Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Pressuring Himes on Trade Deal

By Reginald Johnson

                      BRIDGEPORT --- As the vote draws near on legislation establishing a Transpacific Trade Partnership, activists are increasing the pressure on Fairfield County Congressman Jim Himes to take a stand against the controversial trade treaty and a companion bill called “Fast Track.”.

                   Members of a coalition of groups working to defeat the trade measures gathered on McLevy Green last weekend to denounce the legislation as a corporate giveaway and urge Himes to join the rest of his colleagues in the Connecticut congressional delegation in opposing both Fast Track and TPP, as now written.

      The fast track bill would give President Obama the authority to demand that Congress vote on the trade treaty within 60-90 days, and with only limited debate and with no allowance for amendments.

          Doug Sutherland, chairman of the Fairfield County chapter of Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy group, said the granting of trade promotion authority would speed the passage of TPP, an agreement which he said “could be very bad for American workers, workers around the world, bad for the environment and bad for the sovereignty of our democracy.”

   Sutherland added that “Our mission today is a very simple one. We’re asking our elected representative in Congress, Jim Himes, to vote ‘no’ on fast track.”

   Himes, a centrist Democrat who lives in Stamford and has served six years in Congress after working on Wall Street,  has been under pressure from both sides in the trade treaty battle. Obama, whose election victory in Connecticut in 2008 certainly helped Himes win the congressional seat in the 4th District --- which has often sent Republicans to Congress --- has been pressing Himes to vote yes. But people from labor, environmental and consumer groups have been urging him to oppose the bills.

  The U.S. Senate recently approved fast track. Now it comes down to the House, where the vote is expected to be close.

  Some of the same people who gathered in Bridgeport last Saturday had rallied against TPP and fast track last February. That rally drew about 50 people. Last weekend’s press conference, however, only drew a handful of people, and no one showed up from the local paper, the Connnecticut Post, to cover it. Sutherland said the sunny weather might have been the reason for the low turnout.

  Nonetheless, members of the coalition got up and made their case against the trade bills.
  Several of the speakers said the TPP, as now written, will broadly expand the power of corporations to get around regulations designed to protect workers rights, the environment, consumer rights and food safety. The trade treaty is being negotiated in secret with 11 other nations bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Activists opposing the Transpacific Trade Partnership and the fast track bills make their case in Bridgeport.

  Provisions dealing with investor rights are being written into the trade bill which will give the power to corporations to challenge a nation’s regulations, if the companies believe that the laws are hurting their profits. Those legal challenges would be heard by special tribunals --- separate from a national court system. Decisions by the tribunals would not be reviewable.

  This means regulations set forth in the U.S. on the federal and state level covering environmental safeguards, workplace safety guidelines, food safety, could all be challenged by foreign investors as damaging to their profits. If the tribunal rules in their favor, there would be no room for appeal. Case closed.

  Pam Lupfer, a representative of the Presbyterian Church in New York, which has been working on trade issues, said laws aimed at controlling climate change would be threatened. “Multi-national fossil fuel companies could sue member countries who take action on climate change,” she said, mentioning rules restricting natural gas or coal extraction.

   Jennifer Siskind, Connecticut Coordinator of the organization Food and Water Watch, said food safety rules could be undermined if TPP is passed.

  “If the TPP is fast tracked, even GMO food labels are illegal trade barriers….There is a national grassroots effort pushing for GMO labeling laws, and Connecticut’s law grew out of efforts started by Congressman Himes’ constituents. But this trade deal just throws the movement for GMO labels under the TPP bus,” she said.

  A number of speakers blasted the secret manner in which the TPP is being worked out. The text of the draft agreements is not being released, and even members of Congress have limited access to see the text. Lobbyists for corporations, meanwhile, are directly participating in the trade talks with different nations.

Diane McKenna of Stratford states her oppostion to TPP

  Jim Dean, the national chairman of Democracy for America --- an organization begun by his brother, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean --- implored Himes to vote no on fast track and TPP.

   “Support the will of the people of the United States of America, not the United States of Morgan Stanley, not the United States of Goldman Sachs, Exxon, or any sovereign wealth fund of the eleven countries we’re negotiating with,” he said. 

  Other speakers said past trade treaties, such as NAFTA, have really hurt workers, and they don’t want a repeat.  Some 96,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Connecticut since 1994, when NAFTA (standing for the North American Free Trade Agreement) and the World Trade Organization agreements were passed, according to a graph passed out at the press conference.

   “So many of us, Democrats in the labor movement, have been burned so many times in the past by these agreements, we’ve finally said, enough is enough. O.K.,” said Tom Moore of the Carpenters Union.


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