By Ethan Earle and Andreas Günther
8 Introduction: Beyond NAFTA 2.0
By the Editors
12 Toward a New Multilateral Trade System
By Sarah Anderson, Andrés Peñaloza Méndez, and Stuart Trew
16 International Investment Agreements and ISDS
By Sarah Anderson, Alberto Arroyo, and Manuel Pérez-Rocha
23 Intellectual Property Rights and Access to Affordable Medicines
By Scott Sinclair
30 Digital Trade
By Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood
36 Labor Standards
By Scott Sinclair
43 Women’s Rights and Gender Equity
By María Atilano, Lucía Bárcena, Nadia Ibrahim, and Cristina Pina
49 Alternative Agricultural Systems
By Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Leticia López, and Enrique Pérez
54 Indigenous Rights
By Paulina Acevedo Menanteau
59 Environmental Protection and Climate Change
By Manuel Pérez-Rocha
66 Regulatory Cooperation and “Good Regulatory Practices”
By Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew
72 Public Services
By Scott Sinclair
79 Conclusion: Toward a Progressive Trade Agenda for People and Planet

By the Editors
List of Acronyms
AMLO: Andrés Manuel López Obrador
ALBA: the Bolivarian Alliance for the
Peoples of our America
BIT: Bilateral Investment Treaty
CEDAW: Convention to Eliminate All Forms
of Discrimination Against Women
CETA: Comprehensive Economic
and Trade Agreement
COOL: Country-of-Origin Labeling
CPTPP: Comprehensive and Progressive
Trans-Pacific Partnership
CSO: Civil Society Organization
EPSU: European Federation
of Public Service Unions
EU: European Union
FTA: Free Trade Agreement
GATS: General Agreement
on Trade in Services
GMO: Genetically Modified Organism
GRP: Good Regulatory Practice
HRC: Human Rights Council
IIA: International Investment Agreement
ICS: Investment Court System
ILO: International Labour Organization
IP: Intellectual Property
IPRs: Intellectual Property Rights
ISDS: Investor-State Dispute Settlement
ISP: Internet Service Provider
MIC: Multilateral Investment Court
MSME: Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise
NAFTA: North American
Free Trade Agreement
NGO: Non-Governmental Organization
OECD: Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development
OHCHR: Office of the High Commissioner
for Human Rights of the United Nations
OMB: Office of Management and Budget
PMPRB: Patented Medicine Prices
Review Board
RIA: Regulatory Impact Assessment
SDG: Sustainable Development Goals
SIA: Sustainability Impact Assessments
SPS: Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards
SME: Small and Medium-sized Enterprise
SOE: State-Owned Enterprises
SSE: Social and Solidarity Economy
TBT: Technical Barriers to Trade
TiSA: Trade in Services Agreement
TNC: Transnational Corporation
TPP: Trans-Pacific Partnership
TRIPS: Trade-Related Aspects
of Intellectual Property Rights
TTIP: Transatlantic Trade
and Investment Partnership
UN: United Nations
UNCITRAL: United Nations Commission
on International Trade Law
UNCTAD: United Nations Conference
on Trade and Development
UNIPCC: United Nations Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change
UPOV: International Union for the
Protection of New Varieties of Plants
USMCA: United States-Mexico-Canada
USTR: United States Trade Representative
WHO: World Health Organization
WTO: World Trade Organization


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The World Trade Organization Is Dying. What Should Replace It?

Two decades after Seattle, it has failed to deliver on its promises.


Twenty years ago this weekend, 50,000 people converged on Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization, which was holding a ministerial-level meeting in the city, and a plan championed by the world’s largest corporations to increase the organization’s authority over even more facets of people’s lives.

The epic protests, televised worldwide, revealed that Americans were united with millions of people protesting the organization in other countries, who demanded new rules for the global economy to make it benefit more people.

Those protests, and subsequent protests and activism around the world, bolstered developing-country negotiators who derailed the W.T.O.’s plans for expansion. But the W.T.O.’s underlying principles still shape the global economy. And the stubborn refusal to alter that model of globalization has fostered a global backlash against “trade” and, in recent years, brought the organization to near collapse.

The dirty little secret is that the World Trade Organization is not mainly about trade. Rather the organization has the primary task of carrying out what the Harvard economist Dani Rodrik calls hyperglobalization — the worldwide imposition of one-size-fits-all rules, favored by global financial markets, which constrain democratic governments’ ability to address their societies’ needs.

The W.T.O. asserts expansive power to set binding rules over a wide range of non-trade issues; countries are required to “ensure the conformity of its laws, regulations and administrative procedures” with W.T.O. rules — and, in turn, corporate financial interests. This includes limits on energy policy, financial regulation and food and product safety, as well as new monopoly protections for pharmaceutical firms to charge consumers more.

If countries do not comply, they are subject to millions of dollars in trade penalties. Of the 242 completed W.T.O. cases, in only 22 did the domestic policies, many unrelated to trade, survive challenged.

Thus, the country-of-origin labels on meat that we relied on in American grocery stores were eliminated after the W.T.O. classified them as “illegal trade barriers” and authorized $1 billion in sanctions. The United States was also forced to weaken regulations under the Clean Air Act, dolphin protection laws and Endangered Species Act rules.

Given the role played by the United States in pushing the W.T.O., there is a certain irony that more than a third of challenges decided by the organization have targeted American policies — which have been found to violate W.T.O. rules 90 percent of the time. Developing countries have fared yet worse, losing 95 percent of 87 challenges.

The United States has filed 49 challenges against other countries, with rulings against Indian policies promoting access to seeds for poor farmers and European limits on genetically modified foods and a ban on artificial growth hormones in meat. The United States has used threats to pressure Thailand, Brazil and South Africa to reverse policies on access to AIDS medication and other lifesaving drugs.

Recently the W.T.O. has facilitated a circular firing squad over climate-change efforts. The European Union and Japan challenged Canadian incentives on renewable energy. The United States won a case against a solar-power program in India. Then India attacked renewable energy programs in several American states. Then China filed a case in 2018 against additional American renewable energy measures.

