Nel's New Day

February 20, 2014

Flush the TPP

When President Obama took office, dewy-eyed progressives believed that he might change the United States for the better. We supported his dreams and hoped of a better life. Some of his struggles during the past 5+ years have come from the racial prejudice against the black half of him. Another issue, however, is his conservative nature. As he channels presidents Eisenhower and Reagan, Democrats have started losing faith in him.

The latest opposition he faces is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement that is being negotiated in secret and that the president wants “fast-tracked” before anyone finds out what it contains. Michael Froman, the U.S. top trade official, is the latest person to push the TPP onto leaders of labor, environmental, consumer, and online progressive groups.

The first cautionary fact about the TPP is that Congressional GOP leaders and big business support the Asian trade pact. The liberal faction, is unified against the trade agreement. There’s a good reason that corporations like TPP: they wrote it.

“Fast-track” means speeded-up congressional action by barring amendments, something that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is ready to do. The GOP likes lower-priced imported goods and services, but progressives worry about the loss of U.S. manufacturing and service jobs. Free-trade agreements of the past, such as NAFTA, have destroyed living wages for workers in the U.S.

While supporters claim that the TPP eliminates tariffs and boosts economic growth, the agreement, like NAFTA, allows corporations—including those in the U.S.—to circumvent any regulations and laws. Courts and Congress have no control over corporate activities. Leaked documents show that an international tribunal would have the power to overrule individual country’s legal standards and impose economic penalties on them. Corporations can go to these tribunals to sue governments for compensation claiming that regulations such as tobacco, prescription drug and environment protections undermine their business interests.

Globalization is happening, according to Froman, and it will be shaped by U.S. values or by others. The values shaping the TPP are the corporate values, the same ones that have bought politicians across the country so that huge, wealthy companies can get only bigger and richer. Froman claimed that TPP would “put labor and environmental standards at the core of trade agreements and make those standards enforceable like any commercial commitment.” Yet he is unwilling to release any concrete information that would show how this happens. Only a very few, primarily corporate executives and lobbyists, have been privy to the TPP proposals.

Although Froman tried to shut down the opposition by saying that organized labor had more access to documents and briefings, one participant called that claim “just downright silly.” The person said, “We don’t have access to the text.”

Recently, Froman offered liberal nonprofit groups access to further briefings and documents in a Public Interest Trade Advisory Committee, information already available to hundreds of corporations. Business groups have long opposed the inclusion of nonprofit organizations because it might decrease their corporate interests. Almost four years ago, Fanwood Chemical Inc. president Jim DeLisi said:

“Exports are created by business, investments are created by business, and good, high-paying jobs are created by businesses. The key point of this whole system is to be sure that the [government] negotiators understand the needs of businesses.”

One meeting participant who requested anonymity said this regarding the Huffington Post article:

“You missed my favorite Froman quote that night when he told us that based on our logic that we should all go home and just throw away our computers and get rid of automation.”

Activist and author Noam Chomsky is very clear about his opposition to the TPP:

“It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity.”

His objection stems from the fact that the TPP contains issues outside trade, imposing new intellectual property standards abroad and boosting corporate political power. The end result of the TPP is actually undermining freedom of trade; instead it supports investor rights.

This month tens of millions of members from 550 groups signed a letter asking legislators to vote against “fast-track” authority for the negotiation between the U.S. and eleven other Pacific Rim nations. Another 50 groups launched StopFastTrack.com to kill the agreement that they call “NAFTA on steroids.” This story, however, may be the most uncovered one in the United States. Until last week, there was almost nothing about the TPP on broadcast or cable news shows. Now the mainstream press is reporting on President Obama talking in vague terms about how this agreement will be good for the nation.

Transcripts of six months evening news shows ending on January 31, 2014, shows not one mention of the TPP on ABC, CBS, or NBC. On PBS Newshour, one guest argued that “the TPP would improve relations with Asian nations.” [visual]

tpp_coverage 1 During the same time, only The Ed Show routinely covered the TPP on evening cable news shows. CNN mentioned it once in the six months, and the Fox network totally ignored the trade agreement. [visual]

cabletppcoverage 2

Despite the lack of information until recently, enough voters know about the TPP to oppose it. Although Boehner and other congressional GOP leaders support the agreement, a majority of conservative voters are against fast-tracking the agreement by more than two to one. The poll results match earlier surveys showing a negative view of trade agreements. One of the main reasons for opposition to the TPP is that it will drive down wages for people in the U.S. while benefiting big corporations.

Leaders involved in negotiating and promoting the TPP have gotten big bonuses from big business for their government participation. Stefan Selig, a Bank of America investment banker nominated to become the undersecretary for international trade at the Department of Commerce, received more than $9 million in bonus pay as he was nominated to join the administration in November. The bonus pay came in addition to the $5.1 million in incentive pay awarded to Selig last year.

Froman received over $4 million as part of multiple exit payments when he left CitiGroup to join the Obama administration. Froman told Senate Finance Committee members last summer that he donated approximately 75 percent of the $2.25 million bonus he received for his work in 2008 to charity. CitiGroup also gave Froman a $2 million payment in connection to his holdings in two investment funds, which was awarded “in recognition of [Froman’s] service to Citi in various capacities since 1999.”

CitiGroup pays extra retirement pay for employees who take a “full time high level position with the U.S. government or regulatory body.” That bank isn’t alone: Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, the Blackstone Group, Fannie Mae, Northern Trust and Northrop Grumman are among other firms offering financial rewards for government service after retirement.

https://openmedia.ca/blog/canadian-mps-push-transparency-trans-pacific-partnership  Negotiations for the TPP are scheduled in Singapore next week, and senior legislators from seven countries are asking for transparency in the agreement. Decision-makers from Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, and Peru are demanding that the draft text is openly published before any agreement is signed.

This is a 180-degree turn from the beginning of negotiations. Five years ago, negotiators agreed that the text would not be released until negotiations were completed and any documents other than the text would be concealed until four years after the agreement is signed or after the last round of negotiations if the agreement is not finished.

The GOP members of Congress have declared that they are through for the year after they raised the debt ceiling. They will take their $174,000 salary for their less than four months of work this year with their only achievement having promised to pay the country’s already-accrued debts. If that means they don’t pass the TPP, it might be worth the almost $100 million that taxpayers are paying them for causing gridlock.

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