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Another View -- Bernie Sanders: The TPP trade deal is bad for working Americans

May 19. 2015 9:04PM

CONGRESS IS debating fast-track legislation that would pave the way for the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership unfettered free trade agreement. At a time when our middle class is disappearing and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider, this anti-worker legislation must be defeated. Here are four reasons why:

First, the TPP follows in the footsteps of failed trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, Permanent Normal Trade Relation with China and the South Korea Free Trade agreement. Over and over again, supporters of these agreements told us that they would create jobs. Over and over again, they have been dead wrong.

Since 2001, nearly 60,000 manufacturing plants in this country have been shuttered, and we have lost more than 4.7 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs. NAFTA has led to the loss of nearly 700,000 jobs. PNTR with China has led to the loss of 2.7 million jobs. Our trade agreement with South Korea led to the loss of about 75,000 jobs. These bad agreements are not the only reason manufacturing jobs in the U.S. declined, but they are an important factor.

The TPP continues an approach toward trade that forces Americans to compete against workers in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 56 cents an hour, independent labor unions are banned and people are thrown in jail for expressing political beliefs. This is not “free trade.” This is the race to the bottom. While we must help poor people around the world improve their standard of living, we can do that without destroying the American middle class.

Second, it’s important to know who is for the trade agreement and who is against it.

Multinational corporations that have outsourced millions of good-paying American jobs to China, Mexico, Vietnam, India and other low-wage countries think this is a great deal. They understand it will allow them to hire more cheap labor abroad. Wall Street and large pharmaceutical companies, foreseeing increased global profits, also want this agreement passed.

On the other hand, every union in this country, representing millions of American workers, opposes this agreement that will wipe out jobs and depress wages. Virtually every major environmental organization — including the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and — opposes this legislation. They understand that it will make it easier for multinational corporations to pollute and degrade the global environment.

Major religious groups, such as the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church, also oppose this proposal.

Who should we trust? Wall Street and corporate America or organizations that represent working families, the environment and the religious community?

Third, the agreement would undermine democracy by giving multinational corporations the right to challenge any law that could reduce their “expected future profits.” Under existing trade agreements, Phillip Morris is using this process to sue Australia and Uruguay for passing laws to discourage children from smoking. A Swedish energy company has used the process to sue Germany for $5 billion over its decision to phase out nuclear power. These and other countries should be rewarded for taking action to protect the public health of their citizens.

Do we really want to tell governments all around the world, including the United States, that if they protect the well-being of their citizens they could pay substantial fines because of the loss of future profits? What an incredible undermining of democracy.

Fourth, this legislation, strongly supported by the major drug companies, would substantially raise the prices of medicine in some of the poorest countries on earth. The drug companies are doing everything they can to prevent countries from moving to lower-cost generics, even if it means that thousands will die because they cannot afford higher prices for the drugs they need. That is unacceptable. Doctors Without Borders has stated: “The TPP agreement is on track to become the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines in developing countries.”

Enough is enough. If we are serious about rebuilding the middle class and creating the millions of good-paying jobs we desperately need, we must fundamentally rewrite our trade policies.

Bernie Sanders is an independent U.S. senator from Vermont and a candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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