Who Can You Trust on Fast Track and TPP?

Rick North Facebook

As much as I support Obama on social and several other issues, I can’t ignore his recent statements on trade, where he’s become the Pretender-in-Chief.

As the debate on the Fast Track bill to facilitate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continues in Congress, it’s understandable if you’re feeling confused.

President Obama and Elizabeth Warren, typically allies, are at each other’s throats. Ron Wyden and Earl Blumenauer are pro-Fast Track/TPP, Jeff Merkley and Peter DeFazio are against. Obama insists TPP will create jobs while unions say sorry, we’ve heard that one before.

Who can you trust?

As much as I support Obama on social and several other issues, I can’t ignore his recent statements on trade, where he’s become the Pretender-in-Chief. When he spoke last week at Nike, he asserted: “Critics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation -- food safety, worker safety, even financial regulations. They're making this stuff up.”

Well, actually, Mr. President, they’re not.

As I pointed out in an earlier column, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) tribunals allow corporations to challenge any state or national laws – environmental, labor, safety, health, consumer information and financial - that could diminish their profits. They’re a direct corporate assault on our democracy and sovereignty. This private system by-passing our courts is TPP’s most serious threat, outweighing any possible benefits.

For instance, DeFazio has introduced a financial transaction tax that could produce billions of dollars and slow down speculation by investment companies that helped unleash our recent financial crisis. Advisors in DeFazio’s office informed me that “Unless they specifically exempt financial transaction taxes, yes, they could be attacked under the TPP. It’s no secret that it’s problematic.”

DeFazio also uncovered what he calls the “Monsanto Provision” embedded in the Fast Track bill. It’s an objective requiring U.S. negotiators to oppose labeling genetically engineered (GMO) food and would also cover the upcoming Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (also known as TTIP). This would threaten future GMO labeling in the U.S. and existing labeling in Pacific Rim countries and the European Union.

Obama also characterized TPP critics numerous times as those simply opposing all trade: “Some folks think we should just withdraw and not even try to engage in trade with these countries. I disagree . . . So the fact is, some folks are just opposed to trade deals out of principle, a reflexive principle . . . The lesson is not that we pull up the drawbridge and build a moat around ourselves.”

Who are these moat-builders? As far as I can tell, they don’t exist.

Leading groups and individuals opposing Fast Track/TPP include Public Citizen, Citizens Trade Campaign, Common Cause, Center for Economic and Policy Research, virtually every major labor, environmental and consumer organization, and economists like Robert Reich and Joseph Stiglitz. I challenge anyone to find anything indicating they want to cut off trade altogether. Obama is employing classic straw man misdirection, putting out a false argument and then countering his own phantom statements.

On inclusiveness, here’s what Candidate Obama said in 2007 (17:45 on the video): “The problem that we’ve had is that corporate lobbyists are oftentimes involved in negotiating these trade agreements but the AFL-CIO hasn’t been involved and ordinary working people haven’t been involved.”

Unfortunately, President Obama set up secret negotiations for the TPP dominated by those same corporate lobbyists. And while he consulted labor more than George Bush did (a pretty low bar), he relegated the AFL-CIO, other unions and public interest groups to the sidelines. According to the AFL-CIO, ”Labor advisers are allowed to review and advise on draft U.S. proposals . . . But we are locked out of the negotiating room and cannot see the actual negotiating texts . . . it was becoming clear that labor's discussions with trade negotiators were not making the TPP a more progressive trade deal.”

Moreover, based on his (in)actions so far, the unions aren’t buying Obama’s pledge to strictly enforce labor and environmental regulations. Neither is Public Citizen: “President Bush’s 2009 Peru trade deal included the labor and environmental terms that now are in the TPP, but last year Peru rolled back its labor and environmental laws and the trade deal made no difference, even when a Democratic president was in charge of enforcing it.” It’s commendable to have strong regulations, but they don’t mean much if you’re not walking the talk.

Is there any doubt who’s really “making stuff up?”

Coincidentally, Bill Moyers, one of the most trusted journalists in the country, was speaking at a World Affairs Council event a few blocks away from Obama. His thoughts on TPP (1:21:15 on the video): ” I’ve talked to people who have seen some of the provisions . . . I don’t trust it because it’s been done in secret, I don’t trust it because of Fast Track . . . and I don’t trust it because it doesn’t pass the smell test.”

No, unfortunately it doesn’t.

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