 to speak out against the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
“If we’re going to fight income inequality in this country, we have to fight TPP,” the mayor said, as red-shirted Communications Workers of America members lined the staircase spiraling above him. “The policies of our country must attack income inequality, not aid and abet it.”
“We’re here today to send a unified message of ‘No’ to the TPP from New York City,” said CWA research economist Pete Sikora. He said the deal would result in pushing down wages, ruining the environment, and gutting consumer protections.
The seven House members who spoke were Jose Serrano, Jerrold Nadler, Eliot Engel, Nydia Velázquez, Hakeem Jeffries, Grace Meng, and Dan Donovan, joined by state legislators including state Sen. Jesse Hamilton of Brooklyn and City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal of Manhattan, who have both sponsored anti-TPP resolutions. The coalition that organized the event included the CWA, the New York State AFL-CIO, and Food & Water Watch.
The 12 nations that signed the agreement in February, which include the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, and Vietnam, account for 40% of the world’s economic output. The House and Senate both voted last June to give President Barack Obama “fast-track” authority to negotiate the deal, which means that Congress can’t amend it, it can only vote yes or no. The House vote was a narrow 218-208, with Rep. Gregory Meeks of Queens the only city member voting in favor.
Previous trade agreements were sold to the American people with “propaganda that they will boost exports and increase jobs,” Rep. Nadler said, but led to “huge trade deficits” and a “huge loss of jobs.” NAFTA, he said, had cost the nation between 700,000 and 1 million jobs, while permanent normal trade relations with China eliminated more than 5 million.
Verizon workers in New York have lost about 1,000 jobs from call centers being outsourced to foreign countries, Sikora said.
New York has lost more than half its manufacturing jobs since NAFTA went into effect, Rep. Meng said, and they’ve been replaced largely by low-paying service jobs. The result is that the wealthiest 10% of the state’s people claim more than half of its income, she added.
Another aspect of the deal that has riled opponents is Investor-State Dispute Settlement, in which foreign investors can challenge laws or regulations on the grounds that they injure their ability to do business. An international panel of arbitrators would rule on such claims. That, Jesse Hamilton said in a statement, “would enable foreign corporations to attack New York’s laws outside our courts in unaccountable tribunals.”
The U.S Trade Representative’s office says those procedures, which give investors the right to choose arbitration rather than pleading their case in local courts, are necessary to protect American businesses abroad from government discrimination, biased courts, and “uncompensated expropriation.” It says they “are designed to provide no greater substantive rights to foreign investors than are afforded under the Constitution and U.S. law.”
But Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) attacked the system last year as “rigged pseudo-courts” open only to large investors. “If a Vietnamese company with U.S. operations wanted to challenge an increase in the U.S. minimum wage, it could use ISDS,” she wrote in the Washington Post. “But if an American labor union believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the union would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts.”
“I’m for fair trade. What’s fair to the American worker and fair to the American consumer,” Rep. Donovan said, after joking that his status as the only Republican in the city’s congressional delegation was what made the event bipartisan. He said he was told that the TPP wouldn’t hurt American workers, but the fast-track legislation was coupled with trade adjustment assistance—funding “for retraining people who will lose their jobs.”