by Ralph Scharnau
This opinion piece is not about the newest bathroom tissue! Rather TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) refers to a free trade agreement among 12 countries, the United States, Canada, and Mexico as well as Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
The TPP sets rules governing more than 40 percent of the world’s economy. Negotiations on the new trade agreement have been going on in secret since 2005. Negotiations occur under the supervision of some 600 unelected and mostly corporate “trade advisors” while access to meetings and text drafts have been hidden from members of Congress, the press, and the public. What has been learned about the pact has come through leaked texts, and now the real debate has begun.
The TPP has little to do with trade. Of 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. The pact fails to deliver on the Obama administration’s assurances of broad gains for consumers and the economy while protecting workers’ rights and the environment. Much of the pact focuses instead on outsized “investor rights.”
The TPP would grant foreign corporations extraordinary new powers to challenge the laws we rely on for a clean environment, essential services, and healthy communities. Foreign corporations would be empowered to bypass domestic courts and directly “sue” the U.S. government before an extrajudicial tribunal of private corporate lawyers sitting outside any domestic legal system and not accountable to any electorate, system of legal precedent, or meaningful conflict of interest rules.
These tribunals would be authorized to order the U.S. government to hand over millions of our taxpayer dollars to corporations for laws that would reduce their profits. In past free trade agreements, tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to foreign investors attacking our land use rules; water, energy, and timber policies; health, safety, and environmental protections; financial stability policies, and more.
Under TPP, large pharmaceutical firms would acquire new rights and powers to increase medicine prices and limit consumers’ access to cheaper generic drugs. Any U.S. food safety rules on pesticides, labeling, or additives higher than international standards could be subject to challenge as “illegal trade barriers.” And Buy American procurement provisions could be waived.
Obama wants fast track authority to conclude negotiation of the TPP. Under fast track, Congress essentially gives up much of its constitutional duty to deliberate and debate terms of the agreement and, instead, pre-approves the pact. If Congress approves fast track authority, the pact can only be voted up or down with minimal debate and no amendments.
Supporters of TPP include businesses and business lobbying groups and many Republicans in Congress. Opposition to TPP has come from a few congressional Republicans and a broad coalition of Democrats, unions, environmental and consumer protection groups, community and faith organizations and human rights and trade alliances.
The TPP primarily protects the assets and profits of multinational corporations and financial institutions. The previous fast track trade agreements amount to wins for big corporations and Wall Street, along with their executives and major shareholders with no corresponding gains for labor. Over the past twenty years, the North American, Korean, and Chinese free trade agreements have resulted in large job losses, downward pressure on wages, and increased trade deficits. Yet, even as wages stagnate, worker productivity records impressive gains.
The TPP constitutes an international agreement that undermines domestic and international policies on food safety, medicine costs, financial regulations, and the environment. It will increase income inequality, offshore American jobs, drive down wages, explode the deficit, and hurt small businesses. Congress should reject fast track authority and reassert its exclusive Constitutional authority “to regulate commerce with foreign nations.”