The trade debate is a thoroughly engrossing saga full of intriguing story lines, as both parties find themselves in civil wars as the strange bedfellows of Obama, McConnell, and Boehner, and the combined might of corporate America try to ram home a deal that with such an alliance should be easy to ram. But the fight goes on and the story lines keep getting more interesting: will the tea party faction in the House finally trust Obama with the kind of unlimited power on trade he is asking for? Will Hillary take a stand? Will Obama keep taking pot shots at Elizabeth Warren? Will Pelosi rally the Democratic troops in the House to be against Obama the same way Warren and Harry Reid have in the Senate?
I have worked and written a lot on the TPP fight over the last couple of years, and it is going to be intense all the way through, but I wanted to throw another thing into the whole trade discussion today, and that is the issue of enforcement: why are we to have any faith in the language of these trade deals on labor, the environment, or anything else if the administration won't enforce the rules of trade that already exist? We have seen examples of the lack of enforcement time and time again over the years on deals relating to China and many other countries. One of the big issues that roiled the Senate vote earlier this week was on currency manipulation, and Chinese currency manipulation is the classic enforcement issue most on people's minds, but it is far from the only one. Elizabeth Warren just issued an incredibly important new report on the lack of enforcement on arguably the most important single issue, labor standards
One of the most egregious examples of the lack of enforcement on trade rule: the lack of enforcement on the massive subsidies Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are giving to their countries' state owned airlines. Under the rules of the WTO, this kind of state subsidy is exactly the kind of thing that is not supposed to happen. Qatar Airlines, Etihad Airlines, and Emirates Airlines have (according to research done by the admittedly biased US airline industry, although having looked at their white paper the subsidies listed seemed quite well-documented) between them received over $42 billion in different kinds of subsidies over the past decade- subsidies which include various sorts of grants, no-interest loans with no repayment schedule, free land, free airport fees. But the most outrageous subsidy of all, and the most telling to future trade agreements, is that Qatar and UAE have a ban on all labor unions. Yes, that's right, a complete ban on unions, and yet the USA is not enforcing trade sanctions against them.
The TPP may or not have the most progressive language ever when it comes to labor standards, we won't know until the administration declassifies the document and lets us non-corporate execs take a look at it. But even if the language is the best ever, that wouldn't amount to a hill of beans given that the administration doesn't seem to want to enforce the trade standards that are currently in writing in the WTO.
That's not the half of it. Qatar and UAB are some of the worst human rights abusing countries in the world in general. Qatar has been condemned by John Kerry for human trafficking and slavery; UAB has had massive issues with denial of the freedom of expression; both countries have laws on their books allowing blatant discrimination against women and the LGBT community; most outrageous of all, UAB actually has homosexual activity punishable by death. And the 3 airlines these countries own all follow the kinds of discriminatory practices their countries practice.
UAB and Qatar want to be our country's modern trading partners, given the same rights and status as first world countries, but on trafficking, women's rights, LGBT rights, freedom of expression, and labor rights, they want to be in the 14th century. With airlines in this country losing jobs, a lot of the good paying union jobs, to these countries' wholly owned airlines, this is a huge problem. And if the USA is not going to enforce our trade laws with countries like this, why would they do so with the countries signing up for the TPP?