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9 Reasons Why You Should Care About Trade

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Trade policy: It conjures images of interminable documents written in impenetrable jargon detailing import duties on manufacturing parts depending on their exact weight and whether they were produced before or after…

If you’re already yawning, it’s for a good reason: When it comes to trade, boredom is part of the point. The length and the language serve as an effective deterrence against broader public scrutiny.

But what’s hidden here is much worse: a largely bipartisan trade-policy consensus in the United States, reaching back at least to the passage of NAFTA in 1994, that enriches transnational corporations and the 1 percent, while screwing over ordinary people in all sorts of ways. There’s a lot to decipher, but it’s worth the effort. Here are nine reasons why:

1. Contemporary trade agreements are about pretty much every issue you care about.

These agreements don’t just set tariffs and other trade restrictions. They may end up governing the quality of your water. They’re about the price of your medications. They’re about free downloads and public services like the postal service and fracking and… well, you get the idea. Unsurprisingly, these decisions tend to be made in favor of the few and at the expense of the many.

What’s more, tariffs for most goods have actually been harmonized and governed with relatively little drama by the World Trade Organization for decades. There are a few goods that are not covered, and occasional disputes do arise, but the price of avocados is determined much more by market speculation and/or nationalist saber rattling than by anything that does or does not appear in the agreements now being negotiated.

So, while avocados might get the media coverage, it’s the boring stuff like your country’s ability to set its own public-health and environmental regulations that sits at the core of these documents.

2. These agreements are also deeply undemocratic and hard to roll back.

Trade agreements are the most deeply undemocratic policy area that exists today. Negotiations are held behind closed doors with invitations typically extended only to technocrats and corporate lobbyists. Draft texts are generally not available to the public, and through a lovely process known as “Fast Track,” Congress must vote on the final product as a whole without being able to review, object to, or propose changes.

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Thanks !

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