But the W.T.O.’s overreach could prove to be its undoing. Its ability to decide such cases will effectively end on Dec. 11, when its appellate review board will no longer have a quorum.

After a series of W.T.O. decisions in which tribunals cooked up new standards — never agreed to by member nations — related to anti-dumping and subsidy issues, the Obama administration initiated a protest. Last year, the Trump administration doubled down, blocking the appointment of new appellate adjudicators.

The Seattle protesters who raised concerns about giving too much power to the W.T.O. were dismissed as anti-trade. But it was W.T.O. proponents, those who branded the organization and similar deals as “trade agreements,” who have given trade a bad name.

Since the W.T.O.’s formation in 1995, its proponents have oversold it with grandiose promises of dazzling economic gains. President Bill Clinton said the organization would deliver the average American family $1,700 a year of additional income. It would facilitate open market access that would, in turn, reduce our trade deficit, create new high-paying jobs and bring new riches to farm country.

But the organization’s rules were not designed for those outcomes, which never materialized.

Instead, trade negotiations have been dominated by corporate interests, while labor, consumer, and environmental groups are largely shut out. It’s no shock, then, that the W.T.O. has no labor or environmental requirements to raise wages or limit pollution, or that it sets ceilings but no floors on consumer safety standards. Nor are there rules disciplining monopolistic mega-corporations that now distort global markets or combating currency manipulations that create unfair trade advantages.

No doubt some American workers are bitterly angry and moved by Donald Trump’s trade rhetoric after having repeatedly been promised great gains from “trade” agreements. During the W.T.O. era, developed countries have lost millions of high-paying manufacturing jobs, especially after China joined in 2001. Income inequality between rich and poor countries, and within countries, has increased greatly.

Of course, the W.T.O. isn’t dead yet; the question is, will it see the looming crisis and undertake the reforms necessary to save itself? Unlikely: Its current priority is to set new limits on regulations regarding e-commerce and data privacy at a time when most people are clamoring for some check on the industry.

This is especially perverse, given that the original global trade body, the 1948 International Trade Organization, provides a ready foundation for creating better global trade rules. With a focus on full employment and fair competition coming out of the horrors of World War II, the I.T.O. included labor standards, anti-monopoly provisions and currency-cheating rules to ensure the benefits of trade accrued to more people. But the Senate blocked American participation in the organization, effectively killing it.

That very different vision for a rules-based global trading system remains attainable, once we agree that the system is supposed to work for people around the world, not the world’s largest corporations. Twenty years after Seattle, we still have work to do.

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HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI has made no secret of her desire to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement by the end of the year, telling reporters recently that it would be her goal for the House to vote on it before Christmas.


Centrist Democrats have been insisting privately that a quick passage for the trade deal is necessary for moderate members of Congress to win their competitive reelections in 2020, to show they can “do something.” Unions have made clear, though, that from their perspective, USMCA lacks real labor enforcement mechanisms, which could undermine the whole deal, further drag down wages, and eliminate more jobs.

Meanwhile, a top priority for labor has been sitting quietly on Pelosi’s desk and, unlike USMCA, already commands enough support to get it over the House finish line. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act would be the most comprehensive rewrite of U.S. labor law in decades. It would eliminate right-to-work laws, impose new penalties on employers who retaliate against union organizing, crack down on worker misclassification, and establish new rules so that employers cannot delay negotiating collective bargaining contracts. Introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., in May, it already has 215 co-sponsors in the House and 40 in the Senate.

The PRO Act passed the House Committee on Education and Labor on September 25 on a party-line vote. But two months later, Pelosi has still not moved to bring the bill to the House floor, nor has she given any indication of when she would. Her office did not return requests for comment.

“I don’t know exactly what the holdup is — it is taking longer than it should given the number of co-sponsors that we have,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus. “Many other bills have come to the floor with fewer co-sponsors than this one.”

Jayapal told The Intercept that she believes that House leadership remains committed to the bill and that she and the Progressive Caucus have been pressuring them to bring it to the floor. “I think it is really critical for us as Democrats,” she said. “And anyone on the Democratic side who is wary of expanding collective bargaining I think should be thinking really clearly about why that would be.”

Rep. Mark Pocan, the other Progressive Caucus co-chair, said they’re working hard to make sure the bill gets calendared, but acknowledged that “there’s probably somewhat limited bandwidth” for the PRO Act given the intense focus on hashing out labor provisions in the trade deal, and the House’s desire to finish passing the drug-pricing bill.

“Because of that, we’re probably having a more difficult time getting an exact date. There’s a lot of work happening right now,” he said.

Dan Mauer, director of government affairs for the Communications Workers of America, told The Intercept that the delay to bring the vote to the floor has been “very frustrating” and that his union has made it clear to House leadership that members would be “very unhappy” if the House does not prioritize the bill by the end of the year.

“We get it’s hard, there’s a lot of stuff on people’s plates, and at the same time, this bill already has a lot of demonstrated support,” he said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told The Intercept over email that her union is also urging Congress to pass the PRO Act before the end of the year. “Currently, employers have carte blanche to abuse their power and dissuade workers from joining a union, but consider the flipside — in cities and states with a strong union presence, wages, benefits, and job security are better across the board,” she said. “Congress can do something concrete to rebalance the ledger, and the time to act is now.”

A repeal of right-to-work would mean that states could no longer impose bans on unions charging private-sector workers mandatory fees for collective bargaining, even if they are not dues-paying union members. In 2018, the Supreme Court effectively nationalized right-to-work in the public sector when it ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that no fee or payment may be deducted from a public-sector worker unless the employee “affirmatively consents” to pay.

