USTR Promises Congress TPP Will Have Strong Environmental Protections; Then Immediately Denies Saying That

Back in January, you may recall that Wikileaks helped leak out the TPP’s environmental chapter. It showed fairly weak efforts to protect the environment, many of which appeared to be there more for show than anything else. While it did reveal that the US had been negotiating for greater environmental protections, it also revealed that it was somewhat alone in that position, leading many to believe that any final agreement is likely to be even weaker than what’s currently in the chapter. In response to this, the USTR put out what appeared to be a fairly strong statement that it won’t accept weak environmental protections in the TPP.

However, over at Huffington Post, Zach Carter notes that USTR Michael Froman isn’t convincing anyone in Congress, because he’s doing what he’s always done best: talking out of both sides of his mouth, first promising strong environmental protections, then denying he ever said any such thing:

“Ambassador Froman was asked on I think it was four different areas, and each time he said it was absolutely non-negotiable from a U.S. standpoint,” [Rep. Mark] Pocan told The Huffington Post. “So then at the end, I listed those four areas to make sure I had the U.S. position right. And he said again it was non-negotiable. And then right after that, Lloyd Doggett got up and said, ‘So does that mean that if we give you fast track, you won’t send us a deal that doesn’t have that stuff in it?’ And right off the bat, the answer was, ‘I didn’t say that.’ And to me, non-negotiable is, you know, non-negotiable.”

And, of course, one of those four key areas was strong environmental protections.

“Froman said we’re not gonna sign it unless there’s an enforceable environmental chapter,” another attendee told HuffPost. “And Doggett says, ‘What does that mean? … If we give you fast track, you’re not gonna come back with a deal that doesn’t have an enforceable environmental chapter?’ Then Froman says very emphatically, ‘I can’t speak for the president. All I can tell you is we’re working as hard as we can to get an enforceable chapter in there.’”

Except that, as USTR, it’s kind of Froman’s job to speak for the President on this issue.

But, even more to the point is that this highlights (yet again) how the USTR is flat out lying about fast track (also known as “trade promotion authority”). As we’ve pointed out, Fast Track gets Congress to abdicate its (Constitutionally-granted) powers to regulate international commerce, by denying it the ability to actually explore what’s in these agreements. Instead, fast track more or less gives the USTR a form of “pre-approval” to come back with a final agreement, such that Congress can only give the total thing a yes or no vote.

The USTR has attempted, ridiculously, to mischaracterize fast track authority as the opposite, pretending that it allows Congress to set the parameters for what the USTR must negotiate. Yet, here it’s pretty damn obvious that’s not the case at all. These members of Congress are asking about environmental protections, and are being told its “non-negotiable” — suggesting that the USTR understands Congress’ intent here. Yet, when pressed specifically on whether, if given fast track, he is guaranteeing those proposals will be in the final TPP, Froman immediately pretends he said no such thing.

And while some may argue he can’t promise that because he’s only one of many parties involved in the negotiation, that very point highlights why fast track authority is totally inappropriate. Congress can’t give up its sole authority in regulating international trade, based on a weak promise from the administration that it will try its best to get them what they want.