Business / Economy

Major U.S. unions step up battle against TPP

AP, Kyodo

The largest American labor federation says it and its affiliated unions are freezing political contributions to federal candidates “until further notice” to channel funds into labor’s intensifying battle to stop or at least help shape a proposed free trade agreement being negotiated by the U.S. and other nations that border the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, the Teamsters union called for U.S. negotiators on the trade pact to press for a crackdown on Mexican cross-border trucking as part of the emerging agreement.

Both unions have been critical of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. The unions are battling legislation now being considered by Congress to give the negotiations a “fast track” to passage in the House and Senate.

Such a trade shortcut has been used before, notably in the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement.

In a statement Wednesday, the AFL-CIO said it and its affiliated unions “are freezing all Political Action Committee (PAC) contributions to federal candidates until further notice in order to conserve resources for the historic legislative battle around fast-track . . . and the debate” over the Pacific free trade proposal.

Earlier U.S. trade deals “form a mountain of broken promises made to workers,” the union said.

With negotiations on the trade proposal going on in Hawaii, White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked at his daily briefing whether the AFL-CIO stance would make it harder for the administration to find Democratic support in Congress for fast-track authority.

“We understand that there are some groups that have traditionally been aligned with the Democratic Party that are very skeptical of any sort of trade deal,” Earnest said. “But, you know, the fact is the president has made a firm commitment to both Democrats and Republicans that any sort of trade agreement that he signs onto will be one that he firmly believes is clearly in the best interests of American businesses and American middle-class families. And that is not going to change.”

In Hawaii, sources close to TPP negotiations said Wednesday that member countries are mulling allowing some nations to delay adopting the period set for drug patent protection, rather than introducing it as soon as the trade agreement takes effect.

That is being considered as a compromise plan, as emerging and developed countries in the TPP talks remain apart over the contentious issue, the sources said.

The U.S. has sought to set the protection period at 10 years or longer to protect the profitability of big pharmaceutical companies. But less developed countries like Malaysia and Vietnam want the period set at three to five years to hasten the availability of less expensive generic versions for the poor.

The issue — being discussed as part of intellectual property rights — is one of the biggest sticking points dragging out the 12-country negotiations. There is a proposal to set the protection period at eight years, the sources said. Another big hurdle is being caused by the fruitless negotiations between the U.S. and Japan.

Chief negotiators from the 12 countries are currently engaged in weeklong talks in Hawaii through Sunday. However, as the topic is highly contentious and requires political decisions, final decisions are expected to be left to ministers.