The Destructive Core of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Jun 17, 2015

Let’s start by defining terms. Trade Promotion Authority – commonly called “Fast Track” – is granted by Congress to the President of the United States so the President or White House officials can negotiate trade agreements anywhere in the world and Congress only gets a yes or no vote. That means trade deals can be fast tracked through the legislative process and no matter how good or bad the deals, there are no changes and no amendments, only the pressure of yes or no votes. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade deal now being negotiated among the United States and 11 other nations that border the Pacific Ocean. It is one of several to be fast tracked if Congress passes Trade Promotion Authority.

Fast tracked or not, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a horrible deal for the American public now and far into the future. I have 3 concerns: 1) excessive secrecy; 2) inadequate standards; and 3) how trade deals allow corporations to dominate national interests. Specifically:

1) Excessive Secrecy: At a time when trust in government is at an all-time low, open and honest dialog with the American public about major government policies would be a logical step to help re-build trust. Instead, the excessive secrecy and closed door negotiations regarding trade deals prevents We the People from providing input to a significant set of American policies. Even duly elected lawmakers have complained about secret reading rooms where they are not even allowed to take notes on drafts of these trade deals.

Recently leaked documents also show excessive secrecy about the proposed Trade in Services Agreement among the United States, the European Union and 23 other nations. This deal would mean that every service provided by any corporation that is in any way related to an international agreement – from telecommunications and financing to transportation and healthcare – would be protected and could be regulated by corporations and investors rather than nations and their citizens. The leaked documents show the intention to keep the services agreement secret for five years after passage!

2) Inadequate Standards: The Trans-Pacific Partnership does not provide a level playing field for American businesses and workers. We have seen American factories close by the thousands and millions of manufacturing jobs sent overseas. To understand the current situation, we can look back to 2000 when China was granted normal trade relations status and forward to today when we have around a $315 billion trading deficit with China. The problem began when the manufacture of furniture, clothing, consumer and electronic goods re-located to China. We can now buy cheaper Chinese goods, but is this fair trade?

Even when government contracts are intended to Buy America, manufacturing still goes to China. Chinese steel went into the repairs of the Bay Bridge in California and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City. The problems leading to unfair trade deals are: Chinese steel is subsidized by the Chinese government so it can be bought below the cost of production; Chinese worker salaries are pennies on the American dollar; Chinese worker safety has been famously ignored; concerns about the quality of Chinese steel are also ignored; and Chinese companies routinely dump toxic waste into rivers and landfills.

Under these trade deals, the low bid is rarely a quality bid. They are another mechanism to expand corporate profits and never a mechanism to improve standards of health, safety and environmental responsibility.

3) Corporations Over Nations: A clause in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and most other trade agreements allows big corporations to sue any nation if that company believes the actions of that nation will hurt corporate profits. The lawsuit is not heard in regular courtrooms but rather in special tribunals where the final decision cannot be appealed. This is called Investor-State Dispute Resolution.  

For example, Ecuador sued Chevron when oil drilling contaminated parts of the Amazon rainforest. Chevron then used an investment treaty to sue Ecuador claiming compensation for the destruction of the rainforest would not be “fair and equitable treatment.” In this scenario, Ecuador pays for Chevron’s damage to the rainforest! Other examples of trade deals favoring corporations over nations include a Phillip Morris lawsuit against Australia when laws called for plain packages on cigarettes; an oil and gas company lawsuit when the province of Quebec called a moratorium on fracking under the St Lawrence River; and Dow Chemical suing Quebec for losses due to a ban on certain pesticides.

Summary: Drafted and finalized in secret, trade and investment agreements favor corporate profits; fail to improve standards of living or provide basic environmental safeguards; and multiply the ways big corporations can push back legislation and regulations that serve the needs of citizens and their communities.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is rotten at its core. The most damaging aspect grants large corporations the ability to file suit against sovereign nations that attempt to put in place or strengthen environmental, safety, healthcare, financial, consumer and other standards to improve the lives of everyday people. This legal maneuvering allows corporations to dominate nations and citizens with destructive impact far into the future.

And so I say: we do not need to fast track bad deals; all trade agreements that put corporations above national interests are dangerous; and forward movement on trade must reverse the ways corporations can dominate national efforts to improve the common good. I call for trade deals that truly encourage fair trade and improve our national and collective well-being. Until then, I am vehemently opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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