Fast Track in Congress means that the legislative branch gives the executive branch the power to make agreements without any debate or filibuster to provide transparency about any of the issues of the agreement. The highly conservative members of Congress, who want to sue President Obama for taking too much authority in perfectly legal executive orders, wants to let him adopt disastrous trade agreements, at this time the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Fast Track gave the U.S. the job-killing wage-flattening North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) through offshoring U.S. jobs to low-wage countries. It also takes away the nation’s non-trade policies for safe food, a clean environment, affordable medicines, financial stability and more.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants the Senate Finance Committee to approve a Fast Track bill “very quickly after we come back” from the Easter recess on April 13. A key player is usually progressive Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who, for reasons unknown, strongly supports passing the Fast Track authority. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wants the Fast Track passed before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a joint session of Congress in late April.
Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) met with House Democrats to talk about the damage TPP would do to the people of this country after Wikileaks further revealed the expansion of corporate power to supercede U.S. laws that now protect the environment, consumers, and public health. WikiLeaks explained that TPP lets firms “sue” governments to get taxpayer compensation for loss of “expected future profits.” The New York Times reported that the TPP “giv[es] greater priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers.”
According to Warren, the seemingly benign title Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws—and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. For example, a foreign company that makes a banned toxic chemical added to gasoline could pass by the U.S. courts and move on to an international panel. The ruling could not be challenged in U.S. courts even if the panel demands U.S. taxpayers to pay billions of dollars in damages. Panels would not be required to have independent judges; they can be corporate lawyers. In 2012, one panel ordered Ecuador to pay Occidental Petroleum $2.3 billion for expropriating oil drilling rights.
These courts were set up after World War II when investors worried about putting their money into small developing countries with undependable legal systems. The TPP, however, is with many well-developed countries such as Australia and Japan, whose courts would also be pre-empted. Companies can also purchase political-risk insurance.
History shows the increasing problem of ISDS cases: fewer than 100 claims were made worldwide between 1959 to 2002, but 2012 saw 58 cases in just that year. A French company sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power, and a Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations. With TPP, about 9,000 foreign-owned firms operating in the United States could bring cases against governments, and more than 18,000 companies based in the United States would gain new powers to go after the other 11 countries in the accord.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) wrote in an op-ed, “It’s a bad deal for American workers.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, “Members of Congress and their staff have an easier time accessing national security documents than proposed trade deals, but if I were negotiating this deal I suppose I wouldn’t want people to see it either.”
The TPP also allows corporations to fight limitations and exceptions to intellectual property rights such as copyrights and patents. Included are the provisions that allowed Eli Lilly to sue for $500 million because of Canada’s termination of patent extensions for medicines developed in the 1970s. Beyond that, it states that private companies can challenge “the cancellation or nullification of such [intellectual property] rights,” as well as “exceptions to such rights.”
Although a theory is that workers in all nations will benefit from bigger markets and more trade, a large portion of trade is done by multinational companies that have different interests from national corporations. Multinationals profit even if U.S. workers suffer, which is why these companies report their profits in or ship their jobs to countries with the lowest standards. The corporate movement of jobs overseas drives down wages in the U.S.; workers here will be forced to compete with workers in Vietnam who have no rights to organize in protest of wages that are under 60 cents an hour.
Corporate-defined trade rules have resulted in huge trade deficits, more than $8 trillion since 2000, and trade deficits cost jobs. Low trade tariffs allow current trade treaties to focus less on tariffs and more on “harmonizing regulations” for investors, “an excuse for corporations to institute a race to the bottom” according to Katrina vanden Heuvel. Trade agreements support corporate interests while trampling on the U.S. people. Drug companies are protected from introducing generic drugs, agribusiness is protected for its GMO food, and Wall Street is protected from regulations against secret derivatives.
Another provision among the 29 chapters of the TPP is that the U.S. government must treat bids from any TPP country in the same way as they treat U.S. companies. Tax dollars will no longer support U.S. communities, and taxpayers will be forced to send them money overseas, negating a 1934 law to give preference to U.S. corporations. With TPP, Chinese state-owned enterprise firms in Vietnam would have to be treated the same as a U.S. company and be awarded government contracts. Schools will no longer be allowed to “Buy Local” if a multinational company has a lower bid.
Republican members of Congress have fought everything that President Obama has supported—except the TPP Fast Track. That should raise a huge red flag for anyone who supports the rights of 90 percent of the U.S. people. For the past decade of TPP negotiations, the members of Congress, along with everyone else in the United States, have been refused access to TPP meetings and drafts of the agreement. The only information about TPP comes from leaks such as those revealed by Wikileaks. Yet 566 advisory group members, 480 of them representing industry groups or trade associations, are welcome to see and comment on the proposals. The few other participants are from 20 labor unions, three or four environmental groups, one consumer group, and two family farm groups.
U.S. workers are not the only people suffering from past trade agreements providing the prototype for TPP. Sister Simone Campbell, famous for her “nuns on the bus” movement to reverse income inequality, has written about the havoc wreaked by NAFTA, leading to a 60-percent increase in undocumented migrants from Mexico into the United States. This influx was followed by more undocumented migrants trying to cross the U.S. border from Central America after growing drug violence. In the United States, the 63 percent of workers without a college degree lost 12.2 percent of their wages since NATA took effect. According to the Government Accountability Office, labor provisions like the ones in TPP have failed to stop even the most severe labor abuses.
While appearing to be a great deal for huge corporations that are already taking money from the country in subsidies and unpaid taxes, the benefit for individuals, according to Peterson Institute for International Economics, would be one quarter—that’s $.25—a day. The pro-TPP study projects a 0.13-percent increase to the GDP by 2025, half of what Apple’s iPhone 5 did by itself.
If the TPP is so wonderful for the country, why is everything about it cloaked in secrecy? It’s so secret that people voting to approve it aren’t allowed access to information about it, yet they’re pushing for it sight unseen. The same people who think that the UN will destroy the United States are fighting to have international control by corporations.
My other question is why Wyden supports it. His constituents are so upset about his push to pass the TPP that they are floating the possibility of opposition to the extremely popular senator in the upcoming election. He owes Oregon and the people of the United States an explanation.
Moveon.org has a petition for people who oppose the TPP.