While Pelosi has voiced concern that the impeachment against President Donald Trump might distract from advancing the Democrats’ legislative agenda, she is not moving the PRO Act, which is in a strong position for passage. The legislation builds on the House Democrats’ 2017 “Better Deal” agenda, which included many labor commitments also laid out in the PRO Act. “We want to put this out to the public,” Pelosi said at the time. “Public sentiment is everything.”

Aside from having co-sponsors, public sentiment for unions is also at one of its highest points in the last 50 years, according to Gallup’s annual polling. Sixty-four percent of Americans approve of unions, up 16 points since 2009.

While the House did vote to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour this summer, union advocates also felt that House leadership dragged its feet on bringing that bill to a full vote. It passed the House labor committee in March but didn’t come to the floor until July.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business lobbying group, is spending thousands of dollars ginning up opposition to the PRO Act, running ads on Facebook and Twitter. The chamber is also spending heavily on ads in support of USMCA, urging viewers to tell Congress to pass the trade deal.

“I do worry that by delaying [on the PRO Act], we just give the chamber and others the opportunity to prevent passing this legislation,” Jayapal said.

The last time Congress was in a position to pass a major rewrite to labor law was in 2009, when Democrats unsuccessfully pushed the Employee Free Choice Act. Labor leaders disagree over why EFCA ultimately failed. Some blamed moderate Democrats, others blamed then-President Barack Obama, and still others chalked it up to a weak ground game from labor and progressives in holding Congress accountable in the face of intense corporate opposition. The death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass, who was chair of the Senate labor committee and then succeeded by a Republican, surely didn’t help. Neither did aggressive lobbying by the chamber. “This will be Armageddon,” the vice president for labor policy at the Chamber of Commerce complained at the time.

Some unions appear more resigned to the idea that it’s already too late for the bill to pass this year.

“The Teamsters would love the PRO Act to be considered by the full House as soon as possible, although time is running short for that to happen in 2019,” a spokesperson told The Intercept over email.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders also praised the House for its efforts so far to support workers, but avoided saying that his union expects to see the PRO Act wrapped up by the holidays. “We expect progress to continue” on bills like the PRO Act, and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would bring labor reform to the public-sector workforce, he told The Intercept. “With this political and grassroots landscape, we have every expectation that our elected officials will give working people the freedom to shrink the widening wealth gap and the voice they need to strengthen their communities.”

Mauer of CWA was more direct in raising the potential consequences for not moving swiftly, pointing to the need to galvanize union members before the next election.

“If you want real strong worker excitement that will get union activists excited for 2020, this is what we need to get it; the PRO Act is really it,” he said. “We absolutely think this is a key thing, not just legislatively but politically.”

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No Deal on NAFTA Successor, but Democrats Point to Progress

Talks on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement will continue through the Thanksgiving break, with a vote possible in the weeks ahead, House leaders said.


Democratic lawmakers left the capital for the Thanksgiving break on Thursday without a final agreement on President Trump’s revised North American trade deal, prolonging a difficult negotiation with the administration on one of the president’s trade priorities.

But top House Democrats insisted that they were closing in on a deal on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that would satisfy their remaining concerns. Talks will continue over the break, and a vote to ratify the deal could come in the following weeks, they said.

“We’re going to stay right at this for the next week,” said Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, after a private meeting on Thursday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative. “We do think we’re down to two and a half, maybe three issues.”

Mr. Neal, who called the meeting “spirited” but “candid,” said the parties had made substantial progress. He did not elaborate, but said some of the progress related to enforcement, a major area of concern for Democrats.

Ms. Pelosi echoed his comments. “I think we’re narrowing our differences,” she told reporters as she left the hourlong meeting near the House floor. “We made progress.”

But despite their positive statements, the parties may miss their 2019 deadline for approving the deal even if an agreement in principle is reached in the coming weeks.

Republicans have repeatedly hammered Democrats over the delays. “We are one week out from Thanksgiving, and there is still no tangible sign of progress from the House,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said in a floor speech Thursday. “If the House cannot pass the U.S.M.C.A. this year, there is no way they’ll be able to claim the people’s business has not taken a back seat to impeachment.”

Officials from Canada and Mexico have signed off on the agreement, which would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, the pact that has governed commerce on the continent for a quarter-century. But it needs congressional approval, which hinges on a vote in the Democratic-controlled House.

Such a vote would hand Mr. Trump a key political accomplishment in an election year. For Democrats, it would be evidence of their ability to advance legislation while also pursuing an impeachment inquiry, and it would lock in some changes to the North American trade deal they support.

Mr. Neal insisted on Thursday that Congress could still vote on the pact this year. But before the meeting with Mr. Lighthizer, Ms. Pelosi signaled that a vote might have to wait until next year.

“I’m not even sure if we came to an agreement today, that it would be enough time to finish,” she said. She and Mr. Neal have repeatedly said a deal would be possible once Mr. Lighthizer offered a way to ensure that there were adequate enforcement mechanisms.

The administration’s trade deal contains some provisions that Democrats have long fought for, including rules meant to encourage auto companies to make more of their cars in North America. The plan also contains provisions meant to strengthen Mexican labor unions and roll back a special system of arbitration for corporations that has long been opposed by Democrats.

But Democrats say some portions of the agreement do not go far enough. They have protested a provision that would increase intellectual property protection for certain advanced drugs as a giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry. They have argued that the pact’s labor and environmental provisions are too weak, and that the deal lacks an adequate enforcement mechanism that countries can turn to if one party breaks the rules.

Ms. Pelosi and the cluster of Democrats who have been negotiating with Mr. Lighthizer in recent weeks have framed this as an opportunity to set a standard for future trade agreements.

“There’s a feeling of urgency among some of our members, and I just want them to consider the big picture,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, a member of the group negotiating with Mr. Lighthizer. “This is a legacy vote.”

Supporters fear that, as the 2020 presidential election approaches, the pact could attract more scrutiny from voters and more criticism from the Democratic candidates, making it more difficult for congressional Democrats to support it.

