Minnesotans Rally for Trade Justice!

On Monday morning, Minnesotans rallied outside Cargill offices to protest corporate control of international trade negotiations and demand that negotiating texts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement be made available to lawmakers, the media, and the public.

“Right now, hundreds of corporate lobbyists from companies like Cargill are in San Diego, writing rules that will override existing federal state and they’re doing it in total secrecy,” said the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition. “Trade deals like NAFTA have been nothing more than corporate giveaways and have led to job loss, environmental destruction, and unsafe consumer products.”

mnftc-cargill10-300x230Speakers at the rally included Bob Ryan; of the United Steelworkers, who talked about the impact of free trade on jobs; Dwight Ault, a farmer from Southern Minnesota, will talk about the effects of free trade on local agriculture; and Gerardo Cajamarca (right), who was granted political asylum from Colombia, gave an impassioned speech about the horrible human rights abuses Cargill has perpetrated thanks to trade deals which allow them to force people off their land and live in fear for trying to work in decent conditions for non-slave wages. Ralliers also participated in a mic check where they demanded that the negotiating texts of the TPP be made public, and that USTR stop the charade of claiming to be accessible while operating in an unprecedented level of secrecy.

The TPP is a trade pact between 11 countries on the Pacific Rim: The USA, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. The 13th round of negotiations are taking place in San Diego, from July 2 – 10th. Thus far, only those with “cleared advisor” status have been able to see the negotiating texts. There are nearly 600 cleared advisors in the talks, and nearly all from corporations and industry groups. The media, the public and even elected officials in Congress have been kept in the dark.

“Minnesota lost 13,700 manufacturing jobs to Mexico under NAFTA, and more than 70,000 total jobs to Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China,” Wise added. “It’s no wonder they don’t want us to see what they’re proposing in the TPP.”

Last month, more than 130 members of Congress, including Minnesota Reps. Walz, McCollum, Ellison, and Peterson recently wrote the United States Trade Representative, asking for negotiating texts to be made available.

There is precedent for releasing such negotiating texts. The World Trade Organization posts texts online, and texts from the Free Trade Area of the Americas and Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement were released to the public.

Sen. Al Franken Urges Transparency on the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Dallas TPP summit is the 12th major round of negotiations on the proposed trade and investment pact between the U.S. and countries throughout the Pacific Rim. USTR has reportedly proposed text for most, if not all, of some 26 separate chapters, covering everything from financial regulations and government procurement to consumer safety standards and the environment. None of those proposals have been officially released to the public.

“As you know, the TPP is an ambitious multilateral trade agreement currently under negotiation between nine countries – and that number may grow over time. As your office has stated, it may ultimately be the single largest trade agreement by volume in U.S. history. That makes it all the more important that the agreement be crafted in the most transparent and participatory manner possible,” writes Sen. Franken.

“…it is vitally important that the American people have as much information as possible with respect to the negotiating texts and U.S. proposals while the negotiations are still ongoing, not only once and agreement has been completed. Likewise, your consultations should be as wide as possible among stakeholders.

“I therefore request that, to the greatest extent possible, you make the substance of the proposals you have tabled public and continue to do so at the conclusion of each negotiating round. That will enable fuller input from a wider range of stakeholders, and I also request that you work to ensure that stakeholders have full and equal opportunity for input into the positions our negotiators take in the course of negotiations.”

Unfortunately, the empirical data of similar free trade agreements show major trade deficits and job loss in the U.S., including 70,712 jobs lost in Minnesota as a result of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China in the first 10 years of that agreement – over 2.5% of the entire workforce – according to the Economic Policy Institute.

In past trade negotiations including at the World Trade Organization, the USTR has released draft texts of the negotiations after each round to the public. However, TPP negotiations have set a new bar for secrecy, with the only texts available being ones leaked to the media.

“Americans deserve to know what our government is proposing,” said Josh Wise, Director of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition. “Free trade agreements have sent thousands of jobs overseas and severely weakened the ability of local governments to maintain the quality of life for their citizens. We applaud Senator Franken’s efforts to ensure that government is open, transparent and responsible to the people it serves.”

