SEATTLE: US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) sought to fend off critics of a huge emerging Pacific trade pact, saying it would set the “highest standards” to protect workers and the environment.
Addressing workers at a Boeing aerospace factory in Renton, near Seattle, Washington, Kerry vowed that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be a “historic trade agreement.”
“The TPP is not your grandparents’ trade agreement. It’s not your mom and dad’s trade agreement,” Kerry said.
“This is a new, new entity, and ultimately, this is a 21st century agreement where the key understandings and high standards are baked right into the four corners of the text.”
The ambitious, 12-nation TPP is still under negotiation, but would eventually encompass 40 percent of the world’s global economy, largely thanks to the inclusion of the United States and Japan.
But trade unions have voiced criticism that the deal, being largely negotiated in secret, will fall short of international labor standards.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) says it is calling for the deal to include a strong labor chapter “that ensures workers in any TPP country, including Vietnam, can exercise basic rights such as freedom of association and collective bargaining.”
A rally of workers outside the Boeing factory disrupted Kerry’s visit, amid fears that the TPP will largely benefit the world’s rich multinationals.
But Kerry argued that signatories to the TPP would have “to comply with core international labor and environmental standards,” and that it would be a deal in which “every participant has to refrain from using underage workers and unsafe workplaces.”
He paid tribute to the “hard-fought struggle” for workers’ rights in American workplaces to ensure “that economic growth doesn’t come on the backs of exploited people.”
“We believe that rather than putting aside the things we care about in order to compete with the rest of the world in a low-standards race to the bottom, we should help bring the rest of the world up to meet the high standards by which American businesses now operate,” Kerry insisted.
He also vowed that the TPP would not be used to dismantle environmental progress in such things as clean air and water.
“I have fought my entire career for many of those things, and I don’t intend to start undoing a lifetime of work now and turning my back on all of that overnight,” he said.