The Fight for Fair Trade: How Far We've Come, How Much Further We Will Go

06/25/2015 02:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016

After a long, arduous fight, Congress passed legislation that will put harmful trade pacts on the fast track. Now our job is to put aside this momentary loss, build on the incredible momentum we have created in the fight for fair and responsible trade, and shift focus to the even bigger fights ahead. We must now focus on defeating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and ensuring the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) does not become another polluter giveaway. Most importantly, we must continue to build a movement so powerful that it is impossible for governments to allow trade rules to interfere with climate, environmental, and other public interest policies.

We can achieve this. Just look at how far we've come. It wasn't long ago when it seemed like almost no one had heard about the TPP or "fast track." Yet today, there are millions of people taking action against harmful trade rules. Sierra Club supporters alone sent more than 300,000 messages and made more than 10,000 calls to members of Congress. They organized and attended events across the country educating community members about the impacts of the TPP and opposing fast track and unfair trade. It seems that more people than ever are aware of the dangers posed by free trade deals and are engaging in the long-term process of building a new model of trade.

Climate disruption also played a critical role in the fight against fast track. Across the United States, activists demanding climate action and fighting for clean air and clean water banded together on trade. At the national level, dozens of environmental organizations--some that have long engaged in trade work, many new to the fight, and some supporters of past free trade deals--helped lead the broad and diverse coalition fighting fast track because of its threats to our climate and environment. As The Washington Post noted, despite the Administration's efforts, "Obama's environmental allies [are] not buying his trade pitch on climate."

All of this work changed the national debate on trade. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi voted against fast track in part because it would hinder the ability to address climate change. When she addressed the House before the first House fast-track vote she said: "The connection between the environment and commerce is inseparable," and that, "we need to slow this fast track down." In her June 15 op-ed in USA Today, she said that "it is clear that the debate on the trade authority is probably the last of its kind. The intense debate of the past few weeks has further convinced me that we need a new paradigm."

We've certainly built momentum toward a new paradigm. So what comes next?

For one, we defeat the TPP. Proponents of the pact will use the environment chapter to argue that the TPP has the strongest protections of any trade deal for the environment. There are a number of problems with this argument. For one, it sets an exceedingly low bar given that trade pacts like NAFTA have been devastating for the environment. And second, focusing on the environment chapter (which, incidentally, we don't think will be strong enough to have a meaningful impact on the ground or will be enforced) is missing the forest for the trees.

The TPP and trade pacts like it threaten our very ability to make the changes in our global economy that we need to solve the climate crisis. As just two examples, they give broad new rights to the fossil-fuel industry at a time when we must be reining in pollution from coal, oil and gas and fully transitioning to clean energy. And they encourage and expedite more exports of fossil fuels despite the fact that scientists and experts warn that the majority of coal, oil, and gas must stay in the ground.

We also have a chance to expose and stop the threats that TTIP--the trade deal with the European Union which is still at an early stage of negotiation--poses to our air, water, and climate. We must focus again on the harmful "investor-state" rules that Senator Elizabeth Warren helped bring to the forefront of the debate on trade. These dangerous rules empower multinational corporations to challenge climate and clean energy policies in private trade courts. Similarly, we must challenge rules in TTIP that would create a system "harmonizing" policies by offering new opportunities for foreign governments and corporations to intervene early on in our rule-making process. And we must fight rules in the pact that would require the U.S. Department of Energy to automatically approve exports of natural gas and require automatic approval of U.S. crude oil exports to the EU, therefore encouraging more oil and gas production, consumption, and dependence.

And even beyond the TPP and TTIP, there is a bigger fight at stake. We'll expose the fact that trade deals are political documents as much as they are legal ones and that trade rules only have power if governments give them power. Our long-term work is to continue to build our movement so strong and fierce that it becomes unthinkable for governments to cede control over domestic policies as a result of free trade rules because the backlash would be too severe. That's the movement we're working toward, and we are well on our way. Join us in the fight for fair trade and a safe climate. Add your name to our petition to demand fair trade, not toxic trade, and let us know you're still with us in this fight.