State Rep. Mark Pocan has, since his election to the state Legislature in 1998, been a leader in the fight to educate and engage citizens with the struggle over the failed "free trade" consensus. While trade agreements are negotiated -- usually in secret -- by presidential administrations and voted on by Congress, there are highly significant consequences for states.
After all, when factories close and tens of thousands of workers are laid off, the states -- and communities in the states -- feel the pain far more immediately and intensely than do the insulated mandarins of Washington.
As a union member and a small-business owner, Pocan has been outspoken, joining with a network of legislators from across the country to highlight concerns about trade policies that neglect basic concerns for worker rights, environmental protection and democracy -- in the U.S. and the countries with which the U.S. trades.
So it should come as no surprise that the Madison Democrat has joined legislators from all 50 states in urging negotiators of the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping new trade scheme, to reject any agreement that undermines the regulatory, legal and judicial authority of American states.
This is a real danger, as past trade agreements have assaulted the sovereignty of the United States at the federal, state and local levels. And the legislators who have written to President Obama's senior trade representative are warning that they will oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership if it includes an "investor-state" dispute settlement system. These provisions create avenues for multinational corporations to circumvent state and local laws.
"The lack of transparency of the treaty negotiation process, and the failure of negotiators to meaningfully consult with states on the far-reaching impact of trade agreements on state and local laws, even when binding on our states, is of grave concern to us," the legislators write in their July 5 letter to the Obama administration.
The letter from the legislators explains that investor-state provisions have "proven to be extremely problematic, undermining legislative, administrative, and judicial decisions, and threatening the system of federalism established in the U.S. Constitution."
Pocan, who is running for Congress this year, shares the concern of former Sen. Russ Feingold and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin that trade deals designed to benefit multinational corporations do more harm than good for American workers -- and for American communities and states.
"International trade agreements can be designed to lift environmental, labor and human rights standards across the globe, improving living conditions abroad," says Pocan.
Pocan, the author of legislation designed to prohibit Wisconsin state government agencies from spending taxpayer dollars to contract with companies that ship jobs overseas, sums things up well when he says: "Why we would negotiate a trade deal that would expose ourselves to lawsuits by foreign corporations because they don't like our laws that protect the environment, workers' rights and access to health care is beyond me."
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. email@example.com