The petition, spearheaded by the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign (ORFTC) and Fight for the Future, urges the Senator to oppose the renewal of 1970s-era “Fast Track” legislation, which would rubber-stamp trade pacts that threaten Oregon high-tech jobs, digital privacy and freedom on the Internet. Senator Wyden recently became chair of the powerful U.S. Senate Finance Committee and will determine whether or not the expired Fast Track process is resurrected.
“Fast Track is an outdated and inappropriate way to negotiate and approve 21st Century trade agreements,” said ORFTC director Elizabeth Swager. “It would enable trade negotiators to keep their proposals hidden from the American public until after negotiations have concluded, pacts are signed and amendments are prohibited. Our floppy disk petition urges Senator Wyden to recognize that Fast Track is obsolete in this day and age.”
Fast Track was first created during the Nixon administration, when trade agreements primarily covered tariffs, quotas and customs practices. Today’s trade and investment pacts, like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), also cover labor rights, Internet protocols, environmental protections, energy policy, consumer safety, medicine patents, government procurement, financial regulations and more. Advocates argue that allowing these far-reaching pacts to circumvent ordinary Congressional review, amendment and debate procedures is undemocratic, especially given that the Obama administration has refused to make its trade proposals available for public scrutiny.
“Internet businesses and consumer advocates have warned that proposed trade agreements could adversely affect innovation on the Internet,” said Nick Caleb, a professor at Concordia University and former technology policy advisor for Vandana Shiva’s NGO The Research Foundation for Science, Technology, & Ecology. “Fast Track would close those pacts off to improvements, preventing the public from commenting on specific proposals until it’s too late to make any changes. That’s an antiquated way to make public policy and it’s ill-suited for our modern economy.”
Mitch Besser, an unemployed, trade-displaced software engineer with a Masters Degree in Software Development and over two decades of experience in the field, said, “Companies want to push trade policy that gives them the greatest amount of freedom to search globally for the cheapest labor. While at the same time, workers are not free to search globally for the highest wages. As long as our elected officials keep putting policies like Fast Track in place, that help facilitate jobs to be shipped to countries with low wages and abysmal labor standards, that’s where the jobs are going to go.”
Two years ago, Senator Wyden sent a letter to the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign and Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice, stating, “U.S. trade negotiators should be required to — at a minimum — share with the public the proposals they are putting forward, as they put them forward, in negotiations. Obama’s trade negotiators cannot be allowed to shroud their goals in secret, because, after all, they are supposed to be negotiating on our behalf — on behalf of workers and everyone who simply seeks to make a decent income for an honest day’s work.”
“Senator Wyden has been outspoken about the need for greater public participation in trade policy-making, and with his new role as Senate Finance Chair, he’s finally in a position to do something about it,” said Swager. “This petition encourages the Senator to stay true to his democratic principles and to stand up for ordinary Americans.”
Between the delivery events that took place in Bend, Eugene, LaGrande, Medford, Portland and Salem, a total of 13,721 signatures were delivered on floppy disks.
Ivan Boothe with Rootwork.org, a small start-up tech company in Portland, also delivered a letter to Senator Wyden’s staff from over 25 high-tech businesses and Internet freedom organizations urging his opposition to Fast Track. The letter, signed by groups including reddit, DuckDuckGo, Automattic (WordPress.com), iFixit, Imgur, and CREDO Mobile, stated that “These highly secretive, supranational agreements are reported to include provisions that vastly expand on any reasonable definition of ‘trade,’ including provisions that impact patents, copyright, and privacy in ways that significantly constrain legitimate online activity and innovation,” the companies write. The letter continues: “Our industry, and the users that we serve, need to be at the table from the beginning,” which has not been the case with TPP negotiations.
Thanks to Pete Shaw for the photo. Additional photos on the ORFTC Facebook page.