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Trade: The wrong conversation

While I have problems with the Trans Pacific Partnership, particularly in the areas of intellectual property and the ability of transnational business panels to override national law, I really feel we’re not having the right conversation on trade.

Attacking any particular multilateral trade deal not only allows proponents to label opponents as “anti-trade” and “isolationists,” it distracts us from what I think is the real conversation we ought to be having on how we write trade deals to begin with.

No one really wants to stop trade. The vast majority of people understand that we live in an interdependent world. No one country has everything it needs for modern life. But how that trade is conducted is important and how trade deals are created is even more so.

In a working economy, the legitimate interests of businesses, workers and consumers are all equally respected. In a capitalist economy you need all three groups to remain healthy or the economy collapses. As a result, in a working economy all three groups should have representation in writing economic rules.

In trade deals, this seldom happens. Whether it’s NAFTA, TPP or some other trade deal, national governments invite industry representatives to meet in secret to hammer out rules that are presented as all or nothing votes to national legislatures. As a result, these deals are usually great for business, occasionally good for consumers but almost never satisfactory for workers in any but the lowest wage countries.

In our discussions on trade, we should agree that trade is a reality, but we should insist on representation for labor groups and the non-profit sector – cultural organization institutions and consumer groups. Potential rules should be weighed for their effects on businesses, workers and consumers at large. And they should be written in public and available for continuous public comment.

This will be a longer process than letting industry write the rules in secret. But the economy belongs to all of us and a more open process will ensure greater buy in for the deals that do ultimately pass. Let’s pass that message on to our elected representatives and hold them accountable for it.

 

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