With the attention of the entire nation focused on the legalization of gay marriage and the demonization of the Confederate battle flag, President Obama quietly courted Congress into giving him authority to expedite a historical free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade agreement between twelve Pacific Rim countries, proposed to “enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, to promote innovation, economic growth and development, and to support the creation and retention of jobs.” In short, the TPP plans to eliminate tariffs on goods and services, lower trader barriers, and synchronize regulations between countries.
The TPP began as a trade agreement between Brunei, Chile, Singapore, and New Zealand back in 2006, slowly growing as more countries joined in, becoming the gigantic trade deal that stands before us today. Due to the secrecy of the negotiations, many aren’t even aware that the deal itself is taking place let alone the actual content of the agreement.
The little information we do know is thanks to leaked drafts of the agreement on behalf of Wikileaks. Though President Obama has touted the TPP as good for our economy and our nation’s future, the leaked documents do not reaffirm the bright and prosperous picture that he’s trying to pitch to American citizens and Congresspeople. Rather, they paint a dystopian world in which the power and influence of multinational corporations supersede that of nations.
One of the provisions of the TPP that has caused controversy is a clause dealing with Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). The clause would give companies the legal right to challenge laws passed by democratically-elected governments that might affect their future profits and seek damages if they win. The damages won by the company would then have to be paid out of the country’s treasury, essentially paying these corporations with our tax money. With this provision, corporations operating outside of the country would never even have to step foot inside a US courtroom during the litigation process, as it would be handled by a supranational tribunal. The tribunal would be ran not by independent, impartial judges, but rather by corporate lawyers that represent the very same corporations that are seeking damages. I guess “conflict-of-interest” is not a phrase in the tribunal’s vocabulary.
On June 10, 2015, Wikileaks leaked the Healthcare Annex of the ironically named “Transparency” chapter of the TPP, the latest in the series of leaked cables. The document revealed that pharmaceutical companies will also be able to take advantage of the aforementioned ISDS clause and challenge nations’ laws that have a potential to damage their future profits. Policy analysts predict that this was in order to cripple New Zealand’s extensive public healthcare program, thus discouraging developing countries from adopting a similar system. The draft Healthcare Annex prevents Congress from being able to reform Medicare too much.
Other than the fact that the TPP undermines our country’s sovereignty, why should one care that these negotiations are taking place? After all, isn’t making trade deals with other countries part of the job of our elected officials? Nothing out of the ordinary, right? However, as our grammatically-incorrect title suggests, the TPP affects nearly all citizens of the participating countries. Some experts warn that the passage of this bill will end in disaster for the US economy, much like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). They point to the United States’ $181 billion trade deficit with Mexico and Canada as well as the estimated 1 million American jobs that were lost because of NAFTA as a sign that the TPP should be stopped by all means.
President Obama and supporters of the TPP claim that passage of this bill would be good for the United States, but if it’s anything like previous deals, we actually stand to lose American jobs. Leaked drafts of the deal have shown that great privileges would be given to corporations that decide to relocate abroad. The corporations that do relocate abroad would benefit from greater freedom from the host countrys’ regulations, less regulation on business practices, and being able to pay workers lower wages. This entices companies to ship manufacturing jobs from the United States to East Asian countries such as Vietnam, where their minimum wage is only 74 cents an hour. Instead of creating jobs at home, the TPP would ship American jobs abroad to countries with terrible human rights records and poor working conditions.
President Obama urged Congress to give him permission to “fast-track” the bill, which would give him complete autonomy to hammer out the details of the TPP. With a rare show of support from Senate Republicans, President Obama defeated the Democrats’ opposition and won complete control over negotiations. However, if the trade agreement does not meet the environmental, labor, and human rights standards set forth by Congress, a 60-vote majority in the Senate could open up deal to changes.
The level of secrecy at which these negotiations are taking place in itself should be enough to make the American people suspicious of what their president is trying to pass behind their collective backs, but apparently it wasn’t enough. It is worrisome that this trade agreement affects 40% of the world’s economy and millions of workers throughout the Pacific Rim, yet our leaders refuse to give us the complete details or even a vague outline. Instead, we have to rely on the whistle-blowing skills of Wikileaks to learn the harsh reality that this trade deal will create.
Although President Obama promised that his administration would be the “most transparent” ever, he has failed to uphold that promise when it comes to trade deals such as the TPP. I understand that some of the details of the deal must not be disclosed on grounds of national security, or in order to give our country leverage when it comes to the negotiations. But to keep the public completely blind as to what the deal entails is just plain wrong. By keeping the workers affected by this deal oblivious to the negotiations goes to show that the TPP does not represent the interests of American workers. Rather, it represents the interests of the select few who have access to the negotiation information.
President Obama might have gotten the authority to be the sole negotiator on the TPP, but the war is not over yet. Disagreements between individual countries on different matters have stalled negotiations, destroying any hope for the quick-and-easy passage President Obama wanted. With the Canadian election occurring this October and with our own election less than a year-and-a-half away, it looks like the TPP could possibly be delayed for another year or two. So now is our time to act. Don’t wait until this issue arises once more in a few months; write or Tweet to your Congressperson and tell them that you oppose the TPP and that it will be a disaster for the US economy. Instead of thinking “I’m just one person, what difference am I going to make,” start thinking about ways of spreading awareness about the TPP and the possible damage it could do to our nation’s future. (If you need a starting point on what to say, I highly recommend reading Senator Bernie Sanders’ petition to stop the TPP). They say that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Let’s avoid the mistakes we made with NAFTA and take down the TPP.