Worker Rights On The Line With Trans-Pacific Partnership


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White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday that an upcoming international Pacific trade deal will protect workers’ rights despite many others saying otherwise.

President Barack Obama has worked for years to implement an international trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It was finalized Oct. 5 after a fierce debate that divided the president from many within his own party. Some Democrats and labor unions have made claims the deal could undermine worker rights while benefitting large international corporations.

“I think we’ve acknowledged that there are a lot of Democrats who have a reflexive opposition to any discussion of expanding international trade and that does make the politics of this particular issue complicated,” Earnest told reporters at the White House. “But it doesn’t in any way undermine the case that we make on the merits about how agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that have stronger-than-ever standards that relate to the environment, to labor rights, and to human rights.”

The trade deal covers 12 countries including some known for notorious labor violations. Communist Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are among the partner countries cited for labor and human rights violations. The trade deal is also likely to have a significant impact on global trade at roughly 39 percent of global GDP. It is the largest regional trade deal in history.

“We’re going to impose enforceable standards on Vietnam,” Earnest continued. “If they want to have access to this country they’re going to have to put in place higher standards when it comes to labor rights, when it comes to environmental rights, and when it comes to human rights.”

Critics have compared the deal to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which they claim resulted in many American jobs being lost. The president has previously insisted the deal could help fix many of the problems NAFTA caused. It is designed to gradually end thousands of import tariffs and other international trade barriers. It would also establish uniform rules for intellectual property, environment protections and open Internet access.

The White House has claimed the deal will help workers despite what unions claims. Vietnam, for instance, is now required to enact laws so workers can form unions independent of the government. Workers will also be able to strike over wages, hours and working conditions. Such rights have been commonplace in the United States and many other developed countries.

The trade deal will face significant opposition in Congress when it comes up for a vote — most Democrats and many Republicans oppose it. Nevertheless, it has already managed to overcome a major challenge with the passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), after a bitter fight in both the House and Senate. This allows the president to make trade deals with a straight up or down vote without amendment or filibuster.

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