Protesters took to the streets near the intersection of Front Street and Broadway downtown on January 31 to denounce efforts to "fast track" approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and, more broadly, free-trade agreements of any kind.
The proposal would regulate a broad spectrum of trade and economic activity between the member countries, with the goal of encouraging an increase in imports and exports though normalization of laws governing labor, environmental standards, and intellectual-property rights, among other things.
U.S. leaders have criticized the pact's potential to flood the country with products and services originating in countries with much lower labor standards, while critics abroad have raised concern that American copyright and patent laws could block access to more affordable versions of prescription medications over which U.S. companies hold patent rights.
The group targeted local representatives of Congress Susan Davis and Darrell Issa; House members representing San Diego, including Duncan D. Hunter, Scott Peters, and Juan Vargas, have already voiced opposition to "fast track" approval. Passage of the proposal would allow President Obama authority to negotiate the terms of a trade agreement that would include 12 Pacific Rim countries, allowing the only congressional input to be a up-or-down vote. (Currently, only Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore are participants.)
"Free trade does not by any means mean fair trade," charged Daniella Fierioli, a union pipefitter. She called the proposal "NAFTA on steroids," a sentiment echoed by numerous other activists and conveyed on a banner floated above Front Street with balloons. (NAFTA stands for the North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada in 1994.) Opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership say there's a lack of transparency as to the content of the current proposal.
"I think it's a bit of a fallacy to say that [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] will export jobs," said Al Shur, a retired union leader. "It may export jobs in the beginning, but it's more likely to import the lowest world standards for the environment and for labor."
Rob Nathoff, a policy analyst with the labor-aligned think-tank Center on Policy Initiatives, noted that since the passage of NAFTA, average U.S. wages remained stagnant while worker productivity tripled and many manufacturers moved their operations to Mexico to take advantage of lower wages, giving rise to the maquiladora industry along the U.S./Mexico border.
"The vision outlined in the TPP is extremely dangerous — it's anti-democratic, it boils down to pay-to-play democracy," Nathoff said. "It displaces workers and communities and lowers the floor both here in the United States and internationally…. Let's offer up an alternative vision, which is not just to stop the TPP but to get rid of all free-trade agreements, period."