“Time is running out on the most important trade event of the Trump administration,” said Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Freshman lawmakers huddled with Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., this week as part of a campaign to assuage the fears of some more moderate lawmakers eager to deliver word of the deal to their districts. But little indication was given in regards to a specific date, and Mr. Trumka previously pressured both the administration and Congress to not rush a deal.

“It feels like we’ve been at the five-yard line for a while,” said Representative Jimmy Gomez, Democrat of California and a negotiator. “But in the end, if we get what we need, it’s going to be a different agreement. It’s not going to be ‘NAFTA lite.’”

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Looking back on the Battle in Seattle

On, Nov. 30, 1999, 50,000 union members, residents and activists from a huge variety of causes came together in downtown Seattle to protest a meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Protesters in Seattle, Washington.

At the invitation of then-president Bill Clinton, 700 trade officials from 134 countries were in Seattle to talk about expanding the WTO, and hundreds of journalists from around the world had come to report on it.

Until then, few people in the world had heard of the WTO, established five years earlier to police a new set of global trade agreements. Earlier international trade agreements dealt with trade in goods, and focused on reducing tariffs as barriers to trade. The 1994 agreement that created the WTO went well beyond that, opening up trade in services, enforcing commitments to respect “intellectual property” (state-sanctioned monopolies like patents and trademarks), and giving unelected trade dispute judges the authority to strike down “non-tariff barriers to trade” — such as public health and environmental regulations. By 1999, WTO trade tribunals had ruled repeatedly for corporations and against regulations intended to protect dolphins and sea turtles, food safety and many others.

This is what democracy looks like

What happened in Seattle the week of Nov. 28-Dec. 3 was the reaction to all that. It was the product of nine months of diligent organizing and coalition building. Labor and environmental groups committed significant resources.

Labor’s main contribution was massive turnout on Nov. 30, Day One of the four-day WTO summit. Roughly 25,000 union members and allies filled Memorial Stadium in Seattle Center and — joined by another 10,000 students, environmentalists and community members — took part in a mile-long march to the Washington Convention Center, where they collided with another 15,000 people who were already occupying the streets.

For labor, it was a logistical feat that has never been repeated since. From San Francisco to British Columbia, as many as 30 national AFL-CIO staff worked with allies in groups like Jobs with Justice to get commitments for local union participation and coordinate the logistics of getting people to the event. All told 185 buses, nine charter planes, two trains and countless cars brought union members to the rally.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions arranged its annual meeting to take place in Seattle just beforehand so that hundreds of trade unionists from around the world could be there. So did the United Steelworkers (USW) with its Rapid Response conference, which drew over 500 local union officers. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shut down ports all up and down the West Coast so members could take part. As many as 1,000 members of 19 Teamsters Washington locals from mobilized. Portland Machinists Local 1005 paid lost wages so members could afford to take the day off work. Seattle Machinists Local 751 volunteered several hundred members as marshals for the march.

And that was just the union side of the coalition.

Today, Mike Dolan works as the Teamsters union’s top trade policy lobbyist in Washington, DC. But in 1999, he was the field director for Global Trade Watch, a division of the non-profit group Public Citizen. More than anyone else, Dolan was the Paul Revere of the Seattle WTO protests. Starting in March when Seattle was announced as the meeting site, Dolan invited local, national and international labor, environmental and non-profit leaders to form an ad hoc coalition. The coalition soon opened an office in downtown Seattle and undertook a region-wide mobilization against corporate globalization. Staff and volunteers working with Dolan spent the next six months visiting college campuses, churches, union halls and neighborhood groups with a call to join the WTO protest.

To prepare for mass non-violent civil disobedience at the WTO summit, a group called the Ruckus Society trained hundreds of people in banner-hanging and lock-down techniques in three-day “Globalize This” training camps held at Pragtri Farm outside Arlington, Washington. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Simer)

Dolan’s vision was for a week of massive protest demonstrations led by labor and non-profit groups — to send the message that WTO was a threat to workers rights, the environment, and democracy worldwide. Others got busy with plans for non-violent civil disobedience, and formed the Direct Action Network, a West Coast network of local grassroots organizations opposed to corporate globalization. To train hundreds of protesters in Greenpeace- and EarthFirst- style blockade tactics, the newly formed Ruckus Society held three-day “Globalize This” training camps at a farm north of Everett, Washington.

As the WTO meeting neared, there were tensions between those who wanted to protest the WTO and those who wanted to shut it down by preventing WTO delegates from getting to their meeting. Labor officials wanted nothing to do with the street blockades.

The week of activity began Friday Nov. 26 with teach-in that packed Seattle’s 2,500-seat Benaroya Concert Hall for two days. On Sunday, Nov. 28, the Washington Council of Churches filled St. James Cathedral with a “Jubilee 2000” prayer service calling for third world debt relief. On Monday, hundreds of Steelworkers, Teamsters and others marched with about 250 environmentalists dressed in cardboard turtle costumes. That night, thousands of people turned out in pouring rain to form a human chain surrounding a corporate-sponsored reception for WTO delegates, while several miles away filmmaker Michael Moore and singer Michael Franti entertained thousands of others at a Key Arena “people’s gala” sponsored by USW, Teamsters, Rainforest Action Network and others.

And all that was trivial compared with what was to happen the following day.

MASSIVE LABOR TURNOUT. All over the West, labor organizations sent members. Colorado’s AFL-CIO booked 100 plane tickets. Montana’s AFL-CIO organized a car caravan. The Oregon AFL-CIO mobilized an estimated 1,600 union members, including 15 busloads and a specially chartered 350-seat Amtrak train. In Washington, every central labor council sent at least three busloads, and Tacoma sent over 30. Forty-two busloads crossed the border from British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Mike Barkin)

Whose streets? Our streets!

Jeremy Simer today works as a strategic researcher for SEIU Local 49 in Portland. In 1999, he was a recent graduate of University of Washington. In mid-summer, he began working full-time for Dolan’s group doing neighborhood-level organizing. But after having worked for months to get people to come to the big labor rally and march, Simer himself decided to go to where the civil disobedience would occur.

