Monday, March 4, 2013

Latest trade deal could hurt U.S. dairy workers, farms, consumers

Secret talks resume today in Singapore over  Nafta on steroids what could be the biggest ever trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Teamsters have plenty of concerns about this deal, and one of them has to do with the tens of thousands of dairy workers we represent. The TPP could decimate the U.S. dairy industry if it opens the door to unfair competition from Pacific Rim countries, especially New Zealand.

The Teamsters and 10 allies sent a letter to eight key Congressional leaders today, urging that they make sure the TPP doesn't damage dairy farmers, processors and consumers.
Here's what the letter said:
As the Administration continues negotiating new standard‐setting trade pacts for the Asia‐Pacific region and beyond, we ask that any trade policymaking authority granted to the executive branch include measures specifically designed to advance the interests of America’s dairy farmers, farm workers, processors and consumers. 
The pending Trans‐Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement could have tremendous impacts on where and how dairy products are produced and processed. We are concerned about market access offers, sanitary and phytosanitary standards and other provisions of the TPP — and their relation to uncertainty regarding the Farm Bill. New market access for New Zealand’s monopolistic dairy sector would be especially damaging to U.S. dairy farmers and those who produce and process nonfat dry milk, butterfat or cheese. 
The U.S. dairy industry generates $140 billion in economic activity and employs an estimated 900,000 workers, while providing nourishment to millions more. The nation simply cannot afford to compete with dairy imports produced under unfair conditions. It is critical that Congress provide clear direction and oversight regarding expectations for U.S. negotiators in order to avoid serious disruptions to agricultural sector livelihoods. (Read the whole thing here.)
Teamsters International Vice President Rome Aloise said in a press statement that the union would not support any trade deal that provides lesser protections to workers than to corporations. And this:
Congress must make sure this trade deal doesn’t open the door to unfair competition. The dairy industry is too important to our economy and to our food supply.
Aloise is also head of the Teamsters dairy conference, representing 30,000 dairy workers.

Economist Bob Kuttner spelled out some of the other concerns about the TPP in The Huffington Post today:
Since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995, free trade deals have been less about facilitating trade and more about undermining social and economic protections and wages. These trade deals create a regulatory race to the bottom, on health, labor, environmental, and financial standards... 
We keep incurring trade deficits because we no longer make enough stuff that the rest of the world wants to buy, and the fruits of our past trade policies make it too easy for American industry to expand offshore. 
Trade deals are also anti-democratic, both in their substance and in how they are negotiated and ratified. Corporate lobbyists are given access to negotiating documents while public interest groups get none except via leaks. Then the deal is approved by Congress under a "fast track" up-or-down vote that allows no amendments. Fast track expired in 2007, and was not renewed, but the Administration now wants it reinstated under the euphemism, "Trade Promotion Authority."
The eight Congressional leaders who received the letter today are:
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma and Ranking Member Collin Peterson of Minnesota; House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp and Ranking Member Sander Levin, both of Michigan; Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Ranking Member Thad Cochran of Mississippi; and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Ranking Member Thad Cochran of Mississippi.
The Teamsters allies are:
Citizens Trade Campaign, Family Farm Defenders, Food & Water Watch, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/ Land Assistance Fun, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, League of Rural Voters, the National Farmers Union, and Rural Coalition/Coalicion Rural. 
Stay tuned.