Arkansas Perspectives On New Federal Trade Partnership

Aug 24, 2015

Boon Tan inside the lobby of the World Trade Center of Arkansas.
Credit Jacqueline Froelich / KUAF

This year Congress voted to grant the executive branch fast-track authority to negotiate a flurry of international free trade agreements, most notably a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The TPP is a controversial trade agreement among 12 nations: the United States, Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Opponents argue that it gives too much power to large corporations. Supporters, such as Boon Tan, the Senior Director for Global Trade at the World Trade Center Arkansas, say the TPP is much more progressive than previous trade agreements.

"The TPP will also increase the transparency and certainty of businesses. It will also improve intellectual property protections and promote the rule of law throughout the regions," Tan said.

Wal-Mart, one of the state's biggest employers, is a corporate sponsor of the Arkansas World Trade Center and is a member of the Business Roundtable, a public policy interest group that lobbied congress for fast-track trade negotiations. More than 5,000 Chinese companies have supply contracts with Wal-Mart. It is notable then that China is not among the members of the TPP. Instead China is negotiating its own 16-member alliance, known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which excludes the United State, Japan, Australia, and South Korea.

Alan Hughes, president of the Arkansas American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is concerned the TPP won't live up to the hype.

"A lot of times when they open trade up like that the next you know jobs are leaving...because they're counting on the cheap labor and no regulations on worker safety and other issues," said Hughes.

Joyce Hale, a Fayetteville resident and public policy activist, is also very concerned about the proposed trade agreement. Hale recommends reading the fact sheet entitled "Broken Promises" recently published by Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Hale also suggests the website "Public Citizen" as a resource for those wanting to know more about criticisms of the TPP. The White House has posted analysis on the Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic Partnerships as well.