Two great opportunities to see first-hand the effects of free trade in Central and South America

Nicaragua: January 11-21
The Witness for Peace Upper Midwest Delegation to study “Free Trade and the Roots of Migration” in Nicaragua has extended the deadline for applications for two more weeks, so there’s still time to apply! The delegation will be a great way to learn first-hand about the effects of US foreign policy in Latin America and the roots of Central American migration to the Untied States. There are currently 7 applicants signed up, but 10 are required for the trip to go.

Colombia: February 4-14
The recently passed U.S. free trade agreement with Colombia will further jeopardize the rights of urban and rural small producers who have endured decades of a brutal armed conflict between guerrillas, paramilitary death squads and the national army. In addition, since Plan Colombia began in 2000, the U.S. government has provided Colombia with over $6 billion in mostly military aid to fight the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror.” In light of the long term internal civil conflict in Colombia, how is the free trade agreement and U.S. military aid used or connected to these human rights violations?

On this Witness for Peace delegation you will learn about Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities’ struggle for territory, culture and environment; Meet with Colombian men and women who are organizing in resistance to current military and free trade policies; Meet with a wide range of Colombians including community leaders, displaced persons, and human rights defenders; Learn about the impact of US Military and Free Trade Agreements; Become an informed US citizen; learn how you can stand in solidarity with the people of Colombia.

Give (4) MN

Give to the Max Day on GiveMN starts tonight at midnight and lots of nonprofits will be giving their pitch in hopes of getting your dollars.  Here’s ours: MNFTC is a nonprofit with 501(c)(4) tax status, a status that is both a blessing and a curse.  It’s a blessing because it allows us to be politically active, lobby elected officials, endorse candidates, etc — stuff that’s critical to influencing public policy.  It’s a curse because, as a result of our political activity, donations to MNFTC are not tax deductible, thus we can’t participate in fundraising programs like GiveMN and it’s much harder for us, than for a 501(c)(3) organization to raise much needed funds.

When you consider making a donation on Give to the Max Day or any other time during the year, please think outside the tax deduction and consider the organizations that are working to make fundamental changes in public policy — like MNFTC!

Click the button above or the ‘Support MNFTC’ link on the right hand sidebar to make a donation to MNFTC.

Thanks for your support of our game-changing work!

Mining to Millions: The True Costs of Gold in El Salvador

After polluting the local water and soil with heavy metals and arsenic and having its mining permits revoked by the Salvadoran government, Commerce Group, a small multi-national corporation is using the Central American Free Trade Agreement [CAFTA] to sue for supposed loss of profit despite already losing the same case in the Salvadoran Supreme Court. This Milwaukee-based company is trying to use CAFTA’s “foreign investor rights” provisions to over-ride local environmental rules.

On October 17th, 2011, Kenia Margarita Ortez Alvarez traveled to Minnesota from her home country of El Salvador to speak about the impacts of mining projects like those of the Commerce group and the direct effects it has had on the environment, political system, and livelihood of Salvadoran society since 1904. Kenia is a woman who stands strong for the rights of her country. As a lawyer and a social programs manager, she travelled here representing the Santa Rosa de Lima Catholic parish and an environmental group where in both she is an advocate for the effects of environmental issues.

Having grown up in the town of San Sebastian, Kenia has personally experienced the exploitation of the people, environmental and social impacts from the mines. Her community is only an example of the many throughout the country that has suffered from the industry. Being the highest populated country in the Americas where the majority of the economy depends on agriculture, people are finding it challenging to live a healthy and sustainable life. According to a USESSC fact sheet, the average mine, like the one which rests in the mountain base of San Sebastian, uses about 90,000 liters of water an hour. This amount is equivalent to what a typical Salvadoran family would consume in 20 years, putting the country at the second highest on the water shortage index in the Americas.

What’s worse, the water systems are contaminated nearly to the point of no return. For the people of El Salvador this means no water for agricultural purposes, limited sources for drinking water, hygienic uses, transportation, and the functions of surrounding habitats.

With the livelihood of millions being jeopardized, the people of El Salvador are committed to working for a world without oppression and for social and economic justice. People are actively opposing the Pacific Rim’s $77 million CAFTA law suit against the Salvadoran government for not giving mining permits to the company. A country should have the right to protect the health of its environment and its people, but under free trade agreements like CAFTA it’s foreign investors that are granted greater rights, not citizens.

