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Rep. Rangel, will you protect our jobs and community again?

THE REV. STEPHEN PHELPS and STEPHANIE LOW | 11/27/2014, midnight

While the country contemplates how the midterm results will impact policies, one thing hasn’t changed: the administration and some members of Congress are still pushing for a new trade deal that makes the North American Free Trade Agreement look puny.

This agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, includes the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries comprising 40 percent of global trade. (Negotiating countries include Mexico, Canada, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Brunei, Singapore, Chile, Malaysia, Peru and New Zealand.) Its provisions could destroy jobs at home, undermine national sovereignty and threaten clean air and water everywhere.

Twenty years ago, NAFTA promised American jobs and economic prosperity by opening trade with Canada and Mexico. We didn’t get the jobs, but we sure did get problems. According to Public Citizen’s Economic Policy Institute, NAFTA outsourced jobs from all 50 states. Approximately 46,200 were lost in New York alone. Moreover, U.S., Canada and Mexico increased manufacturing that polluted water, land and air in all three countries. To top it off, NAFTA created foreign tribunals where corporations can challenge the environmental and public safety laws of any member nation. Headed by just three private sector lawyers, the tribunals have no obligation to disclose the full terms of their decisions, and their decisions allow no appeal.

In a current suit before a NAFTA tribunal, an American fracking company is suing Canada to challenge Quebec’s moratorium on fracking. If Canada loses the case, its taxpayers will be on the hook for a fine of $230 million. Public Citizen reports, “In the first seven years of NAFTA ... an astonishing $13billion [was] claimed by corporations in their initial filings,” and more than 85 percent of the $3 billion already awarded involves law- suits “against national resource, energy and environmental policy.”

This is outrageous. The past 20 years have seen more than enough damage. We cannot and will not stand for more.

But now Congress is considering a “fast track” bill that would allow the TPP to be pushed through to easy passage. Under “fast track- ing,” Congress abandons its over- sight of trade agreements and renders itself unable to change a single word of the TPP or any other trade agreement. Fast-track- ing would undermine the system of checks and balances that the Constitution put in place to pre- vent one branch of government from grabbing too big a share of power. The voice of the elected congressional representatives of the people would be silenced.

Fast-tracking the TPP would put our jobs up against those in countries such as Vietnam, where workers make a shocking $2.23 a day. It would expand Big Pharma’s monopoly protections, trading away low-cost access to medicines. It would mean transnational corporations could sue the U.S. and challenge nearly any law they claim cuts into their “future expected profits.” Laws protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food on our dinner tables and our very health would be threatened.

These provisions are so clearly bad for the U.S. that the most recent attempt to pass a fast track bill was dead on arrival when introduced in Congress last January. Nonetheless, it’s likely that a new fast-track proposal will be introduced in the next few months. Early this month, TPP trade ministers from all member nations met in Beijing in an effort to move negotiations closer to a conclusion. That will bring pressure on Congress to facilitate the TPP by pass- ing this legislation quickly.

Trade can be of real benefit if it is done responsibly. But leaks from TPP texts show that the TPP will take us in the wrong direction and send the profits to the very corporations that helped write the texts, not to workers or communities.

Rep. Charles Rangel, we hope you, along with the whole New York congressional delegation, will join us in the fight for our jobs, our wages, our environment, our food and our health. We have elected you year after year because you have continually fought to protect us. We call on you now to protect us once more to publicly oppose any fast track bill, just as you did by rejecting the previous one. We call on you to do it again, congress- man. Do it for the sake of your own great legacy and for the sovereignty of our beloved country.

The Rev. Stephen Phelps is a former interim senior minister at Riverside Church and Stephanie Low is chair of both the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter TPP Task Force and the NYC TPP Task Force.