On April 18, concerned locals, students, advocates, and labor representatives met in Springfield for a press conference to spread awareness of opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a national trade agreement the Obama administration is trying to "fast-track."
The opposition included student representatives from the University of Massachusetts, National AFL-CIO Field Representative Daniel Justice, members of Climate Action Now Western Massachusetts and MoveOn.org, and other locals and advocates. The group discussed a variety of complaints regarding possible trade agreements, include possible effects on local business, agriculture, food, and climate change.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is suggested trade legislation by which the President can make trade agreements with foreign nations, mainly in Asia. With this legislation "fast-tracked," the White House can make trade deals that Congress cannot amend or filibuster, only approve or reject. The current administration has pushed for years to pass such legislation in the name of improving trade relations with Asia.
The main concern in the eyes of the AFL-CIO is a possible perpetuation of income inequality among American workers. Justice argued that trade negotiations behind closed doors shut out labor representation and allow for unequal distribution of business.
"The way the national AFL-CIO feels about this, and unions across the country, is that this is the number one contributor to income inequality, and the ability of workers to raise their wages," said Justice.
"What we need to do is really take a look at how we approach our trade policy. [AFL-CIO] President [Richard] Trumka has said that we have to take the way we approach trade out from the back rooms and shine some light on these negotiations," Justice said.
Video by Paki Wieland
UMass student Hannah Weinronk, also a representative on the Steering Committee for the Real Food Challenge, discussed student involvement in trade agreements - especially in regards to the creation of a sustainable national food system.
"Young people today are leading the food movement... We're concerned about "Fast Track" because trade agreements like TPP threaten the food system we're working to build, and the future that we're responsible for," said Weinronk. "Free trade agreements have had enormous impacts on our global food system; we know that from what we've seen with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the most comparable free trade agreement to TPP. After the implementation of NAFTA, cheap U.S. corn flooded Mexico's markets and displaced small Mexican farmers. 2 million Mexican farmers have been forced to leave their farms since NAFTA was introduced."
The same is happening in this country but in reverse, with US farmers struggling to compete with the influx of cheap Mexican produce, according to Weinronk. A trade agreement like TPP, she fears, may exacerbate these issues.
The conference also took included a discussion with locals, who expressed a general feeling of concern for spreading the message about the bills. Several in attendance mentioned a lack of coverage of the issue in the media, as well as a generally felt impetus to do whatever possible to stop the TPP from passing.
With the fast-track legislation introduced to Congress last week, the TPP is a national issue being debated right now across the country. With the Congressional vote on the horizon, groups like the one in Springfield are trying to quickly spread their concerns over fast-tracking and the TPP in general nationwide.