Negotiators from eight pacific rim countries will converge on the Chicago Hilton Hotel over the course of two weeks to hammer out the next major free trade agreement. It is being called the NAFTA of the Pacific, but more formally it is known as the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement. Activists from the left are trying to persuade negotiators to implement policies aimed at helping workers and protect the environment in each country involved in the talks.
“The Labor Day holiday is not just a day to barbecue, but to fight,” exclaimed United Steelworkers District 7 director Jim Robinson.
Local unions, community organizations and activists rallied nearly 500 people on Labor Day to call for a fair trade deal or no deal at all.
According to Stand Up Chicago, NAFTA cost Illinois nearly 35,000 jobs and the group believes this new deal could do much of the same. Despite these potential negative consequences, the ongoing discussions will remain behind closed doors with no significant input from fair trade advocates.
Negotiations will commence today between the United States, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, New Zealand, Australia, Peru and Chile. More countries could join a finalized agreement at a later date with a so-called “docking agreement.”
Citizens Trade Campaign contends any agreement as currently projected would be dubious, at best, in helping the doubling of American exports. The U.S. already has in place trade agreements with half of the participating countries. Australia, Singapore, Chile and Peru make up nearly four-fifths of the combined GDP involved in the talks.
Vietnam and Brunei have low populations and bleak customer prospects with even lower per capita incomes. Meanwhile, New Zealand would provide less than five million more potential consumers.
The other side of the argument contends that business needs to be open and free from regulation, pointing to the economy in the 1990s following NAFTA.
SEIU Illinois Council* President Tom Balanoff questioned that type of thinking at yesterday's rally: “Go to the basin of Lake Michigan. It wiped out thousands of jobs. Go anywhere in the midwest, there is a reason it is called the Rust Belt. In the end we have to question whose economy it did good for because it didn’t do good for working families’ economies.”
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, were also at the rally, representing a progressive business voice. “Just like there’s more than one way to do business, there’s more than one way to do trade policy,” said Greenfield. “We encourage trade negotiators to create an agreement that works for working people, farmers and the environment in all countries.”
Protesters marched around the Hilton Hotel and ended across the street to enjoy a nice reward: a choice of the fair trade flavors of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Actions will continue today with the delivery of more than 10,000 postcards demanding a fair deal. Ben & Jerry, along with others, will try to deliver them to negotiators following a press conference at 11 a.m.
* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this web site.
Images: Aaron Krager