The day activists had dubbed a “festival of resistance” began at 7 a.m. with not one but two giant puppet parades. As the parades wound through downtown, organized “affinity groups” peeled off and made their way to agreed-upon intersection where they linked arms, sat down, and in some cases locked themselves together. The tactic took police by surprise.

But it wasn’t long before police moved in to try to clear streets. Twenty years later, Simer still remembers seeing protesters prodded by police batons, bruised by rubber bullets, hit in the face by gas canisters, and sprayed at close range with chemical agents. He also remembers the courage, discipline, and determination of the protesters as they stayed put and held on to intersections, or when dislodged, regrouped to try again.

Over the next six hours, police managed to clear some intersections, but with most delegates unable to get through, to worldwide shock, the WTO canceled its opening ceremony.

Meanwhile, with streets occupied and tear gas in the air, police appealed to labor leaders to delay their march until the streets could be cleared. But at a certain point, labor leaders could no longer control the thousands of union members. Two hours and dozens of speakers into the rally, large numbers began leaving the stadium to assemble outside for the march. By the time then-AFL-CIO President John Sweeney took the stage, the stadium was largely empty.

About 250 environmentalists marched in cardboard turtle costumes. (Photo by Erv Schleufer)

The plan had been for labor marchers to set out, led by Harley-riding Machinists, be met by feeder marches from University of Washington and Seattle Central Community College, and proceed to the Convention Center where the WTO meeting was to be held. But outside the stadium, careful plans melted into organized chaos as contingents of Tibetan monks, topless women protesters, French farmers, church groups and students crammed in next to groups of union members in matching colored ponchos.

And as the slow-moving march neared the Convention Center, the streets they expected to pass through there were still occupied, full of demonstrators linking arms and blocking intersections. Concerned that the labor march would disintegrate or be exposed to tear gas, the decision was made to turn the march several blocks shy of the planned route. Brian McWilliams, then president of the ILWU, remembers it as a pivotal moment.

“At the front there was a huge mass of people determined to intervene with what was going on outside the Convention Center,” McWilliams recalls. “I think it was a huge mistake not to go forward, because we were all of singular mind about interfering with the blueprint the WTO had for workers and business and the world, and we needed to take it straight to the convention center.”

As Machinists in orange parade marshal hats struggled mightily to turn the march around, individual labor union members made their own decision. Others stood in the street and caucused with fellow members. Maybe a third of the marchers kept going, and were greeted with cheers like reinforcing cavalry when they arrived at occupied intersections.

Union steelworker Erv Schleufer is one of those who kept going. Now retired, in 1999 he was a participant in a bitter strike-lockout at the Kaiser aluminum smelter in Spokane and had traveled the West as a union “road warrior” speaking about their struggle.

“We had spent all those months and tens of thousands of miles preparing for this,” Schleufer says. “I started thinking about my history teacher in high school.… I realized this was becoming a moment in history.”

While Schleufer and thousands of other labor marchers lingered with the occupiers for an hour or two, police held back from further attempts to clear the streets. As unionists left, the police moved back in forcefully. As night fell, Seattle mayor Paul Schell declared a curfew and police pushed the remaining protesters out of downtown into the Capital Hill neighborhood.

THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING When 50,000 protesters filled Seattle streets, journalists from all over the world were there to document it. The coverage inspired solidarity protests in cities around the world, and woke the global public up to undemocratic aspects of the World Trade Organization. (Photo by Mike Barkin)

Police crackdown

Police arrest a protester at Westlake Park in Seattle, Washington, USA in 1999 after the World Trade Organization meeting was disrupted. (Photo by Mike Barkin)

Further protests had been planned throughout the WTO summit. But now the mayor declared a huge area of downtown Seattle a “protest free zone,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution. On the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 1, National Guard members stood watch near the Convention Center. Squads of police in riot gear zoomed through the streets in armored personal carriers on the lookout for protesters. Groups of protesters who entered downtown were subject to mass arrests. Over 500 were arrested, put on buses, taken to Sand Point Naval Base, and later transferred to King County Jail, where they were held until the end of the WTO summit. Unable to assemble near the Convention Center, protesters and community members surrounded the jail demanding their release. Contingents of unionists brought food and supplies to the jailhouse vigil, which continued for days.

In the afternoon on Dec. 1, the USW led hundreds on a march to the Seattle waterfront, outside the protest-free zone. When the rally there ended, activists pleaded for unionists to enter downtown and defy the ban. Schleufer and others marched into downtown and soon felt the shock of police concussion grenades and the sting of tear gas. “We could see canisters flipping through the air, and people running from the gas. I lost about half my vision and had a hard time breathing,” he said.

On Dec. 3, the final day of the WTO meeting, the King County Labor Council was ready to defy the “protest-free” zone. With marshals holding ropes to mark the perimeter of the march, unionists and allies marched into downtown … and were left alone by police.

Meanwhile, local labor leaders had pushed for jailed protesters to be released. McWilliams, the ILWU president, threatened to shut down the port again if the mayor didn’t release them. The mayor relented.

The WTO talks collapse

Lori Wallach, then and now the leader of Global Trade Watch, spent much of that week inside the WTO meeting, lobbying foreign trade ministers as a credentialed observer. Wallach says leading up to the summit, there’d already been tensions among trade negotiators. The United States and some other developed countries were pressuring poor nations to agree to things like stricter pharmaceutical monopolies, and arrogantly dismissed the proposals of African and Latin American nations. What brought the situation inside to a boil was the existence of invitation-only “green rooms,” where delegates from the “important” nations met for long hours to hash out a final deal they expected the rest of the nations to approve.

“Because of that there were extended periods of time where there would be a whole set of delegates from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, basically left in the halls watching the protests on big TVs hung in the halls,” Wallach said. “They’d come all this way and now they were being left out of the negotiations, watching these American protesters being beaten up and tear gassed.”

