by Dianne Foster
By now many of you may know about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as TPP. Our Congress voted to “fast track” this deal with only an up or down vote, no amendments or debate, which could occur in the next 60 to 90 days. Despite active opposition by 2,000 civil societies ranging from Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO, Catholic and Presbyterian organizations, Doctors Without Borders, and the Democratic Party base, there has been scant media attention to this gravely flawed legislation.
(left to right) Ronna Loerch, a member of Occupy Bellingham, and Thomas Boucher, an aide for Rep. Rick Larsen, walk into Bellingham City Hall for the TPP Town Hall meeting on Nov. 13, 2015.
The “Save Our Sovereignty” Alliance of 11 local groups garnered almost 200 participants at a recent “Citizen Town Hall” to which Representatives Del Bene and Larsen sent aides. We wanted to make sure they heard us loud and clear that this 12-nation “free trade” agreement will benefit corporations at the expense of health, the environment, consumer protections, labor rights, and democracy.
Of the 29 chapters of Save Our Sovereignty Alliance, only five deal with traditional “trade” issues; the remainder affect “non-tariff barriers,” such as our right to food labeling, right to affordable life-saving medications, right to internet access and protection from predatory banking among others. The Intellectual Property chapter grants “evergreening” of extended patents to drug companies that inhibit cheaper generic medications. Extended copyrights to tech companies could send you to prison for “pirated” online materials. U.S. workers could be forced to compete with 65 cents an hour standard wages in Asia, while touted “labor standards” are only “suggestions.”
The TPP is not about trade, but about global governance.
Corporate Advisors Craft a Deal
The public needs to be aware that this is much more alarming than we even guessed from leaked chapters during the highly secretive negotiations. The text was written by 600 corporate “cleared advisors,” coordinated by the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who was paid $4 million to take this job, by former employer Citigroup.
According to Lori Wallach, Harvard Law School trade specialist and chair of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, this new agreement nullifies previous environmental standards achieved even during the Bush years, and most of those were unenforceable. The Investment chapter creates the ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) system that allows foreign corporations to sue our government for “lost profits” if they perceive our protective laws to be a barrier to their right to sell products in our country. TPP would open us up to 9,200 foreign firms newly empowered to use ISDS against the United States, and we now see the threat of a $15 billion lawsuit from Trans-Canada over the KXL pipeline ban.
According to Nobel-prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, “Under TPP, Polluters Could Sue U.S. for Setting Carbon Emissions Limits,” it will lift the ban on export of liquid natural gas, with no EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). The environment chapter tempts animal rights groups with vague protections for endangered species, yet there is nothing about enforcement mechanisms. (I was in a meeting in 2006 with Rep. Larsen when he assured us the Peru FTA (Free Trade Agreement) had enforceable standards for protection of rare timber, yet those timbers are gone; neither government lifted a finger to execute the law.)
Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade program and director Michael Brune issued a statement on the newly-released text: “We now have concrete evidence that the TPP threatens our families, our communities, and our environment. The words “climate change” don’t even appear in the text; it sets us back further, empowering fossil fuel corporations to challenge our public health and climate safeguards in unaccountable trade tribunals while increasing dirty fossil fuel exports and fracking. Protect families and the climate: NO TOXIC TRADE.”
Challenge to Food Laws
Make no mistake, this trade deal will bring us unsafe food from countries like Vietnam and Malaysia, outsource jobs to countries with $0.65 an hour minimum wage and trafficked labor, displace small family farms here and in partner countries. Food & Water Watch points out new language on border inspection that allows exporters to challenge those procedures. Vietnam and Malaysia are major exporters of seafood and shrimp, which is often stopped for safety reasons. With less regulation, we open ourselves to products that have been soaked in excrement, antibiotics added, and they can challenge our rules. We have already lost country-of-origin labelling through the WTO just this year. We can lose our freedoms little by little, without even knowing.
We could be forced to contract our government procurements to the cheapest bidder — can you imagine a Brunei company rebuilding the Deception Pass bridge? Think about getting what you pay for.
On a recent call with Family Farm Defenders executive director John Peck, he explained how local farmers are often used as pawns to push through these types of “trade” deals, as if they might benefit from the export markets. The reality is that local farmers are displaced by corporate agribusiness as global commodity markets drive down prices, i.e., Chicago mercantile traders skim profits, and family farms cannot compete.
Privatizing the Commons
In a Nov. 6, 2015, Truthdig.com article, journalist Chris Hedges said that when speaking with Ralph Nader by phone in Washington, D.C., Nader said: “The TPP, along with the WTO [World Trade Organization] and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], is the most brazen corporate power grab in American history.” The ultimate goal of “free trade” agreements is privatization of our public commons. The Post Office, Social Security, nonprofit banking, schools, and public lands are on the chopping block. Democracy itself is the price. Massive income inequality and environmental degradation are the inevitable outcome. It is the dystopian opposite of worker cooperatives and localized economies.
A defining characteristic of third world economies is that they export raw materials, and submit their citizens to slave labor conditions which forces them to consume cheap goods; is that where we are headed?
A truly fair trade agreement would be crafted by all stakeholders, i.e., our own delegated representatives, to decide which countries to trade with, and why. This is what is needed. But first we must have a massive public outcry to stop this treaty; Congress needs to hear from you. The President is expected to sign off on the treaty February 4, 2016; there will be a day of international actions.
Inform yourself by going to Occupy Bellingham website at http://www.occupybellinghamwa.org, which contains links to the fair trade organizations mentioned here. Keep calling and writing your members of Congress. Though our main fight is in the U.S. House, don’t overlook the Senate, as Senators Murray and Cantwell voted to “fast track.”