The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is supposed to be the trade deal that needs fast-track authority to get approved by Congress. But the real worry is not TPP it's the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) that's being negotiated well out of public view.
Until recently, the details of TISA had been carefully hidden, but a draft treaty and notes about the negotiations now in progress were leaked and posted earlier this month on the WikiLeaks website. It is now clear that, even as Republicans like Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) have been assuring us that the free flow of labor is not covered in the TPP, it is the entire point of much of TISA.
An article by Daniel Costa and Ron Hira of the Economic Policy Institute wades through the pages of TISA documents posted on WikiLeaks to find provisions on open immigration. Article 4, concerning "Entry and Temporary Stay of Natural Persons," states signatories "shall not maintain or adopt Economic Needs Tests, including labor market tests, as a requirement for a visa or work permit." Costa and Hira explain: "In other words, U.S. laws or regulations limiting guestworkers only to jobs where no U.S. workers were available would violate the terms of the treaty."
Article 5 goes further, proposing that member nations "shall take market access and national treatment commitments for intra-corporate transferees, business visitors, and ... contractual service suppliers and independent professionals." The draft then goes on to require signatories to "allow entry and temporary stay of [contractual service suppliers and independent professionals]" in a long list of specific fields.
The covered occupational sectors listed include landscape architectural services, medical services, midwife and nursing, business services dealing with maintenance and repair of equipment, general construction, assembly work, refuse disposal and sanitation, hotels and restaurants, and transport services, among others precisely areas that use huge numbers of legal and illegal foreign workers.
Costa and Hira point out that "foreign firms would not be required to advertise jobs to U.S. workers, or to hire U.S. workers if they were equally or better qualified for job openings in their own country." They note that the treaty means that "potentially hundreds of thousands of workers could enter the United States every year ... importing cheaper labor to supplant American workers."
Why would a hotel chain hire American workers when it could transfer unlimited numbers of foreign employees to the U.S.? Those who have visited Western Europe may have been amazed at the number of Polish, Hungarian, Czech and Romanian kids waiting tables in Paris, Rome, Dublin and London all courtesy of the European Union requirement for free flow of labor. Meanwhile, unemployment in Western Europe frequently runs into double digits. Under TISA, the same thing will happen here, and American workers will find fewer and fewer job openings.
The treaty is often billed as impacting high-tech Silicon Valley jobs only. But its provisions make it obvious that it will be a bonanza for multinational corporations of all sorts. Nothing could be more calculated to depress wage levels in the service sector, which provides 7 of 10 American jobs.
Employment in manufacturing has already been truncated in the U.S. because of competition from foreign, offshore workers. But the service sector has seen less foreign competition because, by definition, most services cannot be outsourced offshore. Under TISA, they can be.
In general, Democrats want immigrants to vote but, because of union pressure, not to work, and Republicans want them to work, to pad corporate profits, but not to vote. TISA lets them work without getting on a citizenship track. It puts corporate profits ahead of American employment and wages.
The TPP deal doesn't really need fast-track to get approved. But TISA does. Anyone who backs fast-track should forfeit the right to complain about income stagnation and inequality in America.