“The passion and commitment displayed in those protests was the last special ingredient to tip over the edge a process that was already seen as illegitimate and not in the interests of a lot of the member countries.”

On the final day of the summit, the WTO announced that the meeting had failed: Delegates were unable to agree on the terms of a new global deal.

The aftermath

Exhilarated by the Battle in Seattle, anti-corporate-globalization activists tried to recreate that success at other international summits, but with less success. The WTO held its next meeting in 2001 in Doha, Qatar, a Gulf State monarchy where visa restrictions prevented a recurrence of protest. After the 9/11 attacks, the anti-WTO activist movement subsided. But the political stigma of the WTO persisted.

“The WTO never recovered from its crisis of legitimacy,” Wallach says. Negotiations continued for 15 years, but never resulted in a new agreement.

Now, even the WTO’s trade dispute process is grinding to a halt. When two member nations can’t resolve a trade dispute, it’s supposed to be decided by a three-judge panel selected from a seven-member WTO court of appeals. But as their terms expire, the Trump administration has been unilaterally blocking the appointment of new judges. The body is down to just three members, the minimum needed to hear a case. On Dec. 9, the terms of two more judges will expire, at which point the WTO will be incapable of hearing appeals, and thus no have way to enforce its rules.

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Country-of-origin labeling resurfaces in Senate

Beef labeling issues gained attention on Capitol Hill last week, drawing mixed reactions from cattle producers.


Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., introduced a resolution Oct. 30 calling for congressional support for country-of-origin labeling for beef and pork.

The same day, Republican Sen.s Mike Rounds and John Thune of South Dakota introduced the Beef Integrity Act to restrict the use of “Product of the USA” in voluntary labeling to beef from cattle that are born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.

Both measures are supported by U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and R-CALF USA, but they raise red flags for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

For USCA, it’s a matter of truth in labeling, Kenny Graner, a North Dakota rancher and USCA president, said.

Since country-of origin (COOL) was repealed for beef in 2015, the label means nothing. Beef from other countries can be salted, cooked, cut or simply repackaged in the U.S. and be labeled as a product of the U.S. under USDA voluntary labeling policy, he said.

The same is true for beef from imported cattle slaughtered and processed in the U.S.

“Processors can just slap a (U.S.) label on it,” he said.

The U.S. imports beef from 20 countries, which have lower standards of production and processing. The U.S. also imports cattle for beef production from Canada and Mexico, he said.

Graner said the deceptive labeling of those products puts U.S. cattle producers at a disadvantage.

He maintains that the U.S. has the highest standards in the world for genetics, production and processing, and that makes a difference in the taste of beef. If consumers had the ability to taste that difference, USCA believes it would increase demand for true U.S. beef, he said.

In October, USCA filed a petition with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to restrict labels of “Product of USA” and “Made in USA” to beef from cattle born, raised and harvested in the U.S.

The Beef Integrity Act is putting light on the petition to get FSIS to act to stop deceptive labeling, he said.

“Right now there’s no oversight, period … the label means nothing,” he said.

USCA’s first priority is to stop the deception in voluntary labeling, but the ultimate goal is mandatory country-of-origin labeling.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, however, contends a return to COOL would have costly consequences.

Such a move would subject the U.S. industry to $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs, Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president of government affairs, said.

The World Trade Organization ruled four times that COOL for beef and pork violated U.S. trade obligations and discriminated against imported cattle and hogs from Canada and imported cattle from Mexico. It authorized $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs in 2015, resulting in congressional repeal of the law for beef and pork.

Those tariffs would be immediately effective if COOL were reinstated, Lane said.

USCA’s Graner disagrees.

COOL is in effect for other food products — such as nuts, fruits, poultry and fish – and the WTO issues with beef could be corrected, he said.

As for the Beef Integrity Act, NCBA’s concern is it would trigger the same result as COOL even though it doesn’t involve a mandatory label, Lane said.

NCBA also feels the bill is premature. Rounds and Thune were unable to get much data on the use of labels, he said.

NCBA is working on the same issue, gathering more information to understand the scope of labeling practices being used, he said.

That information is needed “before asking government to further regulate our industry,” he said.

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What Workers Need From the Revision of NAFTA

A successful trade agreement with Canada and Mexico depends on fair treatment for Mexican workers.


As negotiations with the Trump administration on a new North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico approach their crescendo, Congress may soon have a once-in-a-generation chance to remake our nation’s core trade relationship.

A generation after its passage, NAFTA’s worst legacy remains its destruction of good-paying jobs for working men and women. House Democrats have made crystal clear that any new deal must undo this damage. But achieving this outcome depends most of all on the Mexican government, which historically has shown at best, apathy and, at worst, outright hostility to labor rights.

Why does Mexico’s treatment of Mexican labor impact American workers? Mexico’s repeated failure to impose vigorous labor standards has produced artificially low wages, which have attracted American jobs south like flies to a honeypot. Mexico’s lack of labor standards, failure of enforcement, and non-investment in strong unions have incentivized a generation of outsourcing. Absent real labor reform in Mexico, our middle-class positions will continue to mutate into sweatshop jobs.

Real reform requires Mexico to start looking at labor rights in a whole new way. Take Mexico’s treatment of unions: Fake contracts that fraudulent unions sign to protect the boss before workers are hired run rampant in Mexico. The results are hard to refute: since the passage of NAFTA, the gulf between Mexican and American wages has widened to Grand Canyon levels.

The revised NAFTA, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement or the USMCA, includes a “Labor Annex” that rightfully compels that all fraudulent union pacts be replaced within four years. Unfortunately, Mexican employers and sham unions filed lawsuits against implementation of a new labor law Mexico passed in May, which established processes to replace protection contracts. Appellate courts have granted injunctions against the law and more than 200 cases are still pending. And even if the law survives legal scrutiny, the Mexican government has proposed funding that’s woefully inadequate to create and staff the labor courts and labor inspectors the law would establish.

