Just this past Wednesday (24 June 2009), a bill cosponsored by 106 Representatives was introduced to the House that would place the currently undemocratic trade agreement system into the hands of the people. The bill is called the TRADE Act, an acronym standing for “Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment” (HR 3012). If passed, it would protect human rights and put environmental safeguards into effect in both past and future multinational trade agreements. It would also vastly increase the transparency of such agreements, rightly giving the ultimate power not to a select few, but to Congress. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), the Chairman of the House Trade Working Group. Its wording advocates a strong position on core labor standards which promote fundamental human rights as defined by the UN. The bill will not only ensure these rights for US citizens, but will also protect the rights, human and otherwise, of the citizens of the country with which the agreement exists. The bill requires that in order for the US to start or continue trade with a country, that country must live up to basic human rights laws that are already in effect in the US. Passing the TRADE Act would help to give needed jobs back to Americans by making it less economic to outsource labor to countries with bad human rights records simply because they have cheaper labor.
The bill itself makes provisions that would not only change the way future agreements are created, but would call for an extensive review of agreements already in place. This would include a review of trade agreements’ impact on citizens both in the US and the country in question, and would require renegotiation of existing agreements when necessary. This would ease concerns that have been ever increasing among the world populace. Call to mind the massive protests over the G8 Summits each year, and you’ll get the idea. Up to this day world trade and all things monetary are being regulated by organizations like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. These institutions are responsible for closed-door agreements that are written “by and for corporations” (GlobalExchange.org).
Examples of WTO rulings include laws making it illegal to ban a product because of the way it is produced, not excluding morally negligent practices like child labor. According to GlobalExchange.org, the WTO has also ruled that “governments cannot take into account ‘non commercial values’ such as human rights or the behavior of companies that do business with vicious dictatorships such as Burma.” Additionally, the WTO has blocked countries with rampant health concerns like AIDs from producing generic drugs. The WTO has cited rulings of companies’ “right to profit” to enforce such policies, and has often undermined countries’ preexisting laws in doing so.
“The TRADE Act acknowledges rights greater than a corporation’s supposed right to profit,” says Ben Beachy, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizer of Witness for Peace. “These include the rights of family farmers to a stable livelihood, the rights of parents to affordable medicines, the rights of all of us to environmental protections. The TRADE Act spells the overhaul of the NAFTA model that has not only failed to recognize, but has outrightly trampled, such basic human rights.”
Beachy states that the TRADE Act “launches a new era of trade.” It is “the first bill of its kind to call for the sort of trade we could support–the sort that places public health, democratic process, and decent work at the center.”
Americans are now personally aware of the disfunctionality of the current economic systems and the reality of just how global our nation’s trade has become. People are trying to learn more about what got us into this situation and how to change it. At the same time, however, it appears that the bigwigs responsible have not changed much at all, nor do they seem to have any intentions of doing so. That is where this legislation comes in. It is proactive yet extremely necessary to ensure the democratic power of the US in this globalizing world. In order to maintain control by the people, an ideal this country was based on, legislation like the TRADE Act is absolutely fundamental. For the first time, it requires that a trade agreement be approved by both Congress and the President (TRADE Act, pg44): Constitutional ideals which have been grossly ignored until this point.
A large success for transparent business practices exists in the bill’s stipulation that “if the trade agreement contains provisions related to dispute resolution, these provisions must “incorporate due process rules and procedures, including insuring… proceedings are open to the public; that public access to information… related to disputes is provided in a timely manner; and that conflict of interest rules apply fully to adjudicators.” It also requires that any dispute settlement panel addressing environmental and human rights issues “include panelists with expertise in such issues” (TRADE Act, pg34-35)!
In order to ensure acceptable treatment of citizens by US trading partners, the bill mandates that every two years a report be issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). This report will cite information regarding whether that country is democratic, respects fundamental human rights and religious freedom, has taken measures to combat public and private corruption, complies with multilateral environmental agreements, has adequate labor and environmental regulations, provides for governmental transparency, and maintains the due process of law. Additionally, there are exceptions to the Act in cases where a country is shown to pose a threat to the national security of the US.
The GAO would also provide information on the effects of existing International Trade like NAFTA and CAFTA which are among the trade agreements that have become considerable examples on which all other trade agreements are based. Their creation included corrupt, unmonitored and extremely exclusionary tactics that have set an unfortunate standard for international trade policies and practices. If the TRADE Act were passed, these agreements would have the potential to be tweaked or improved if Congress felt changes were necessary.
The TRADE Act is a refreshingly non-ethnocentric piece of literature that promotes the right to self-governance and autonomy, significantly pushes environmental protection and human rights causes, helps ensure the transparency of international trade, and has the potential to change the face of America to the world.
By Kelly Flanagan