WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is facing renewed criticism over the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement from several key labor and environmental groups that argue it contains weak provisions in those areas.
In a press call on Tuesday, a group of influential labor and environmental groups came out in opposition to the TPP, making their first pronouncement on the deal since the release of the text and adding to the growing chorus of criticism.
They said the TPP deal, which encompasses 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, falls short in areas ranging from improving workers’ rights to the right to organize a union and providing environmental protections.
Trade ministers reached a deal in early October on TPP, which includes the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand. The pact seeks to eliminate duties, strengthen labor and environmental provisions, ease the flow of cross-border trade and strengthen intellectual property protections.
The Obama administration, which released the text of the TPP last Thursday, has been touting the deal as one that has the “strongest protections for workers of any trade agreement in history, requiring all TPP parties to adopt and maintain in their laws and practices the fundamental labor rights as recognized by the International Labor Organization.”
Kim Glas, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, said several BGA partners and allied groups believe the TPP is a “flawed trade agreement that threatens environmental sustainability, limits the rights of workers and undermines our manufacturing and tradeable service sectors.”
Glas had been deputy assistant secretary for textiles, consumer goods and materials at the Commerce Department, and in that role assisted in developing some of the programs and rules in the textile and apparel chapter in TPP before stepping down to join BGA.
On Tuesday, she said the groups have focused on four key areas where they believe TPP falls short.
“First, the American manufacturing sector continues to be a huge concern for our economy and the TPP threatens quality manufacturing jobs,” Glas claimed. “Second, we have concerns about the TPP’s investor-state dispute systems. We believe it weakens American environmental and labor laws. Third, the agreement doesn’t do enough for basic human and workers’ rights in other counties, and finally, the deal falls short of ensuring that other nations live up to our environmental standards.”
Celeste Drake, trade policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, said: “On labor in particular, [TPP] continues to put forth some vague standards, which question whether or not they could be enforced, assuming enforcement actions were ever taken.”
Drake said a Government Accountability Office study published last November “pointed to the failure” of the U.S. to monitor and implement labor commitments under past free-trade agreements.
“There’s not a single change to the enforcement mechanism of this text that would allow workers to think anything other than enforcement efforts for their rights will be either nonexistent, very weak or severely delayed,” Drake contended.
She noted the side agreements with Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei do not provide more than the basic labor provisions in the labor chapter of the underlying TPP deal.
“For Vietnam, it gives Vietnam a free ride for a minimum of five years to not enforce freedom of association as directed by ILO standards,” Drake charged. “Frankly, they don’t include anything on Mexico or Peru, both of which have outstanding complaints under the labor mechanisms of existing agreements with those countries.”
President Obama touted the TPP’s labor and environmental provisions in an Op-Ed posted on Bloomberg View on Tuesday.
“At a time when our workers too often face an unfair playing field, this agreement also includes the highest labor standards of any trade deal in history,” he wrote. “Provisions protecting worker safety and prohibiting child labor make sure that businesses abroad play by the same kinds of rules we have here at home. Provisions protecting the environment and combating wildlife trafficking make sure that economic growth doesn’t come at the expense of the only planet we call home. And these commitments are enforceable — meaning we can hold other countries accountable through trade sanctions if they don’t follow through.”
The White House has launched a major push on what it expected to be a tough sell for the TPP deal on Capitol Hill. There is opposition from a large swath of Democrats in Congress, including all three Democratic presidential candidates. Some key Republican leaders, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), have also expressed strong concern about the deal.