As opponents and advocates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continue to battle it out, the debate over the agreement has largely focused on the issue of trade – whether jobs will be lost or gained, what the agreement will do to our trade deficit, and other related matters. It’s worth pointing out that the United States already trades heavily with the other 11 nations included in the TPP talks. As Paul Krugman says, “this is not a trade agreement. It’s about intellectual property and dispute settlement; the big beneficiaries are likely to be pharma companies and firms that want to sue governments.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has been particularly critical of the so-called Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions, which would empower corporations to use international courts to sue the U.S. government and others who are enacting regulations and protections that harm their profits.
It is not often that members of Congress get the opportunity to weigh in on international trade. But negotiations over fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in recent months have given elected representatives the chance to voice their opinions on how the government should engage with other countries financially. For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released a report this week highlighting various promises that presidents have made over the years as they touted the labor benefits of so-called free-trade pacts like NAFTA, and pointing out how they fell flat in living up to those promises. But Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (a Vermont independent who is a presidential candidate) are among a tiny handful of lawmakers who are openly skeptical of the TPP. The battle lines over the secretive multilateral trade pact pit Warren and Sanders against President Obama, as well as most Republicans and Democrats.
President Barack Obama’s trade agenda suffered a setback Friday evening during a series of last-minute maneuvers in the Senate. While the upper chamber eventually passed a bill that would help Obama streamline a trade pact with 11 Pacific nations, the final product threw a wrench into the president’s plans. The Senate approved a bill to “fast-track” trade agreements negotiated by the president. The agreement will prevent Congress from amending or filibustering Obama’s controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The TPP deal would have a hard time surviving without fast-track authority. But a key crackdown on human trafficking survived the legislative jujitsu. The White House considers the provision a deal-breaker, as it would force one of the nations involved in the TPP talks — Malaysia — out of the agreement.
On Thursday, despite the cold and rain in Washington D.C., people took to the streets to protest Fast Track for rigged corporate trade deals like the nearly complete Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The protest began with a march around the House Office Buildings on Capitol Hill. They chanted for democracy and played bucket drums capturing the attention of house members and staff who peered out their windows. Kathryn Johnson of Public Citizen spoke about the recent Senate cloture vote which will cut off debate on the Senate floor after only 30 hours. This means that Fast Track for secret trade deals will be Fast Tracked and the more than 150 proposed amendments will not be heard. The protest, organized by Popular Resistance, Beyond Extreme Energy, and others, was also part of a 9 day action period in Washington that is being organized by Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE).
Once the Senate approves fast track trade negotiating authority for Obama, which could happen as early as this week, the battle will move to the House, where it expected to unleash a major lobbying battle. On the one side, a president who is more engaged in legislative trench warfare than he has been in a long time over legislation that would give him authority to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “This is personal for him,” Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, a member of the Democratic House leadership, told Bloomberg reporters and editors. On the other: a coalition of opponents that is far more diverse than the one that tried unsuccessfully to torpedo Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, the first of several trade pacts struck since the 1990s that critics say have cost U.S. jobs and depressed wages.
New disturbing information has surfaced that the House Republicans’ trade adjustment assistance bill, which supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, contains a Medicare poison pill. The bill includes $700 million in Medicare cuts at the end of a 10-year budget period to cover the cost of trade adjustment assistance for displaced workers, Americans who will lose their jobs because of lower cost imports. Please let members of Congress know that they should not support the bill in its current form. Covering the cost of assistance for displaced workers is important. But, in the words of several groups representing older Americans, including the Medicare Rights Center and The Alliance for Retired Americans, “Medicare should not be used as a piggy bank every time the government needs funding for other purposes.”
I can tell you that Elizabeth Warren is right about her criticism of the trade deal. We should be very concerned about what’s hidden in this trade deal—and particularly how the Obama administration is keeping information secret even from those of us who are supposed to provide advice. So-called “cleared advisors” like me are prohibited from sharing publicly the criticisms we’ve lodged about specific proposals and approaches. The government has created a perfect Catch 22: The law prohibits us from talking about the specifics of what we’ve seen, allowing the president to criticize us for not being specific. Instead of simply admitting that he disagrees with me—and with many other cleared advisors—about the merits of the TPP, the president instead pretends that our specific, pointed criticisms don’t exist.
