Saturday, April 25, 2015

Editorial: Just Say No to Fast Track

President Obama is pushing fast-track approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would restrict the government’s ability to regulate multinational corporations in their pursuit of profits in the name of harmonizing trade. Democrats should say, “Mr. President, with all due respect, no.”
Democratic leaders, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Harry Reid (Nev.), as well as Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and most organized labor and environmental leaders have raised concerns about the deal that is being finalized with 11 other Pacific countries. They fear the deal could worsen income inequality and allow private companies to challenge domestic regulations before an international tribunal. Those challenges, critics argue, could undermine key financial, environmental and other regulations.

More than 150 Democrats in the House have signed a letter to the White House circulated by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and George Miller (D-Calif.) opposing the use of “fast track” procedures to usurp Congress’ authority over trade matters.

President Obama on Feb. 21 singled out Warren as wrong. “I love Elizabeth. We’re allies on a whole host of issues, but she’s wrong on this,” he told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. He said progressives should “Wait and see what we actually have in this deal before you make the judgement.”

Warren replied, via email, “Have you seen what’s in the new TPP trade deal? Most likely, you haven’t – and don’t bother trying to Google it. The government doesn’t want you to read this massive new trade agreement. It’s top secret. Why? Here’s the real answer people have given me: ‘We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it.’”

The Office of US Trade Representative has said the deal would not undermine bank regulations, and Obama’s team may have gotten concessions on health and labor standards, but, as Sam Levine of noted, it’s difficult to know exactly what the deal contains because Obama’s administration has deemed the negotiations to be classified. Members of Congress may review drafts of the deal only in a secure room and may not make copies.

Organized labor, which has not been a party to the talks, has been adamantly opposed to more “free trade” deals. “At a time when workers all over the country are standing up for higher wages, Congress is considering legislation that will speed through corporate-driven trade deals,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. “For decades, we’ve seen how fast-tracked trade deals devastated our communities through lost jobs and eroded public services. We can’t afford another bad deal that lowers wages and outsources jobs.”

Sen. Brown said, “There’s too much at stake for Congress to be rushing through a bill that would allow more NAFTA-style trade deals. Our manufacturing sector has lost more than 5 million jobs since 1994. While we’ve seen an impressive recovery, the more than 629,000 Ohio jobs tied to the auto industry could be at risk if our trade deals don’t protect against competitors that cheat trade law or manipulate currency. Rushing a trade package through Congress without a healthy debate is not only reckless, but it’s a betrayal to middle class and working families in Ohio.”

Trade promotion authority, also known as “Fast Track,” originally was conceived in the 1970s as a means for Congress to authorize and set guidelines for the negotiations before the talks start. The US entered TPP negotiations in February 2008 during the George W. Bush administration, and the talks picked up steam after Obama was inaugurated and the deal is now being finalized.

The bill before the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees requires the president to notify Congress of the deal’s completion 90 days before he intends to sign it. But the full agreement would have to be made public for 60 days before the president could send it to Congress and Congress would not begin considering it for 30 days after that. So Congress probably would not consider the TPP until at least October, as the presidential primary debates are just heating up.

But Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said the Trade Promotion Authority bill also would extend Fast Track procedures for up to six years. It would delegate away Congress’ constitutional trade authority, even after the Obama administration dismissed bipartisan and bicameral demands that the TPP include enforceable currency manipulation disciplines. The trade authority proposal would not require negotiators to actually meet Congress’ negotiating objectives in order to obtain the Fast Track privileges, making the bill’s negotiating objectives entirely unenforceable.

“Congress is being asked to delegate away its constitutional trade authority over the TPP, even after the administration ignored bicameral, bipartisan demands about the agreement’s terms, and then also grant blank-check authority to whomever may be the next president for any agreements he or she may pursue,” Wallach said. “Rather than putting Congress in the driver’s seat on trade, this bill is just the same old Fast Track that puts Congress in the trunk in handcuffs. I expect that Congress will say no to it.”

The bill comes despite broad and growing opposition to Fast Track and the TPP, Wallach said. A 2015 bipartisan poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News shows that 75% of Americans think that the TPP should be rejected or delayed. In recent weeks, voters in Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, Colorado and other states protested against Fast Track, citing the devastating impact past Fast Tracked pacts have had on local jobs, small businesses and farmers. Recent data show that similar trade deals have already pushed the United States to the precipice of a historic $1 trillion trade deficit, contributed to the loss of 5 million American manufacturing jobs and increased US income inequality.

Public Citizen noted at that the deal isn’t even mainly about trade. “Of TTP’s 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. One chapter would provide incentives to offshore jobs to low-wage countries. Many would impose limits on government policies that we rely on in our daily lives for safe food, a clean environment, and more. Our domestic federal, state and local policies would be required to comply with TPP rules.

“The TPP would even elevate individual foreign firms to equal status with sovereign nations, empowering them to privately enforce new rights and privileges, provided by the pact, by dragging governments to foreign tribunals to challenge public interest policies that they claim frustrate their expectations. The tribunals would be authorized to order taxpayer compensation to the foreign corporations for the ‘expected future profits’ they surmise would be inhibited by the challenged policies.”

And we only know about the TPP’s threats thanks to leaks – the public is not allowed to see the official draft. Neither Public Citizen nor other public advocates have been allowed to monitor the talks. “Even members of Congress, after being denied the text for years, are now only provided limited access. Meanwhile, more than 500 official corporate ‘trade advisors’ have special access. The TPP has been under negotiation for six years, and the Obama administration wants to sign the deal this year.”

Our suspicions are raised when Republicans, who normally wouldn’t agree with Obama on the time of day, and have delayed the confirmation of his highly qualified attorney general nominee for five months, now are willing to grant the President Fast Track review of the trade deal that Obama’s people have struck behind closed doors. If that isn’t a sign that the fix is in for the Powers That Shall Not Be Named, we don’t know what it is.

As we have said before, if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a good deal, it should go through the normal legislative process as a treaty, which requires consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Trade deals modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement have proven disastrous for Main Street manufacturers and workers. Maybe this is the one that will turn global trade around to work for us. But we’re still doubters. Say no to Fast Track. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2015

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