Trumka expresses hope for eventually brokering trade deals

A top labor union leader said Tuesday that he is working with Congress and the Obama administration to find common ground on the nation’s aggressive trade agenda.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said Tuesday that despite being opposed to the two massive Atlantic and Pacific trade deals that are in the works, he remains hopeful that the agreements will, eventually, focus on improving the lives of workers over corporations.

“Our hope has been that we would see a new template, one that we could support,” Trumka said at the Center for American Progress.

“Ye,t so far, we see the same corporate-dominated processes, and, in too many respects, the same fundamental outdated framework for both agreements.”

Trumka argued that the current negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) resemble an old approach to expanding trade taken when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was inked 20 years ago.

“Back then, nobody really knew what the results of NAFTA would be. Today we do,” he said.

“They’re bad. And that’s why we cannot enact new trade agreements modeled on NAFTA.”

rumka argued that NAFTA led to job losses and wage stagnation and rebalanced the economy in favor of big businesses, leading to the 2008 financial crisis.

“For business, NAFTA, and the tax, deregulation, and austerity policies that went with it seemed great,” he said.  

"But 2008 revealed how destructive these economic policies truly are. The model chronically starves the productive sector and working families, while it fuels financial bubbles and busts, after which working people everywhere struggle to provide for ourselves and our families.”

To avoid those old paths, Trumka said the U.S. labor movement continues to engage with the White House, Congress and labor movements and governments around the world “in the hope that we can make the TPP and the TTIP into agreements that advance genuine broad-based global prosperity,” he said.

He said, for now, that means Congress can’t proceed with trade promotion authority (TPA), also known as fast-track authority in its current form because while there have been some important changes, “this model has failed to evolve with our complex and dynamic global economy.”

"What it’s really going to take take is a different attitude in what we want these trade agreements to do,” Trumka said.

His hopes for those changes were boosted after a trade promotion authority bill introduced in January by former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus failed to gain much in the way of Democratic support.

So, he figured that “some new thinking may yet occur” in the TPP negotiations.

"I raise that hope because of the prospect of a more prosperous world in which we have closer ties with Europe and Asia,” the said.

Meanwhile he argued that "the goal of labor isn't isolation."

Trumka met recently with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman about labor's priorities for the trade agreements.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is talking to lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol about how to best proceed.

“We need new policies to spark a virtuous cycle where rising wages fuel demand, not flimsy debt-driven demand but healthy demand, which would in turn spark business investment and more jobs and higher wages in a strong cycle of global growth that works for all our families, for the environment and our communities,” Trumka said.