Part One of Two
On Jan. 26, trade representatives from 12 countries met in New York City for a week of secret informal talks to conclude a huge trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). More than 100 demonstrators from many different nonprofit organizations braved a blizzard and protested with signs, chants, songs and speeches in opposition to this mammoth agreement that affects much more than trade. Corporate advisors are negotiating these talks, but the American people and our representatives in Congress have been left out of the negotiations.
President Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman continue to push forward with plans to complete this agreement in secret and force it through Congress via “fast track” trade authority, which would severely limit debate and allow no amendments. More than 20 rounds of negotiations have taken place over the past four years among the countries of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States. While more than six-hundred transnational corporate negotiators have access to the entire trade agreement, our elected members of Congress do not.
There are several problems with TPP. First and foremost, our Constitution gives Congress, not the President, authority over trade. Secondly, the lack of transparency of the TPP agreement is unprecedented. Congress was given a redacted text of NAFTA, our last big trade agreement, before it was signed, but not so with TPP. If a Congressman wants to see it, he or she can see only that part which pertains to his state or standing on a committee. He may not take notes and he is forbidden to reveal its contents to anyone. Six-hundred government negotiators and corporate lobbyists, not our representatives, are writing the TPP. Furthermore, there is little or no input from environmentalists, health workers, community organizers, minorities, social workers and faith-based organizations.
Part of what we know about TPP is because of Wikileaks, which has published two of the chapters. We now know that only five of the 29 chapters actually deal with trade issues. The other chapters deal with regulation of energy, banking and financial services, food safety, procurement policy, patent and copyright policy, environmental standards and many other nontrade issues.
One of the most troubling chapters is the “Investment Chapter.” A crucial principle of our nation’s laws is thay they are not subject to review by non-American institutions and observers. Yet, under the TPP, all nations that sign on to this agreement must conform their laws and policies to the TPP agreement from the local level all the way to the national level. This requirement undermines both our democracy and our national sovereignty. Our laws should not be subject to trade agreements that were not negotiated by our elected representatives on our behalf.
TPP’s proponents claim that opening Pacific markets to U.S. businesses will boost our economy and raise our GDP. Past experience with NAFTA and the recent KORUS agreement with Korea suggest exactly the opposite. In the 20 years since NAFTA, and the past four years since KORUS, U.S. trade deficits have greatly increased, not decreased. Currency manipulation by China and unfair trade practices by Japan have put the U.S. at a disadvantage. Settlement of disputes takes years, and in the meantime, American workers have lost jobs to these countries’ unfair trade policies. We have also seen millions of good American jobs outsourced to countries like Malaysia and Vietnam, where wages are as low as 30 cents an hour.
Transnational corporations stand to win big under TPP, but American citizens…not so much. Pharmaceutical companies want to extend their patents by 10 years and make generics go through more years of testing, thus increasing the price of medicine for everyone. They also want to prohibit the government from negotiating lower prices for medicine, as it does now for the VA, and should be allowed for Medicare.