“Deal Reached on Deal Reached on Fast-Track Authority for Obama on Trade Accord.” That’s the most horrifying headline since George W. Bush declared a preemptive war on Iraq over 12 years ago. According to the New York Times, “key congressional leaders agreed on Thursday on legislation to give President Obama special authority to finish negotiating one of the world’s largest trade accords.” Committee votes are planned for the upcoming week, and it may be rushed through the Congress with President Obama sure to sign the bill.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), known as a progressive legislator, has joined highly conservative Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to pass a bill allowing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a vote in Congress after only 20 hours of debate followed by a simple up-and-down majority vote and no amendments in an agreement that would make the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994 look benign.
It’s an agreement that all the Republicans want, and one that is opposed by trade unions, environmentalists, and Latino organizations oppose. Supporters promise gains for U.S. consumers and the economy, but those who actually benefit are the huge corporations who want more global power and the employers who want to move their companies offshore to pay much lower wages.
President Obama said that TPP “would level the playing field, give our workers a fair shot, and for the first time, include strong fully enforceable protections for workers’ rights, the environment and a free and open Internet.” No one knows how this could possibly happen, however, because everything about the TPP has been carried out in secret. Only a few leaks have given an idea of how bad the TPP will be for most of the people in the United States.
Republicans has supposedly agreed to make the agreement open to public comment for 60 days before the president signs it and up to four months before Congress votes. Failing to meet congressional objectives, the agreement could be shut off the “fast-track” rules and open the TPP to amendments. With the Republicans solidly behind the TPP, finding 60 votes will be impossible.
One argument in favor of TPP is that the U.S. needs to shape trade rules across the Pacific instead of China. For this argument to be credible, the rules must be in the best interests of the U.S. people. According to leaked information, TPP favors corporations:
The TPP controls not only tariff rates but also labor rights, environmental laws, copyright and patent protections, e-commerce, state-owned enterprises, corruption, and government procurement.
The TPP may give corporations control over any U.S. laws: for example, cigarette companies are using global trade rules to stop Australia’s anti-smoking law with the excuse that these laws hurt profits for the corporations.
The TPP permits 9,000 more corporations to rules against the U.S. government in investor-state corporate tribunals: corporate lawyers acting as judges can rule on claims against the federal government to get U.S. tax dollars for any domestic law affecting what companies perceive as current and future corporate profits.
The TPP undermines “Buy America,” “Buy Local” preferences by making these policies punishable in the tribunals.
The TPP undermines energy regulation and the policies necessary to combat the climate crisis.
The TPP, based on NAFTA and the Korea Free Trade Agreement, allows corporations more opportunities to offshore jobs from the U.S. to low-wage countries, many of which are in the TPP.
The TPP’s economic effect would be minimal: the most optimistic estimate shows that TPP would add about $77 billion to U.S. incomes in 2025, less than half of 1 percent of current U.S. incomes.
The TPP would undermine Internet freedom: the copyright chapter contains parts of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act.
Trade agreements like the TPP have permitted enormous tariffs: that’s the reason for the disappearance of Roquefort cheese, truffles, French chocolate, and other delicacies for most of the people in the U.S. as retaliation for Europe’s banning the sale of the U.S. hormone-treated beef.
The TPP doesn’t allow withdrawal like the Kyoto protocols to reduce greenhouse gases: withdrawal means losing access to foreign markets.
Trade agreements like the TPP may have labor rules, such as the ones included in the 2005 CAFTA-DR agreement between the U.S., the Dominican Republic, and several Central American countries, but the laws lack teeth: a 2008 U.S. complaint about labor rights violation in Guatemala is not resolved after seven years.
The TPP lets pharmaceutical companies act as monopolies to raise drug prices throughout the world: drug companies continue to push for more industry-friendly laws by continuing the incorporation of patent rules into trade deals through the 1994 Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. Competing drug companies wanting to introduce biologically similar drugs must wait 12 years before using data from existing clinical trials for the original company’s drug development, requiring higher costs through redundant trials. President Obama is supporting the 12-year wait.
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said that “[corporations] get elevated to nationhood. They get the same status as a nation state to privately enforce the terms of a public treaty. It’s called investor-state dispute resolution.” Corporate attack cases which take sovereign governments to the private tribunal are available here.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) pointed out that NAFTA led to a disastrous series of trade deficits and the loss of 20 million jobs, 5 million of them in manufacturing. Instead of practicing free trade through NAFTA, the U.S. buys goods and services from other countries that then use the U.S. money to buy U.S. assets. The trade deficit leads to the federal deficit for a United States that “is nothing but cheap labor and debt slavery.” Grayson said that he was “the first member of Congress to actually see any part of the TPP.” He explained the limitations of reading the TPP agreement:
“I couldn’t take it home, I couldn’t make notes on it, I couldn’t have my staff present. And here’s the kicker: They didn’t want me to discuss it with the media, the public or even other members of Congress. So it’s a farce. And it’s meant specifically to keep the information away from the American people, because if the American people knew what was going on, they’d recognize that it’s a punch to the face of the middle class in America.”
The process for fast-tracking is almost as secretive as the TPP itself. On Wednesday night, Hatch and Wyden called a hearing, supposedly on “Congress and the U.S. Tariff Policy,” for the Senate Finance Committee. At the beginning of the meeting Hatch announced that the fast-track legislation could come as early as the afternoon and spoke, with Wyden, about the TPP bill. Six Democrats issued a joint statement objecting to the hearing because of the haste and secrecy of the subject. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) asked if they would be voting “on an agreement that we have not yet even seen and that hasn’t been reached.” The same thing happened in the House Ways and Means Committee with equally irritated Democrats.
Given a chance to look at the bill, opponents declared it as bad as earlier versions that had failed in Congress. Disapproval cannot be filibustered, they cannot pull the fast-track authority, and the 60 days to move such a measure comes after the president signs a trade pact. The bill, replicating the failed 2002 and 2014 Fast Track bills, also gives away congressional trade authority over the TPP and grants the next president blank-check authority for any trade agreements. The horrifying details of the bill are here.
The biggest mystery is why Sen. Wyden is leading the charge to pass the TPP agreement in Congress. He said, “I’m proud this bipartisan bill creates what I expect to be unprecedented transparency in trade negotiations.” Transparency is what the TPP agreement process has thus far been seriously lacking.
[Note: These blogs on Nels New Day provide more information: