By Ethel Howley
As a Catholic Sister, I oppose current efforts to “fast track” the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement through Congress. “Fast track” is a fundamentally broken and undemocratic process. It allows powerful corporations to define the U.S. trade agenda while excluding the voices of millions of people who may be harmed.
We are living in a time of unparalleled global inequality, and U.S. trade policy must be aimed at promoting the wellbeing of all people.What we know from similar trade agreements of the past two decades and policies proposed in current trade negotiations is that they have negatively affected human rights and development as well as the health and sustainability of the environment. We learned that modern trade agreements go far beyond the scope of trade and into areas that affect the lives of the most vulnerable in the United States and around the world. For example, in the drive to increase profits and cut expenses, workers’ unions are often prohibited while the exploitation and intimidation of workers is ignored. Lax enforcement of human rights in trade agreements create an environment in which human trafficking thrives.
As we in the U.S. have learned from past experience, trade agreements like TPP have had detrimental consequences for U.S. workers as well. New privileges for large commercial interests have fueled the displacement of small farmers and bankrupted small manufacturing and retail facilities. Jobs that initially came to U.S. towns and cities soon left for cheaper venues overseas. Trade negotiators can become fixated on specific commercial interests’ goals, ignoring the broader societal impact.
Trade must be mutually beneficial to all countries and peoples, not just developed countries and the global economic elite. People of faith believe that trade policy needs to put human dignity and the dignity of God’s creation at the heart of any agreement. Trade negotiations, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, should not be conducted in secret which is what is happening now. Our faith traditions, like our Constitution, speak of the common values we share in ensuring community participation in the democratic process.
Congress, as the representative of “We the People,” must identify trade partners and trade priorities at the beginning of the negotiating process. There must also be transparency throughout the process. It is the role of Congress to ensure that health, safety, environmental and labor protections are included in trade agreements in exchange for expedited approval.
Ethel Howley, SSND, is the Social Responsibility Resource Person at the School Sisters of Notre Dame Cooperative Investment Fund in Wilton.