Trade Agreement Threatens Maine Businesses

MPA is proud to be a member of the Maine Fair Trade Campaign. This year, MPA is working to protect Maine businesses and workers from the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (FTA), a massive international trade pact supported by the U.S. government that would work in the favor of transnational corporations at the expense of American workers. If it continues on its current course, the Trans-Pacific FTA will make it easier for corporations to shift jobs to countries where labor and environmental regulations are weakest and most exploited.

Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific FTA began in 2008 between the United States and many pacific countries including Singapore, Vietnam, Australia and Japan. Many corporations are already cheering the FTA; including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wal-Mart, Newscorp, GE and Halliburton. This is because the Free Trade Agreement, in its current form, is a corporate give away that affects both people and businesses here and abroad. 

Many corporations are looking for ways reduce labor costs and undercut worker power in the United States, China and throughout the world.  This Free Trade Agreement would work to make labor costs cheaper for corporations by allowing them to shift jobs overseas to labor markets like Vietnam where workers are paid even less than workers in China. Even if a company decides not to move their production to these lower-paid countries, the threat of moving there (or of being undercut by competitors who have already done so) can be used to suppress employee compensation virtually anywhere in the world. 

Several transnational corporations, including those in extractive industries, have pushed for provisions that would enable them to challenge virtually any new law, regulation or even court decision that affects their expected profits through international tribunals that would circumvent domestic judicial systems.  Similar provisions under past trade pacts have already been used to weaken portions of the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act in the United States, as well as the environmental and consumer safety protections of developing countries throughout the world.

The Trans-Pacific FTA not only threatens worker rights and the environment in developing nations, but businesses right here in Maine as well. Maine’s remaining New Balance factories in Norridgewock, Norway and Skowhegan would be severely affected by the expansion of cheap labor markets in countries like Vietnam.

The process that negotiating countries are using to arrive at this agreement is a serious cause for concern. Since negotiations began in 2008, all meetings have taken place behind closed doors. None of the negotiating documents have ever been officially released for public review (although some have been leaked). In the United States, approximately 600 corporate lobbyists have been named as official advisors, granting them steady access to the negotiating texts, as well as the negotiators. Most civic groups, journalists and individuals whose lives will be directly affected by the decisions have been barred from access to the texts until the negotiations have concluded — at which point, it is nearly impossible to change them. 

The Maine Fair Trade Coalition is working to collect signatures calling on the Obama administration to make negotiations more transparent. They are being collected in advance of negotiations to be held in Dallas, Texas later this summer.  Calls for greater transparency, including an international “Release the Texts” campaign have, thus far, not been answered.