By Sister Simone Campbell - 02/06/15 02:18 PM EST
The wellbeing of people, not profits, must be the goal of U.S. trade agreements. Given how today’s agreements will broadly impact the daily lives and livelihoods of all Americans – and tens of millions around the world – we cannot afford to have them guided by partisan politics or the narrow interests of large corporations.
President Obama and Republican leaders Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Pelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Reid: Groping accusations show Trump’s ‘sickness’ MORE (R-Ky.) and Rep. John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote Conservatives backing Trump keep focus on Supreme Court Vote House Republicans out MORE (R-Ohio) insist that two mega-deals – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – will set the model for the global economy of the future. But in whose interest?
There is an “other” bipartisanship with respect to these deals: opposition to them from GOP and Democratic legislators, along with small business owners, farmers and workers whom they represent. Their concern is based on experience: there is a long track record of past trade agreements serving as the template for the TPP that benefit the most privileged and powerful among us – often to the detriment of everyone else.
I have been moved by stories told me by Catholic sisters in Mexico and Central America about the severe economic hardship and social devastation past U.S. trade agreements have wrought, especially in rural communities. This year, we were shocked by the unthinkable plight facing Central American children on our borders. But, we should not have been surprised.
Yes, we heard the promises that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) would create jobs and improve the lives of working people there and here. And, we were given dire warning of foreign policy catastrophe – drug violence leading to failed states and takeover of Latin American economies by China if these pacts failed.
But faith leaders, development economists and even government officials in our trade partner countries warned of what actually has come to pass. The trade pacts’ new privileges for large commercial interests fueled the displacement of small farmers and bankrupted small manufacturing and retail facilities. Jobs that came initially soon left for cheaper venues in Asia. Many lost access to affordable medicines as the pacts’ extension of monopoly drug patent terms raised prices.
With the licit economy badly damaged, desperate mass migration followed. Numbers of undocumented migrants from Mexico grew 60 percent in NAFTA’s first decade. That the same trade pact model would have similar results in Central America was foreseeable. Communities in Mexico and Central America, whittled down to the elderly and children, became the target of growing drug violence. This insecurity and the utter lack of economic opportunity are driving children away to safer ground.
And at the same time, the wellbeing of many working people in the U.S. was undermined. The pacts’ foreign investment protections put American workers in direct competition with workers making less per day than our minimum wage. This denigrated the quality of jobs and wages available for most.
Unemployed manufacturing workers often took significant pay cuts in new jobs, according to the Department of Labor. Even after accounting for the benefits of cheaper imported goods, the 63 percent of American workers without a college degree have lost an amount equal to 12.2 percent of their wages since NAFTA went into effect. This has contributed significantly to the unprecedented rise in income inequality in recent years.
The morally responsible approach is to learn from damage caused by earlier trade deals and modify our approach. Just consider one example: last month, the Government Accountability Office reported that labor provisions, including the very terms sought by the Obama administration for TPP, have failed to improve working conditions internationally. Indeed, these labor terms that we now are being told would be “the most progressive ever” have failed to thwart even the most severe abuses.
Negotiators can get transfixed on specific commercial interests’ goals, ignoring the broader societal impact. As a member of the faith community, I am taking a stand against more-of-the-same trade agreements like the TPP.
That’s why I join with many in the faith community and members of Congress from both parties in opposing fast track and calling for a new approach to trade agreements. Let the voices of all people be heard so that we might look out for our livelihoods and protect one another. As Pope Francis has urged, we must care for those who are left out of our economy, not just with charity, but with justice.
Campbell is executive director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.