In a rare showing of legislative harmony, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart and Councilman Mike Fagan joined forces Monday night to pass a resolution opposing a massive, 12-country trade accord that President Barack Obama said would “open markets, protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.”
The rest of the council joined them, voting unanimously to oppose the trade pact.
The deal, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is an agreement among nations bordering the Pacific Ocean, including the U.S., Japan, Vietnam, Australia and Chile, and will lower trade barriers and deepen economic ties among the nations. Critics from the left and right have warned that the pact will erode national sovereignty and give rights to multinational corporations over governments.
Just one person, who was representing Pearson Packaging Systems in Spokane, spoke in favor of the trade agreement during an hour of testimony at Monday’s council meeting. Everyone else who spoke, from Republican Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase to David Brookbank, a socialist, railed against the pact.
Mayor David Condon would not comment on the deal last week, but suggested the council’s resolution was inappropriate.
“I support our federal delegation, our two senators and our congresswoman, to look at all points of view across our district and render the right decisions for us,” Condon said.
Obama has made it a priority to pass the trade deal during his last year in office, which will take a majority of Congress. Supporters of the deal say it will unleash new growth among the countries, cut tariffs and continue to usher in the prosperity of globalization.
Opponents, like Stuckart and Fagan, say the pact will move American jobs to foreign markets and erode environmental and labor laws.
“The parts of it that I’ve read are absolutely horrendous,” Stuckart said. “This free trade agreement has so many free goodies for some sectors at the expense of others. To me, my opposition is about consumer protection and protecting manufacturing.”
Stuckart warned that the deal’s passage would increase generic drug prices, allow imported foods to enter the consumer market unlabeled and hurt the American car industry.
Stuckart said his gravest concern with the deal came from a provision called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, which would allow foreign corporations to challenge and overturn labor standards passed by cities and states without ever engaging with the U.S. justice system.
Similar concerns have been voiced by liberal standard-bearer Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who said the agreement will give multinational corporations the power to sue governments and upend national policies on health, the environment and education, and could impede regulations on industries such as banking.
The deal’s approval is far from a sure thing, part of the reason the council voiced its opposition. Last year, Congress gave Obama “fast-track” authority on the deal, which ensures a prompt up-or-down vote without lawmakers’ amendments. Critics from across the political spectrum have skewered the proposal, including presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, who called it a “terrible one-sided deal that rewards off-shoring and enriches other countries at our expense.”
A criticism of the pact dealt with how it was drafted – in secret, with influential interest groups gaining access to the document before the general public.
In fact, when a group of activists from the left and right asked the City Council to oppose the deal last April, Stuckart said he hadn’t seen the document so he wouldn’t take a stance on it.
Now that he’s seen it, he’s against it – much like he was against the 1994 trade deal that saw its fair share of opposition, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
“The reason for my skepticism was that at the time the text had not been released,” Stuckart said. “Now it is in front of Congress, and now is the time to weigh in. NAFTA was a disaster. This is NAFTA on steroids.”
This article was changed to correct an editor’s error on March 1, 2016. Pearson Packaging Systems was misspelled.