When I traveled to Mexico City in October as part of a delegation to meet with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, he assured me that he shares our broad concerns on labor standards. But in an official communication the following week to the House Ways and Means Committee (the congressional panel tasked with approving the USMCA), the president was more vague.

While noting that Mexico’s budget to effectuate labor reforms was significant, he did not promise that Mexico would ratify that funding. Furthermore, even if the promised funding is allocated, it is back-loaded, with only a small fraction of it earmarked for FY 2020, when any new institutions will be created and filled.

Just as important is enforcement. Even if Mexico swears on a stack of Bibles that its government will follow through on its labor promises, we will still need to follow Ronald Reagan’s famous axiom  on verifying those assurances. In practical terms this means the inspection of independent workplaces and it means being able to stop goods from entering the United States that originate from facilities and plants that break the rules.

Given the horrendous labor conditions still common in Mexico in 2019, conditions have not improved, even as trade talks have heated up. This augurs very poorly for a functioning agreement.

In fact, even basic tenets of Mexico’s current labor law are being systematically violated. Goodyear Mexico fired dozens of workers in 2018 after they attempted to unionize at a plant where workers are paid an hourly wage of $1.58 (as Goodyear simultaneously lays off working Americans who make its tires for real wages). Mexico has yet to reinstate the workers.

Since NAFTA renegotiations commenced, there has been direct violence against labor leaders. Three activists seeking to organize a gold mine in southwestern Mexico were murdered. Brothers Víctor and Marcelino Sahuanitla Peña were beaten and shot as NAFTA talks were happening in Mexico City. In 2018, union leader Quintín Salgado was killed, and organizer Oscar Hernández Romero has been missing for two months. Mexican authorities have shown no interest in solving these crimes.

The picture of labor in Mexico is bleak. But so too are the signals we’ve received from the Trump administration, which has rebuffed our demands for making true Mexican labor reform integral to a deal. It’s obvious that Trump does not care about fixing labor standards in a new NAFTA. All the while, corporations continue to shift more jobs to Mexico. Tellingly, just one year ago GM announced it was ramping up production in Mexico and would close five U.S. plants, laying off more than 5,000 American workers.

The Trump administration promised throughout the process that the interests of American workers is their top priority, but unless and until there is a real enforcement mechanism to ensure Mexico implements new labor policy, that promise is hollow as a drum. If Trump wants Congress to ratify a new NAFTA, Mexico must root out its corruption against workers, raise wages, and exercise real enforcement or else our workers and theirs too will be left holding the bag for another generation.

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While USMCA stalls, lobbying kicks into high gear

The pending North American trade deal is stalled in Congress due to both Republican and Democratic opposition, even recently being deemed “dead” by former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman.


Negotiated over the past two years, this new trade deal, titled the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, is meant to satisfy one of President Donald Trump’s earliest campaign promises: a repeal of and American withdrawal from the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Everyone is getting in on the USMCA lobbying game — even foreign agents. Arturo Jessel, who had a hand in negotiating NAFTA, registered as a foreign agent for the Mexican government, according to a recent FARA filing accessed using the Center for Responsive Politics’ Foreign Lobby Watch tool. His role is to “provide advice and counsel on the passage and implementation of” the USMCA legislation. This includes monitoring the actions of Congress and the Trump administration.

Enlisting a foreign agent is just another aspect of the concerted effort to push the North American trade deal. Domestic lobbying efforts are springing up, mostly funded by businesses hoping to pass a crucial piece of Trump’s agenda. Two groups bring together a wide variety of corporations and associations under the confusingly-similar named Pass USMCA Coalition and USMCA Coalition.A third organization, Trade Works for America, is a 501(c)(4), formed by Marc Short, before he was picked to be chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, and Republican strategist Phil Cox. One of the organization’s co-chairs is former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). In an Axios interview, Cox said the group hopes to spend $15 million to $20 million advocating for the legislation’s passage.

According to a spokesperson for the organization, the group has spent $302,000 on digital advertising and $396,325 on television. The spokesperson described via email the coalition’s goal as “educating voters about how the USMCA will grow the economy and create jobs in their local communities,” as well as “for voters — and their congressional representatives — to recognize that the USMCA is good policy for American workers and supporting the agreement transcends partisan politics.”

The spokesperson declined to provide details about where the money is coming from, instead emailing, “Trade Works for America is a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization whose members consist of businesses of all sizes and trade associations.”

At the end of April, Trade Works launched a “six-figure” TV and digital ad buy targeting voters in Iowa, Maine, Michigan, South Carolina, Wisconsin, New Mexico, California and Michigan. The 30-second ads target specific members of Congress including Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa), Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.). The ads tell viewers to call the representative and ask them to support the trade deal.

Trade Works spent $66,318 since March on Facebook ads. In the week of April 28 to May 4, it spent $11,270. The Facebook ads mostly target older users of the site.

Pass USMCA was an active spender in the early months of 2019. In the first quarter, it spent $30,000 on lobbying, employing eight different lobbyists. Three D.C. movers-and-shakers are listed as the coalition’s leaders.

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Battleground Democrats make USMCA push amid impeachment furor

A group of battleground House Democrats on Thursday staged a dramatic show of support for President Donald Trump’s NAFTA update at a special caucus meeting on the issue, upping pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the final stretch of negotiations.


The moderate Democrats privately worked to rally support for the trade deal ahead of the caucus-wide discussion, encouraging each other to show up and voice support for the deal, according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.

Pelosi: USMCA deal is ‘imminent’

Pelosi’s timeline to pass the trade deal matches the Trump administration’s own goal.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated on Thursday that a deal between House lawmakers and the Trump administration on the USMCA could be announced within the coming days.

“I do believe that if we can get this to the place it needs to be — which is imminent — that this can be a template for future trade agreements,” Pelosi told reporters during a weekly press briefing. “A good template.”

Pelosi added that she would like to see the trade agreement pass the House this year — a timeline that matches the Trump administration’s own goal.