Salvadorans and people worldwide also are putting pressure on Commerce Group to take responsibility for the environmental and health damages it has caused in El Salvador. Their long term goals are to successfully improve the soil and water around the mines, clean up the contaminated waters, and obtain land titles for those who have built homes on Commerce Group owned property. They currently have a rain water collection project to help families get safe drinking water.

Free trade and investment protection agreements such as CAFTA are a new way for companies to steal profits they anticipate to have from other countries. In the case of El Salvador and Kenia’s community, companies are claiming damages because a sovereign government halted the operations of these multinational corporations to enforce laws and regulations to protect the environment and public safety.

Take Action on this issue!

Sign up for Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition’s e-news to stay updated on trade policy issues. Send an email to mnftc(at)citizenstrade(dot)org to have your name added.

Help make sure foreign investor provisions stay out of future trade agreements such as the currently-being-negotiated nine-county Trans Pacific Free Trade Agreement.

For more information about trade and environmental sustainability, visit Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

For more information about the resistance to mining and Commerce Group, visit www.elsalvadorsolidarity.org , www.cispes.org or esnomineria.blogspot.com

Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition Statement on Congressional Approval of the Korea, Colombia and Panama Free Trade Agreements

Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition Statement on Congressional Approval of the Korea, Colombia and Panama Free Trade Agreements

When Congress passed the Korea, Colombia and Panama Free Trade Agreements tonight it voted to export hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs, reward labor and human rights offenders, harm our planet, and perpetuate tax evasion.

Despite years of protest against unfair trade policies by Americans of all political affiliations, a majority of members of Congress chose to prioritize Wall Street and multinational corporations over their own constituents. This is a win for the top 1% of income-earners while the other 99% will be left to foot the bill.

Fortunately, Congressman Keith Ellison and Congresswoman Betty McCollum took a strong stand for working families and against corporate greed by opposing all three trade deals.

Four members of the Minnesota delegation split their votes. Congressmen Peterson and Walz and Senators Franken and Klobuchar voted for the Korea Free Trade Agreement and against the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Walz and Franken voted against the Panama Free Trade Agreement while Peterson and Klobuchar voted for it.

Congressmen Chip Cravaack, John Kline, Erik Paulsen, and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann all voted for each job-killing trade pact.

The Korea deal alone threatens over 50,000 good-paying Minnesota jobs. This hits hard in a state that has already seen tens of thousands of jobs lost to failed trade policies, with families losing health care, savings, retirement, and homes as a result.

While the Minnesota delegation may have split its votes on trade, polls show a majority of voters agree the pro-corporate, anti-middle class policies perpetuated tonight by Congress are sinking working families across our country.

The consequences of these votes will linger for years to come. Hopefully, the growing movement against greed and government corruption will be strong enough to hold those who approved these pacts accountable for their actions.

MN Fair Trade Coalition urges Walz to reconsider support for corporate-backed trade deal with South Korea

Coalition urges Walz to reconsider support for corporate-backed trade deal with South Korea

In a disappointing deviation from his traditional support for working families, Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz announced today he will vote in favor of the pending South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.    The job-killing trade pact is a sweetheart deal for Wall Street and multinational corporations.  Similar trade agreements of the past like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have shown to be economically hostile to regular Americans, small businesses and family farms.

Weighed on its own merit, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) predicts the South Korea pact will increase our country’s overall trade deficit.  The net effect will be more job losses — namely living wage manufacturing jobs lost because of imports and offshoring.  Minnesota agriculture is not exempt from taking a hit; the ITC study predicts a net revenue loss in the hundreds of millions of dollars for southern Minnesota alone.

While family farms are at risk, roughly 57,000 Minnesotans including over 12,000 in Congressman Walz’s district work in industries that have been deemed at-risk to being off-shored or displaced due to imports should the South Korea deal pass.  Many of those jobs are in high-tech fields that require post-secondary education – the so-called “jobs of the future.”

Small and medium-sized businesses and a large number of domestic manufacturers have also opposed the South Korea deal, stating it will only serve the interests of Korea and other Asian countries, like China, where many product contents will come from.

Trade should be a means for lifting up working families, not bringing them down as the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement will do.  The Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition expresses its disappointment in Congressman Walz’s position and strongly urges him to reconsider before the upcoming vote.