In a joint letter to Congress released today, more than 250 technology companies and user rights organizations say that the extreme level of secrecy surrounding trade negotiations have led to provisions in agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that threaten digital innovation, free speech, and access to knowledge online, and the letter calls on Congress to come out against the Fast Track (AKA Trade Promotion Authority [TPA]) bill for legitimizing this secretive process. Its signatories include AVG Technologies, DreamHost, Namecheap, Mediafire, Imgur, Internet Archive, BoingBoing, Piwik, Private Internet Access, and many others. The letter specifically identifies the TPP’s threats based on leaked texts of the agreement—how it threatens fair use, could lead to more costly forms of online copyright enforcement, criminalize whistleblowing and investigative journalism, and create investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) courts that would further jeopardize user protections in domestic laws. The Fast Track bill, the companies write, would legitimize the exclusive process that has led to these and other provisions, as well as undermine lawmakers’ efforts towards striking the right balance between the interests of copyright holders and those of innovators and users.
The Senate will soon vote on the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 – also known as “Fast Track.” President Obama has requested Fast Track authority from Congress to ease the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade agreement with 12 countries that account for nearly 40% of the global economy. President Obama has repeatedly stated that the TPP is “the most progressive trade bill in history” because it has high labor, environmental, and human rights standards. The President claims the TPP will have “higher labor standards, higher environmental standards,” and “new tools to hold countries accountable.” But proponents of almost every free trade agreement (FTA) in the last 20 years have made virtually identical claims. The TPP is being hailed as the strongest free trade agreement yet. But this is not the first time this claim has been made. Proponents of previous trade agreements have made similar claims about every free trade agreement signed in the last 20 years, from the NAFTA agreement in 1993 to the more recent agreements with Colombia and Panama. By now, we have two decades of experience with free trade agreements under both Democratic and Republican Presidents. Supporters of these agreements have always promised that they contain tough standards to protect workers. But this analysis reveals that the rhetoric has not matched the reality.
The United States and the world are engaged in a great debate about new trade agreements. Such pacts used to be called “free-trade agreements”; in fact, they were managed trade agreements, tailored to corporate interests, largely in the US and the European Union. Today, such deals are more often referred to as “partnerships,”as in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But they are not partnerships of equals: the US effectively dictates the terms. Fortunately, America’s “partners” are becoming increasingly resistant. It is not hard to see why. These agreements go well beyond trade, governing investment and intellectual property as well, imposing fundamental changes to countries’ legal, judicial, and regulatory frameworks, without input or accountability through democratic institutions. Perhaps the most invidious – and most dishonest – part of such agreements concerns investor protection. Of course, investors have to be protected against the risk that rogue governments will seize their property. But that is not what these provisions are about.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is one of the few members of Congress who has taken the time to jump through the hoops and read the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But, he has gone a step farther than other members – he told members of Congress what he read. He told the truth about what the TPP says and why Congress should oppose it in a five page letter to his colleagues. Sessions’ action flies in the face of the threats made by the US Trade Representative to prosecute elected officials who tell people what is in the trade agreement. Others should follow his example and get out the truth about the TPP. The debate in the Senate begins on Tuesday, May 19. This is an opportunity for Senators to tell their colleagues the truth about what is in the TPP. Sessions’ “Dear Colleague” letter was leaked and reported in Breitbart. Senators from both parties may want to take a similar approach. Even better, during the debate on the Senate floor there will be an opportunity for amendments that expose problems with the TPP. Senators can tell their colleagues and, through C-SPAN, their constituents the truth about what is in the TPP.
Masahiko Yamada, 73, a lawyer and minister in 2010 in the then Democratic Party of Japan government, filed the lawsuit at Tokyo District Court on Friday on behalf of more than 1,000 plaintiffs, seeking to prevent Japan from joining the Trans- Pacific Partnership, he said by phone. The litigation is another twist in efforts by Japan and the U.S., the top economies among TPP members, to expedite talks on the agreement covering about 40 percent of the world’s commerce. The accord would deepen Japan’s dependence on farm imports and threaten its food security, said Yamada. The nation, which relies on imports for about 60 percent of its food, has cut its self-sufficiency target as the government expands trade deals.
This isn’t as much a diary as a few questions to start a discussion. Supposing the TPP gets rammed through and American states, counties and cities lose some of their autonomy to the ‘Star Chamber’ of multinationals. I suspect they won’t like it – and their constituents won’t like it. 0) Can state and local governments practice ‘civil disobedience’ to protest an unjust law? 1) Could a state use this as a basis to secede from the United States since it will be placing the State under ‘foreign rule’ with no way to petition this ‘shadow gov’t’? 2) Could a city or state just ignore the ruling of this ‘court’? I mean, how much power does that court have? Who enforces it? What could they do if a state said “Try to stop us from prohibiting the sale of those products and good luck collecting your settlement from us.”