Know much about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)? If you don’t, it’s not your fault. According to Zoë Carpenter (The Nation), Congress hasn’t heard much about TPP either. That’s because this so-called “free trade” agreement is being negotiated in “extreme” secrecy by representatives of twelve different countries—the United States, Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Carpenter says that the Obama administration has ignored “repeated calls from legislators to make the process more transparent, while pressing to finalize the agreement this year.”
In his article titled Multinationals Are Plotting to Steamroll What’s Left of Our Democracy to Make Huge Profits, Dave Johnson says that the TPP negotiating process “has been rigged from the start.” While hundreds of representatives of corporate-interest groups have been providing their input— “representatives of labor, human rights, civil justice, consumer, environmental and other stakeholder groups have been kept away from the negotiating table.” Members of Congress have not seen the agreement yet. United States Senators “have been barred from seeing negotiation points or drafts.” The public has been denied any access to TPP negotiating texts. We the people—as well as our elected representatives—are being “kept in the dark” as to what is going on behind closed doors. Yet, “600 corporate advisers” have been involved in the negotiation process. Multi-national corporations like Monsanto and Walmart are helping to craft the agreement.
Most of the information that we have on the TPP trade agreement has come from “drafts leaked by participants dissatisfied with one provision or another.”
In May, Erika Eichelberger provided some information about TPP in her Mother Jones article titled The Biggest Secret Trade Deal You’ve Never Heard Of, Explained. She says that “trade experts” claim that trade deal negotiations are always conducted under a certain level of secrecy. This supposedly makes it “easier for countries to negotiate amongst themselves without too much noise from advocacy groups and others inside countries.” Bryan Riley, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said, “That is how trade deals have worked…if they are made public, all interested groups can start tearing things apart before it’s even done.”
Eichelberger argues that “there is precedent for releasing proposed trade deal information to the public.” She wrote: “A full draft text of the Free Trade Area of the Americas was released in 2001 during negotiations on that 34-nation pact; a draft text of the recently-completed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement was released; and the World Trade Organization posts negotiating texts on its website.”
David Brodwin, a cofounder and board member of American Sustainable Business Council, claims that TPP is not merely a trade pact because it would protect legacy industries from competition and would strip governments of the means to manage their own economies. Brodwin says that TPP has been “positioned” as a simple trade agreement that would “harmonize tariffs and other trade rules and promote trade among the countries involved.” He says, however, that the pact has been described by critics as a “stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny” and one that could “severely curtail government authority at all levels.”
Writing for The Nation, Lori Wallach said that TPP had been “cleverly misbranded” as a trade agreement by “its corporate boosters.” According to Wallach, that’s why “it has cruised along under the radar” since George W. Bush “initiated negotiations in 2008.” Although the Obama administration “paused the talks” for a while in order to develop an “approach compatible with candidate Obama’s pledges to replace the old NAFTA-based trade model,” the negotiations were restarted where Bush had left off by late 2009.
Wallach suggests we think of TPP “as a stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny.” She notes that just two of the twenty-six chapters of the pact cover traditional trade matters. She says the other chapters “embody the most florid dreams of the 1 percent—grandiose new rights and privileges for corporations and permanent constraints on government regulation.” She says TPP includes investor safeguards that would “ease job offshoring and assert control over natural resources”—and adds that it would “severely limit the regulation of financial services, land use, food safety, natural resources, energy, tobacco, healthcare and more.”
A Broad Range of Special Interest Giveaways
In his article titled Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal Is No Deal At All, Brodwin lists some of the “most problematic aspects of TPP”:
Many provisions of TPP have little to do with trade per se. They simply promote the interests of powerful global industry groups and use legal and political mechanisms to limit true competition in the market place. For example:
- Provisions of SOPA, the so-called “Stop Online Piracy Act” which was rejected last year by Congress. SOPA would give a competitive advantage to the film industry and other content-creators while restricting innovation on the internet.
- Provisions that would extend patent protection on pharmaceuticals while restricting governments from negotiating lower prices.
- Provisions that would privilege major banks and financial institutions over credit unions and the emerging sector of public banks.
- Provisions that would disadvantage organic farmers and others who adopt safer and more environmentally-sound agricultural practices.
