President Obama is currently working with Congress to secure the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the most progressive trade deal in history.
The President knows that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype. That’s why he is negotiating a deal that reflects American values: A free and open Internet, fully enforceable environmental standards, fully enforceable labor standards, and much more.
Labor Secretary Tom Perez sat down with Greg Sargent from the Washington Post’s Plum Line to talk TPP and how the President’s modern trade deal will put American workers first.
Check out a few excerpts from their conversation below or read the whole interview here.
The Plum Line: There’s a tremendous amount of suspicion about trade deals. Prior trade deals didn’t raise wages or bargaining rights. What specifically will be in TPP that is somehow different from these other deals, from the point of view of the standard of living of American workers?
Secretary Perez: I share the skepticism that my friends have about NAFTA. It was woefully weak in protecting workers and on the enforcement side. The question is: Can we meaningfully build a trade regime that has as its North Star protecting American workers and American jobs through meaningful enforcement? I think we can. It’s imperative that we not default to the status quo, which would mean we don’t fix NAFTA.
We have to bake labor provisions into the core of an agreement. TPP would do that. Under NAFTA, countries had to simply promise to uphold the laws of their own nations. Now the provisions baked into TPP are: You must enact or make sure you have already in place meaningful labor protections, such as the freedom of association, health and safety, acceptable conditions of work.
The Plum Line: On baking in labor standards, we keep hearing that these rules are enforceable. But will it be at the discretion of a future president to follow up on, for example, an AFL-CIO complaint about labor conditions in Vietnam? Or is there a provision that requires President Ted Cruz to follow up on such a complaint?
Secretary Perez: Take the hate-crimes bill that passed in 2009. The notion that you wouldn’t support the hate-crimes bill because President Ted Cruz some years down the road might decide not to enforce it as vigorously strikes me as an insufficient argument.
The Plum Line: But how would the mechanism work? Is it at the discretion of a future president to pursue enforcement? Is the argument that labor shouldn’t be concerned about non-enforcement under a future labor-unfriendly president, because there will be committed prosecutors in place?
Secretary Perez: I can’t speak for what a future president will do. But I can say the structure is indistinguishable from the structure we have at the Justice Department to do enforcement in a wide array of civil and criminal contexts, where you have a dedicated cadre of career professionals. That critique — that a future president may do less — could apply to every aspect of enforcement. Trade is no different. We want to get the best laws on the books. Do we throw up our arms and say, “We’re just going to stick with the status quo?”
The Plum Line: Intellectual property: Why should an American worker think this part of the deal does anything other than help big corporations?
Secretary Perez: In terms of intellectual property, so many of the job creators I know are start-ups. In the IP setting, we can meaningfully improve on the status quo, and in so doing, we can help small businesses, large businesses, and those in between. We have increased exports by nearly 50 percent in the last six years. That has resulted in an additional 1.8 million export-related jobs. We know export-related jobs, in the aggregate, pay more. One way to raise wages is to grow more jobs that pay good wages -- export-related jobs.