Barbara Lifton

Editor’s Note: The following is an opinion column written by Barbara Lifton, who represents the Ithaca area in the New York Assembly.

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This month, I have joined with many leaders from other state legislatures in signing a petition urging Congress to vote NO on so-called “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority legislation now pending in Congress. This controversial legislation would put into place a speeded-up process for approving any trade deals negotiated by current and future presidents, requiring a simple up-or-down vote with no amendments.

I have long believed that NAFTA and other trade agreements have set up a “race to the bottom” which has hurt middle class jobs in our state and country.  I am also deeply concerned that, after the many years of work by New York citizens to stop hydro- fracking in New York, the TPP might put at risk all we have worked to achieve to protect the water, air and health of New Yorkers.

Trade agreements that would be covered by “fast track” include the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) encompassing 36 percent of global GDP – by far the biggest trade agreement the U.S. has ever negotiated – as well as an agreement with the European Union, the Trans-Atlantic Trade an Investment Partnership (TTIP).  These trade deals go far beyond traditional trade agreements that simply lower tariffs, and would include sweeping provisions aimed at “disciplining” local, state, and federal policies viewed as “trade irritants.”  TPP raises concerns, both about the extreme secrecy of these trade negotiations and likely provisions that threaten state sovereignty, which could chill future legislation by allowing corporations to challenge state laws and seek multimillion-dollar damage payments, using a trade arbitration process that side-steps state and federal courts.

Barbara Lifton

While virtually every investor group is well represented among the US Trade Representative’s more than 600 ‘citizen’ advisors, almost no legislators are, yet these agreements can put at risk important state initiatives including labor, clean energy policies and environmental regulations.  Even under existing agreements, local and state policies have faced challenges, such as with chemical bans, environmental permitting decisions, and tobacco regulations.  Just this month (May 2015), the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that U.S. country-of-origin food labels for meat violate trade rules, and the U.S. House Agriculture has already voted to repeal the law.  I and other legislators are concerned that GMO and toxic chemical labeling laws in the states could be threatened next under trade deals, such as the TPP, that go beyond WTO rules.

The fast track bill for TPP passed the U.S. Senate on the eve of the Memorial Day recess and may be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives in the next days or weeks. I have urged our state’s federal delegation to reject fast track, so that each trade agreement can be considered on its merits as it is negotiated, with sufficient opportunity for the public, as well as members of Congress, to fully review complex text and assess any impacts on state and national environmental and labor laws.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.