The Trans-Pacific Partnership - "NAFTA on Steroids"

Rick North Facebook

"Make no mistake – TPP is a corporate assault on national sovereignty itself."

We don’t know everything about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but we sure know this: the “Trans” isn’t short for “transparent.”

The TPP is a so-called free trade agreement (most of it isn’t about trade and it’s anything but free) being negotiated behind closed doors between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations. Out of the 29 chapters in the draft, only five deal directly with trade. We can expect the others to mainly enhance profits of multi-national corporations in additional ways.

There are only about 600 Americans who know the specifics of the draft, top-heavy with representatives of corporations like Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Cargill and DuPont, and trade associations, such as the American Petroleum Institute, American Soybean Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They’re all sworn to secrecy, although I’m sure no one had to twist their arms to keep what they’re doing from the public. Congress is shut out of the process, despite its power under the Constitution “to regulate commerce with foreign nations.” Members of Congress even have to get special permission to view the draft language, and can’t copy any of it or tell anyone what they’ve seen, including their staff.

President Obama will be asking Congress for “Fast Track” authority to pass the TPP. As Jim Hightower quipped, Fast Track “suggests a railroad job.” In this scheme, Obama would sign the TPP first, write a bill that would implement it, then send it to Congress. Time for debate would be restricted and no changes allowed – only an up or down vote.

Essentially, Congress has been neutered. It’s not negotiating the TPP, it’s under a gag order and wouldn’t even be allowed to amend it. Bill Clinton used Fast Track to ram through NAFTA, but it expired in 2007. Obama wants it back.

The content, some of which has been leaked, is even worse than the process. As in NAFTA, corporations could sue nations or even states like Oregon or Washington for having laws that potentially could harm their profits. The lawsuits go to three-person tribunals typically made up of corporate lawyers, who would decide the case – without any transparency or chance for appeal. Lori Wallach of Public Citizen, a leading opponent of TPP, called this a “corporate kangaroo court” and emphasized, as others have, that TPP is “NAFTA on steroids.”

Make no mistake – TPP is a corporate assault on national sovereignty itself. Here are a few examples of how it could enable corporations to supersede governmental authority:

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Dean Baker asserted on a recent Bill Moyers show, that the TPP is being “negotiated by corporations for corporations. Any benefit it provides to the bulk of the population of this country is purely incidental.” Moyers shows a video clip of Obama criticizing NAFTA and the prevalence of corporate lobbyists negotiating trade agreements without input from ordinary citizens. On trade agreements, it seems President Obama has forgotten all about Candidate Obama.

Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, along with three quarters of House Democrats, have signed on to Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s (D-CT) letter explicitly opposing Fast Track. DeFazio has been a leading critic from early on. Earl Blumenauer has written his own letter to President Obama expressing concerns with Fast Track, although it’s not as strong as De Lauro’s, and doesn’t oppose the legitimacy of it. Suzanne Bonamici has signed on to Blumenauer’s. Greg Walden’s office was unaware of his position, but he has previously supported trade agreements.

On the Senate side, Ron Wyden, citing lack of transparency and consultation, said "I'm not interested in supporting legislation that effectively rubber-stamps a TPP agreement that hasn't even been finalized and presented to the Congress." I was unable to get an answer from the offices of Jeff Merkley on where he stood, even after repeated inquiries. In the past, Merkley has typically voted against trade agreements.

Former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk had basically said that it wasn’t possible to reveal draft provisions of TPP because Americans would be unhappy with them. As Senator Elizabeth Warren reasoned, “If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.” Amen to that.

(For more information, contact Public Citizen or Elizabeth Swager at the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign.)

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