Pittsfield City Council adopts resolution opposing Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact

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PITTSFIELD — After hearing from members of the public and several councilors, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution calling on the state's congressional delegation to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and any similar deals that might be negotiated.

Councilors John Krol and Peter White had submitted a petition to the council, calling for a statement on the controversial trade deal, which could come before Congress for a vote this year.

The councilors and several speakers argued that past agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement, involving Canada and Mexico, led to significant job losses for Americans as employers moved operations out of the county to find cheaper labor costs and lax regulation concerning products and product safety, working conditions and environmental impacts.

The proposed Trans-Pacific agreement would accelerate that outsourcing process and other negative effects, they contended.

The pact would "directly hurt our dear city," said Katherine Lloyd, who said Pittsfield has already lost jobs moved overseas following past trade agreements.

Sheila Irvin argued that, like the NAFTA pact, the TPP agreement would create "low-paying service jobs" in the United States while manufacturing and other better-paying jobs are moved out of the country.

"I urge you to call upon elected officials to oppose this, and all other similar trade deals," Irvin said.

A principal target for the resolution in Massachusetts is U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, who has not yet taken a public stand on the TPP agreement.

Krol noted that U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and a number of other federal officials have taken stands against the agreement. Sanders' opponent, Hillary Clinton, came out against the pact in October.

The as-yet unreleased final details of the proposed pact among 12 Pacific Rim nations including the United States also rankled supporters of the resolution. Frank Farkas called the agreement, which has been negotiated without participation by the public or public representatives is "an affront to our democracy."

He and other speakers said the pact would give more power to multi-national corporations and allow American or other companies based overseas to further circumvent U.S. food, safety and environmental regulation, as well as undercut the wages and benefits of American workers.

The pact "is a threat to the economy and our national security," said Brian Bissell, adding that "this is very much a Pittsfield story, and not just Pittsfield but everywhere."

The TPP has been under negotiation for about eight years, and Congress has given "fast-track authority" to the Obama administration, which can now present it for a vote in the House and Senate with no opportunity to alter the pact. The full details are only expected to be released prior to a vote.

The Pacific Rim nations, including the United States, Japan, Mexico, Vietnam, Chile, Vietnam, Australia, and other Asian and South American countries, have been negotiating the agreement. Supporters say it is designed primarily to eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade, and also aims to make the United States better able to compete in Asia with China.

Although the pact details have not been released, some information has been reported. Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo, who said he has followed the issue for some time, said that, in addition to the negative employment impacts attributed to past international trade deals, the TPP would "allow governments to sue governments" over such issues as rejection of the controversial Keystone pipeline between Canada and the United States.

Foreign companies also reportedly would be able to sue over U.S. regulations, wage levels or similar issues.

Krol said that besides the job losses projected by opponents, the TPP would be "a disastrous deal" in terms of product and health safety and the environment — including negative impacts on climate change.

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell said he voted for independent presidential candidate Ross Perot in 1992 because he had opposed the NAFTA pact. Perot was right about the loss of U.S. jobs to Mexico, Connell said.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said that in light of the loss of thousands of industrial jobs already lost in recent decades in Berkshire County, he would support the resolution if that might help stem the tide.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo said she generally supported the petition but would like to have a public meeting to hear all sides of the question before voting. "This sounds too bad to be true," she said.

However, White said the resolution itself would begin a community dialogue on the issue and would simultaneously bring pressure on federal lawmakers to take a stand on the pact.

"I have been following this closely," he said, adding that the secret nature of the agreement and the details that have been reported show that "it is scary We need stronger protections."

The resolution passed by councilors, which White said was taken from a Sierra Club website, also calls for supporting only trade deals that include a list of protections, such as ensuring balanced trade and not exacerbating the U.S. trade deficit; excluding investor-to-state dispute settlements that favor foreign companies and undermine public choices; ensuring that the "U.S. will engage in robust enforcement of trade rules, including labor and environmental rules;" and ensuring that countries can't undercut U.S.-based firms with weaker labor or environmental regulation.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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