Guest opinion: Fast Track wrong deal for Montana ag, workers

2014-05-14T09:32:00Z Guest opinion: Fast Track wrong deal for Montana ag, workersBy STEVE CHARTER and ED LOGAN The Billings Gazette
May 14, 2014 9:32 am  • 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. But you won’t see Montanans blowing out candles to celebrate.

1,936 Montana jobs lost

Contrary to the promises that NAFTA would create U.S. jobs, the trade deal made outsourcing to Mexico, with its lower wages and weak environmental standards, much more attractive to Big Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Instead of job growth as promised, Montana lost 1,936 manufacturing jobs and the United States lost nearly a million because of outsourcing.

As in manufacturing, the promise to farmers and ranchers that NAFTA would allow them to export their way to wealth has fallen far short. Instead, Canada and Mexico flooded the United States with cheaper beef, undermining Montana family ranchers. The average annual U.S. agricultural trade deficit with Mexico and Canada stands at $800 million, more than double before NAFTA. United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard points out that in the post NAFTA-era “from 1994 to October 2013, America accumulated an overall trade deficit of $8.3 trillion.” Trade deficits mean jobs and opportunities lost.

Trade deals like NAFTA have also been used to attack and weaken an array of our domestic laws — including those that protect the safety of the food we eat. NAFTA empowered corporations to drag nations to an international court if those nations’ domestic laws undermine corporate profit, even if the law aims to protect people’s health and safety.

Usurping U.S. authority

In 2003, for example, after a Canadian cow with “mad cow” disease was found in a U.S. herd, the U.S. shut down the border to Canadian cattle. A group of Canadian feedlot operators formed a front group called “Canadian Cattlemen for Fair Trade” and filed a NAFTA suit, demanding that the U.S. pay $300 million in damages for the border closure. Under pressure, the U.S. simply backed down and reopened the border, risking our food safety. Corporations have raked in more than $360 million in suits like this, with another $12.4 billion in claims pending today.

The corporations that got us into NAFTA are now pressuring Congress to delegate away its constitutional authority to review and approve trade agreements. They want Congress to “Fast Track” a massive and controversial new trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If Congress passes the Fast Track bill, the sweeping unfair trade deal between 11 Asian and Latin American countries and the United States could be rammed through Congress and signed by the president with no genuine public input, no amendments, and limited debate.

This backroom deal has kept working families and family farmers and ranchers in the dark. In an effort to quickly push this secret deal, negotiators have weakened labor and environmental standards in the final language. Omitting strong currency manipulation standards, as well as price protections for American agricultural producers make it very clear that this deal is rigged for the top 1 percent.

Montana's working men and women, farmers and ranchers agree: We need trade agreements that protect, not threaten, Montana jobs, country-of-origin labeling for U.S. beef, and strong standards for food safety, environmental, and worker protections. Fast Track and the TPP threaten all of those things.

Montana has a proud tradition of independence. Supporting an agreement drawn up by the Obama administration behind closed doors won’t help Montanans. The last thing U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh and Rep. Steve Daines should do is support Fast Track. We can’t afford another, bigger NAFTA trade deal.

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Steve Charter of Shepherd chairs the Northern Plains Resource Council. Ed Logan of Billings is a retired United Steel Workers member and AFL-CIO board member.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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