Two years ago I wrote on these pages that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, was “not a household name,” and now the text is published. Our Congress voted to fast track this deal with only an up or down vote, which could occur in the next 60-90 days. In spite of 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, I worry there has been scant media attention to this gravely flawed legislation.
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, only five deal with traditional trade issues, the remainder affect non-trade barriers, such as our right to food labeling, extended patents to drug companies that inhibit cheaper generic medications, and extended copyrights that could jeopardize internet access. It is not about trade, but about global government.
This new agreement nullifies previous environmental standards achieved even during the Bush years.
Though this is actually a treaty, the moniker “trade agreement” was assigned to avoid the two-thirds Senate approval vote. 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 U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who was paid $4 million to take this job, by his 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 Investor-State Dispute System chapter 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. Trans-Pacific Partnership would open us up to 9,200 foreign firms newly empowered to use the disputer system against the U.S. 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 environmental impact statement. The environment chapter tempts animal rights groups with vague protections for endangered species, yet there is nothing about climate change or enforcement mechanisms. I was in a meeting in 2006 with Rep. Larsen when he assured us the Peru 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.
Make no mistake, this trade deal will bring us unsafe food from countries like Vietnam and Malaysia, outsource jobs to countries with 65 cents an hour minimum wage and trafficked slave labor, cancel food labeling, our right to know country-of-origin or chemical content in our imports, and displace small family farms both here and in partner countries. 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.
I was delighted to see the op-ed by Rich Appel defending local farms. On a recent call with Family Farm Defenders executive director John Peck, he explained how those 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, the Chicago mercantile traders skim the profits, and family farms can’t compete. New language on border inspection allows exporters to challenge border inspection procedures. Vietnam and Malaysia are major exporters of seafood and shrimp, which is often stopped for safety reasons. With liberalizing regulations, we open ourselves to products that have been soaked in excrement, then antibiotics added, and they can challenge our rules. We have already lost country-of-origin labeling through the World Trade Organization just this year. We can lose our freedoms little by little, without even knowing.
A truly fair trade agreement would be crafted by all stakeholders, including our own delegated representatives, to decide which countries to trade with, and why. This is what is needed. But first we need a massive public outcry to stop this treaty; Congress needs to hear from you.
Dianne Foster is a member of and wrote this for Occupy Bellingham and National Nurses United.