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La Grande Observer Paper 08/20/14

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Home arrow Opinion arrow MY VOICE: Oregonians need transparency on trade

MY VOICE: Oregonians need transparency on trade

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade pact with Mexico and Canada. NAFTA has fundamentally changed the way we do business in America. 

Since NAFTA, the United States has lost 170,000 family farms and ranches, and rural communities have lost population. Mexican farmers fled the countryside and crossed the border to escape the poverty caused by a flood of cheap American corn.  

Despite NAFTA’s failure, the Obama administration is negotiating another massive trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Supporters of the agreement say that farmers need this treaty to improve exports, this time to Asia, primarily. 

However, Asia is already one of Oregon’s largest trading partners. Over 90 percent of Oregon wheat is already exported, primarily to Pacific Rim countries, according to the Oregon Wheat Grower’s League. TPP supporters tell us that it will create jobs, but in the years after NAFTA began, from 1994 to 2014, Oregon lost 18,842 manufacturing jobs due to NAFTA, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

What’s more, TPP supporters say this trade deal is needed, but very few people actually know what is in it because negotiations are secret.

What supporters don’t tell people is that TPP will likely extend the “rights” and privileges of corporations under the “investor-state” system, which elevates foreign corporations to the status of governments. Under this system, foreign corporations can sue the U.S. government for cash damages (our tax dollars) over alleged harm to their companies due to the domestic laws and regulations. This could include laws like Country of Origin Labeling, which require labeling of where meat was born, raised and slaughtered. Independent ranchers like us across the nation have fought hard for COOL so that U.S. meat can be differentiated as proudly American grown, higher quality product and so consumers can know where their food comes from. 

But TPP would create an opportunity for foreign companies to sue for damages and stop COOL if they could show this labeling harmed their “expected future profits.” 

The investor-state system in trade agreements has already resulted in over $3 billion paid to corporations over domestic food safety, health, labor, land use and environmental laws. The judges in these cases are the same private sector attorneys who also represent corporations, making us doubt the fairness and legitimacy of these bodies.  

But regardless of a person’s opinion on TPP and other “free trade” deals, we can probably all agree that the public, media and Congress should have a thorough debate about what this trade deal means for the American people and rural communities. Instead, the Obama administration and some in Congress are pushing for Fast Track Authority, which would allow the president to sign TPP with limited debate and without the right for Congress to make any changes. Free trade deals have real-world consequences for how we run our ranching operations, yet, with Fast Track, we will not know what is in them until it is too late to change or stop them. 

This kind of secrecy and push for unconstitutional power is undemocratic and opaque. It denies the rights of citizens to know what our government is doing on our behalf and our right to self-determination when it comes to our livelihoods and way of life.

As the new chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden can stop Fast Track Authority for secret trade deals. We encourage our fellow citizens, farmers and ranchers to contact Wyden and urge him to fight against Fast Track Authority and bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations out of the dark and into the light of day.

 

About the author

Nella Parks is a farmer from Union and member of Oregon Rural Action.  

 
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