by John Orrett
Alongside burgeoning global trade is the concentration of power in giant Trans National Corporations (TNCs) able to move production to places where labour costs are the lowest. En route, those firms bully, threaten and reduce the wages and benefits of their workers.
The Trans Pacific Partnership, like its ‘free trade’ predecessors, is a charter of rights for the TNCs. The great secrecy surrounding its negotiation reflects the fact that, once again, the interests of working people will be sacrificed on the altar of globalization and private profit. Information issued and leaked about the TPP indicates that the deal will not help but hurt workers’ rights and standard of living.
Several industries in Canada will suffer. The auto industry is one. Japan’s rulers want their vehicles imported duty-free, with just 30 per cent of the parts manufactured and assembled in Canada, the US, or Mexico — down from the 60% content presently required under the North American Free Trade Agreement. UNIFOR, Canada’s largest private sector union representing auto workers, warns that this would “kill thousands of Canadian auto jobs”.
Canada’s dairy and poultry industry and its supply managed systems will be open to more foreign competition, something that will cost heavily in lost revenue. In fact, during the latest federal election campaign, the former Conservative government promised hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation payments to soften the blow of the TPP. The millions would come from revenues that could be applied to meet human needs, rather than serving an arrangement that will mostly benefit multi-national food conglomerates.
Wikileaks revealed the chapter related to intellectual property rights and patents. Toronto Star technology columnist Michael Geist warns that the TPP will require significant changes to Canada’s copyright laws. TPP changes concerning internet use and on-line practices will put privacy at risk.
New rules governing corporate lawsuits would increase claims by foreign corporations against the Canadian government over national policy and court decisions. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly is already suing the Canadian government for $500 million regarding patent rules. The aim of the TPP is to extend the life of corporate patents — a policy that will cost consumers across the twelve signatory countries millions of dollars in higher prices for medical drugs indispensable to good health and well being.
Canadian authorities are now in the last stages of negotiating the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with Europe. Many of the same problems with the TPP are evident in CETA too. The latter provides for even greater TNC powers in the area of government services and procurement policy. At risk is the preferential purchasing of costly items, such as subway cars, from local manufacturers, and it facilitates the sale of government services to the lowest bidder, even if it is a foreign service provider.
Ontario province, Canada’s industrial heartland, may lose thousands of jobs under CETA since its biggest export to Europe is low-labour-intensive gold, while its largest imports are high-labour-input pharmaceuticals, autos and auto parts.
Tom Mulcair and the NDP leadership, while opposing the TPP late in the recent election campaign, should have been mounting opposition to both deals much earlier, not just on the eve of the signing. They should know that these deals are being crafted by the international captains of industry whose main objective is to increase their power and profits at the expense of millions of workers and the environment.
Socialists are not against trade. But we do oppose trade deals that weaken the bargaining position of unions and the workers they represent. We are against trade deals that jeopardize government safety regulations and public services. We are against the export of jobs to low wage zones. To reduce carbon emissions associated with long distance transport, we favour local sources, and reluctantly accept long distance trade in goods that cannot be obtained nearby, provided that the producers are decently paid, enjoy good benefits and a safe working environment. In other words, fair trade is inseparable from an international, ecological workers’ agenda.