This post first appeared at Campaign for America’s Future.
Basic facts about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are under public dispute. Fast track must not be approved until this is cleared up. We the People deserve to know what is being voted on with fast track.
There is a big public dispute between President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren over certain facts about the TPP. This dispute is hardly only between the president and Warren, it is about the effect TPP could have on all of our lives. This dispute is mainly over (but not limited to):
- Whether the agreement gives corporations certain powers that could let them overrule the laws and regulations of the US and other governments.
- Whether the agreement could undermine our Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms.
- Whether the agreement has clearly enforceable “progressive” labor and environmental provisions.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Senator Elizabeth Warren and others warn that TPP has Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that set up “corporate courts” in which corporations can sue government, and that can overrule US laws and regulations. More than 100 legal scholars recently wrote an open letter to Congress and the US Trade Representative (USTR) objecting to this and saying they need to “protect the rule of law and the nation’s sovereignty” in trade agreements like the TPP. The letter says, “ISDS threatens domestic sovereignty by empowering foreign corporations to bypass domestic court systems and privately enforce terms of a trade agreement. It weakens the rule of law by removing the procedural protections of the justice system and using an unaccountable, unreviewable system of adjudication.” (The scholars’ statement is available online and the letter itself is available at Alliance for Justice website.)
President Obama has responded, saying,
This is the notion that corporate America will be able to use this provision to eliminate our financial regulations and our food safety regulations and our consumer regulations. That’s just bunk. It’s not true. … Under these various ISDS provisions, the US has been sued a total of 17 times. Thirteen of those cases have been decided so far. We’ve won them all. They have no ability to undo US laws. They don’t have the ability to result in punitive damages.
The White House has assembled a web page to answer criticisms of ISDS.
Undermine Dodd-Frank Financial Reforms
On the ability to undermine Dodd-Frank financial reforms, Warren says, “fast track creates a procedural loophole that could be used to push major legislative changes to Dodd-Frank through Congress as part of that upcoming deal.”
The president has responded, “The notion that I had this massive fight with Wall Street to make sure that we don’t repeat what happened in 2007, 2008. And then I sign a provision that would unravel it? I’d have to be pretty stupid.”
Bloomberg News took a “fact check” look at this in “Why Obama Is Wrong and Warren Is Right on Trade Bill Quarrel.” The title states the conclusion.
Broken Promises On Enforcement
The president says the labor and environmental standards in TPP are “the most progressive in history.” (Which isn’t saying much, if you think about it.) Warren released a report Monday, “Broken Promises: Decades of Failure to Enforce Labor Standards in Free Trade Agreements,” that says, “… the history of these agreements betrays a harsh truth: that the actual enforcement of labor provisions of past US FTAs lags far behind the promises. This analysis by the staff of Sen. Warren reveals that despite decades of nearly identical promises, the United States repeatedly fails to enforce or adopts unenforceable labor standards in free trade agreements.”
This enforcement makes all the difference. As I wrote in the post “How TPP Increases Corporate Power vs. Government – And Us,” it isn’t just the words in an agreement that matter, it is the enforcement of that agreement. Corporations have written the special ISDS enforcement channel into TPP to make sure their concerns get address and on their terms. The corporate negotiators also made sure that labor and environmental concerns do not get an enforcement channel. “Corporations get a special channel of their own for enforcement of rules written by their representatives at the negotiating table. Labor, environment and other stakeholders don’t get that in TPP. This is how TPP will increase corporate power over governments and working people.”
The Solution: Let The Pubic See The Agreement And Decide
There is, of course, an easy way to settle disputes about what is in the TPP and what its consequences might be: let We the People see the text of the agreement and we can decide for ourselves.
The president says that we can’t see the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership because it is still being negotiated. He says other countries will not “make their best offers” if the people in their countries can see what they are offering.
I’m not sure that it is the job of the United States to help other countries hide things from their own citizens, but OK, then how about letting us see the parts that are not still being negotiated?
Surely allowing We the People to read and analyze the “settled” provisions cannot cause other countries to hold back offers in the unsettled provisions.
Show Us the Current ISDS
The ISDS provisions of TPP leaked to Wikileaks and the New York Times earlier this year. What leaked clearly shows that corporations will be able to overrule US laws and regulations.
So maybe the ISDS provisions have changed. Let We the People see the current ISDS provisions that the president says will not do this. The previously leaked provisions say they will, so they must have changed. But we can’t know until we see the text.
Show Us Labor And Environmental Provisions
The president says that there “are,” not “will be,” very good labor and environmental standards in TPP. In other words, this part is not being negotiated; it is completed.
So let us see the labor and environmental provisions so we can see for ourselves how “progressive” they really are and how “progressive” the enforcement mechanisms are.
Public Only Now Hearing About TPP
President Obama is selling TPP as rewriting the rules of doing business in the 21st century. But the nation’s “corporate” news media has (until very recently) largely been silent on this massive trade agreement. The big network broadcast news shows have maintained what can only be called a blackout of information on the TPP.
The dispute is finally forcing the news media to begin reporting that the TPP is coming. Right now many in the public are hearing for the first time that there is a massive trade deal before Congress. This is occurring while Congress is already voting on fast track, which essentially preapproves this deal. This is not a great record for an industry whose function is supposed to be providing the citizens with the information they need to make the important decisions about the direction of our country.
Damage Done By Past Agreements
Maybe TPP will turn out to be the best thing that ever came along for our working people and for the people who are exploited in countries like Vietnam. Maybe it will require a good minimum wage that lets Vietnamese workers buy things we make here, and will let them organize unions. Maybe it will require balanced trade instead of petting other countries sell to us without buying from us – not something you can really call “trade.”
But the “trade” agreements our country has entered into so far have not been good for working people here or elsewhere. They have allowed companies to move production away from our unions, and our wage and worker safety rules, and bring the same goods back here to sell in the same outlets. They have not been good for the environment, allowing corporations to move production away from our environmental rules and bring the same goods back here to sell in the same outlets. They have not been good for our country’s economy, resulting in enormous, humongous trade deficits that drain jobs, wages and our future. They were negotiated using a rigged corporate-dominated process that resulted in lower wages paid by corporations, and enabled them to move factories and jobs across borders to escape environmental, wage and safety laws. The result has been devastation of entire regions while a few billionaires and corporate/Wall Street executives are massively enriched.
So excuse We the People for being suspicious when yet another corporate-dominated trade agreement comes along, supported by the usual suspects: Wall Street, the Chamber of Commerce, industry lobbyists and Republicans; opposed by all of organized labor, all progressives, literally thousands of public interest groups and those Democrats not expecting to get lucrative lobbying jobs once they are out of office.
Our Nation’s Values
The president says that TPP is about rewriting the rules of doing business for the 21st century. He says it is crucial to “get it right.” In a letter emailed to Organizing for America supporters, the president wrote,
Right now, we have an opportunity to set the most progressive trade agreement in our nation’s history — with enforceable labor and environmental protections we simply can’t count on other nations to pursue.
Here’s why this means so much to me: I want to make sure that any deal we reach reflects our nation’s values, in a way that hasn’t always been true in the past. That’s why I’ve said I’ll refuse to sign any agreement that doesn’t put American workers first.
One of “our nation’s values” is supposed to be that We the People are part of the process. Congress is currently in the voting process for fast track. But the public has no idea what is in the TPP, and little idea that this huge trade agreement, “rewriting the rules of doing business in the 21st century” is even being finalized!
Let us – We, the People – see the agreement before Congress decides whether to essentially preapprove it by voting on fast track. At least let us see the parts that are completed, and give us good reasons why we can’t see the rest.