The comments are the clearest indication yet that House Democrats are close to a deal with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer after months of negotiations on the pact’s labor, environmental, enforcement and prescription drug provisions.

In what could be another sign of progress, Pelosi also met on Thursday afternoon with the nine-member working group that she tapped to secure changes to the USMCA. The group had not been scheduled to meet this week as of Wednesday.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), speaking with reporters after the meeting, cautioned that he did not expect a deal to be announced Thursday, but that he would be speaking to Lighthizer on Thursday afternoon and “then we’ll proceed from there.”

Pelosi also has plans to speak with Lighthizer, Neal said.

“There’s a series of issues that are still a bit elusive but we’re trying very hard,” Neal, who leads the working group, said after the meeting.

Two people familiar with the ongoing negotiations also told POLITICO this week they see Democrats and Lighthizer reaching a handshake agreement within the next two weeks, before lawmakers head home for Thanksgiving.

Still, a deal in the next few days would leave only a narrow window for lawmakers to complete the necessary procedural steps and hold a vote on the deal before they wrap up for the year. The House is currently scheduled to adjourn on Dec. 12, leaving just 14 legislative days in 2019.

After House Democrats wrap up negotiations with Lighthizer, the onus will be on the Trump administration to get any changes to the pact approved by both Canada and Mexico, as well as to finalize an implementing bill to send to Capitol Hill.

Both the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees then plan to hold “mock mark-up” hearings — providing an opportunity for lawmakers to give feedback on the deal — before formal votes take place.

Pelosi appeared to recognize the ticking clock, saying Thursday that lawmakers will need to see a copy of the implementing legislation “as soon as we come to a conclusion” with Lighthizer.

She added that Democrats already “have an idea” of what the implementing bill will look like, which leaves the door open to the House potentially getting the agreement done this year. “That would be my goal,” she said.

If the House passes the deal, the legislation is expected to sail through the Republican-led Senate.

Of House Democrats’ four major concerns with the deal, the two areas that have proved the hardest to resolve are issues with labor provisions and enforcement of the overall deal. Pelosi underscored her focus on enforcement in particular but said the two sides “are moving positively.”

But it remains to be seen whether labor unions like AFL-CIO will support the deal or opt to publicly oppose it. Democrats have long acknowledged that it’s important that unions not be vocal opponents of the pact. People close to the negotiations have indicated that the goal is to ensure the unions at least say neutral.

Asked whether he believed support for USMCA from the labor movement was in reach, Neal said: “I do and we need it.”

“I think we would all agree that right now the proposal we have in front of us is substantially better than NAFTA that’s 25 years old. Whether or not it’s enough, we’ll have to figure that out,” Neal said.

Pelosi also struck an optimistic tone when asked how organized labor groups like the AFL-CIO might respond to the negotiated fixes. She noted simply how Democrats and labor have “shared values.”

“We’re in a good place,” she said.

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NO: Loopholes would allow companies to take jobs abroad

As a manufacturing worker of more than 20 years, I can speak firsthand to the devastation that the North American Free Trade Agreement has caused to our workforce. So can the 150,000 active and retired members of my union, IUE-CWA. Time after time, NAFTA has allowed our major employers to shift good jobs out of this country.


Since NAFTA’s enactment in the mid-1990s, workers in Ohio and across the industrial Midwest have lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs and millions more workers have seen their wages and benefits decline. Big companies have used corporate-friendly trade policies and the threat of shipping more jobs to Mexico to depress wages and benefits, hurting working families in our state. I’ve watched firsthand as manufacturing plants, like Delphi-owned Harrison Radiator and the General Motors Truck Plant in Dayton, have shut their doors due to outsourcing, leaving thousands out of work.

Aptiv PLC (formerly Delphi) for example, also has moved thousands of jobs to Mexico over the years. Other major employers like General Electric and Whirlpool have moved thousands more.

Because of NAFTA, these multinational corporations can easily move American jobs to Mexico, where workers have been exploited, unable to form democratic unions and make $2 an hour or less, and work without any rights or health and safety provisions.

Hardworking families on both sides of the border know we need a new deal to replace NAFTA, yet President Trump’s NAFTA replacement deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, is not acceptable for Ohio workers. USMCA, which is currently under negotiation with Congress, is a missed opportunity and one that relies on too many elements of the failed model of corporate-friendly trade policies that have harmed working families in recent decades.

The overriding goal of our failed model of trade policy is to make it easier for companies to move jobs and productions anywhere in the world. Whenever you hear talk of removing “trade barriers,” that’s usually shorthand for the range of legal and regulatory policies that allow big companies to exploit and underpay workers, avoid taxes and not have to abide by real labor or environmental standards.

This ends up a race to the bottom for all, harming workers on both sides of the offshoring equation and resulting not only in lost jobs in the U.S., but weakened bargaining power and lower wages for all as companies can threaten offshoring.

For a renegotiated NAFTA to work better for workers, it would need to level the playing field. That means that it would need to include strong labor and environmental standards with swift and certain enforcement mechanisms.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s USMCA deal doesn’t address these issues. There are still too many loopholes and weaknesses in the standards, and the enforcement mechanism actually takes a step backward from past deals, in which labor and environmental enforcement was already far too weak.

Far from leveling the playing field, the current USMCA proposal clearly was hijacked by special interests for their own profits. Specifically, it includes provisions which would extend protections surrounding pharmaceutical monopolies, ensuring that sky-high prescription prices remain in place for too many in our state and across the country. Despite past claims that lowering pharmaceutical prices is a top priority, the president’s administration is aiming to lock these prices in and even discourage or block future legislation that would force companies to lower their prices.

Doing the bidding of Big Pharma is not helping working families in Ohio.

As Sen. Sherrod Brown recently summarized, “I want to support a NAFTA 2.0, but this has fallen far short.”

Our state’s workers deserve more than this missed opportunity. We need a better deal than the USMCA.

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