- Provisions that would extend the dominance of coal and oil and hinder alternative energy producers, by blocking regulations and limiting deployment of smart grid and other infrastructure.
Brodwin added that the TPP pact would even prevent communities from making the decision about whether or not to allow fracking in their area. Some critics have referred to TPP as “NAFTA on steroids.”
Countries would be obliged to conform all their domestic laws and regulations to the TPP’s rules—in effect, a corporate coup d’état. The proposed pact would limit even how governments can spend their tax dollars. Buy America and other Buy Local procurement preferences that invest in the US economy would be banned, and “sweat-free,” human rights or environmental conditions on government contracts could be challenged. If the TPP comes to fruition, its retrograde rules could be altered only if all countries agreed, regardless of domestic election outcomes or changes in public opinion. And unlike much domestic legislation, the TPP would have no expiration date.
At a Senate banking Committee hearing in May, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) cautioned, “There are growing murmurs about Wall Street’s efforts to use the Trans-Pacific Partnership…as [a] vehicle…to water down the Dodd-Frank Act. In other words, trying to do quietly through trade agreements what they can’t get done in public view with the lights on and people watching.”
Countries that are signatories to the trade pact “will have to change their policies to conform to the agreement.” What does that mean? It would require a dismantling of “any regulations, safeguards or incentives” the countries had enacted “to support their economies and provide better lives for their citizens.” In fact, a system of tribunals would be established in order “to hold governments to account.” Corporations would be allowed to sue governments “to demand the relaxation of standards, and could claim damages from governments that failed to conform.”
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) said that the Trans-Pacific Partnership “represents an about-face by President Obama, who as a candidate pledged to replace the NAFTA model with a US trade policy that protected workers and the environment.” OWS notes that some members of the US Business Coalition for TPP—namely Microsft, Time Warner, and Walt Disney—were among top donors to Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign.
On Fast Tracking TPP & Secrecy
President Obama is seeking Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority for TPP. This would permit Obama to sign the trade agreement “without Congressional approval.” The signed agreement would then be sent to Congress to be “voted on after the fact under a special restricted procedure that forces a vote in 90 days, limits debate, and prevents Congress from responding to public pressure to amend the agreement’s most egregious anti-public interest provisions.” Zoë Carpenter says that allowing “fast-track” authorization, would limit the ability of Congress “to address three major concerns with the TPP: the potentially harmful economic impacts of the deal, the very real prospect of the agreement superseding domestic policy in areas ranging from internet privacy to environmental and financial regulations and an unbalanced negotiating process and its likely outcome, both tipped towards corporate rather than public interest.”
In her Mother Jones article, Eichelberger reported that the secrecy shrouding the TPP negotiations “has some lawmakers and advocacy groups up in arms.” She said that several members of Congress had called on the United States Trade Representative (USTR) requesting the release of the TPP draft agreement to the public, but to no avail. It seems time is running out for “non-corporate” interested parties to find out what is in the trade agreement before it’s signed by the twelve countries and goes into effect. It hasn’t even been made clear “whether members of Congress will ever be able to see the entire contents of the massive trade deal before it’s finalized.” It appears that the public—and maybe our elected representatives—will remain in the dark until after the Trans Pacific Partnership is a done deal.
Members of the U.S. Business Coalition for TPP
Dennis Kucinich on Trans-Pacific Partnership
How the TPP can rewrite US domestic laws
TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You’ve Probably Never Heard Of (EFF)
Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal Is No Deal At All (U.S.News)
AFL-CIO Campaigns Against Trans-Pacific Partnership (Firedoglake)
Multinationals Are Plotting to Steamroll What’s Left of Our Democracy to Make Huge Profits: We’ve got to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership that’s being drawn up in Washington before it becomes law. (AlterNet)
Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
Monsanto and Walmart Influence Secret TPP Negotiations (New American)
The Trans-Pacific Partnership: The Closed-Door Deal To Establish Corporate Power (Occupy Wall Street)
Keeping a Massive Trade Deal Out of the Fast Lane (The Nation)
The Biggest Secret Trade Deal You’ve Never Heard Of, Explained: The United States is nearing the end of negotiations on a massive free trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Here’s what it’s all about. (Mother Jones)