U.S. trade rep, labor discuss trade deal

SEATTLE — Regional labor leaders sat down with Ambassador Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative, in Seattle on Tuesday to discuss their concerns with two free-trade agreements currently in closed-door negotiations.

The U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries are four years into negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The U.S. is negotiating a companion agreement called the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union.

Critics of the negotiations have raised concerns that the agreement will make the Internet more restrictive, weaken environmental regulations and reduce access to medicines.

Froman calls the TPP the “most progressive” trade agreement in history.

It is meant to ease trade barriers while raising environmental, labor and intellectual property standards, among others.

He reiterated those points in Tuesday’s meeting, said Gillian Locascio of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition. “We remained unconvinced by his assurances that this trade agreement would be significantly different from previous agreements.”

Critics of the negotiations have raised concerns that the agreement will make the Internet more restrictive, weaken environmental regulations and reduce access to medicines.

Unions representing thousands of Boeing employees belong to the coalition.

A representative from the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), which represents Boeing engineers and technical workers, attended the meeting. A representative from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), which represents shopfloor workers in Boeing’s Puget Sound-area plants was supposed to attend but couldn’t make it.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Bellevue) helped organize Tuesday’s meeting, which was also attended by U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor), according to Locascio.

TPP will make U.S. exports more competitive, Froman said in an address to the Washington Council on International Trade in Seattle.

“Through TPP, we are also leveling the playing field for American workers and businesses, by raising labor and environmental standards,” Froman said. “We’re doing this not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because we know that when global economic competition is fair, the world’s most productive workers and firms — American workers and firms — win.”

Froman regularly meets with labor groups regarding trade agreement negotiations, he told the Herald in an interview after visiting Boeing’s Everett plant Monday.

The AFL-CIO’s president, Rich Trumka, said in a letter to Congress that over several years of TPP negotiations, labor groups have made hundreds of specific suggestions, but “few, if any, of these suggestions appear likely to be incorporated into the now almost completed agreement,” according to a news release from the Washington Fair Trade Coalition.

(Of course, labor complaining about a lack of transparency is pretty much the definition of the pot calling the kettle black.)

The outcome of negotiations could have long-term effects on the U.S. and global economies.

“This may be our last chance to get trade right for a generation or two,” Locascio said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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