Update: The headline should read “At last fast track comes before Congress”. TPP hasn’t yet come before Congress and it is possible (though unlikely) that it never will.
I’ve been ranting so long about the danger and harm in the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement that I’m at a loss for something new to say now that it is
actually nearly ready to come before Congress for a vote.
The TPP is an agreement among 12 nations, including the USA, Canada, Australia and Japan, which would set limits on financial regulation and food safety standards and make drug patent and copyright laws more restrictive.
Its most controversial provisions is the Investor State Dispute Settlement system, which would allow foreign investors to seek sanctions against governments whose labor, environmental, health and other laws deprived it of its just profits.
Under ISDS, “foreign investors” – mostly transnational corporations – have the ability to bypass U.S. courts and challenge U.S. government action and inaction before international tribunals authorized to order U.S. taxpayer compensation to the firms.
Today Congressional leaders announced support for fast track authority, which means that the House of Representatives would have no more than 60 days to debate the agreement and the Senate 30 additional days, after which they would vote “yes” or “no”.
This does not mean that fast track has been approved. This would require a vote by the full House and Senate, which is yet to come.
The TPP is a thick and complex document. Negotiations have been conducted under strict secrecy, and the material will be new to most members of Congress. What little is publicly known comes from leaked negotiating documents, many of them through WikiLeaks. (Thank you, Julian Assange).
If TPP is approved through a fast track process, I would bet that dozens of congresspeople a year later will be saying they wouldn’t have voted for it if they had realized all that was in it.
President Obama put a lot of energy into promoting this unpopular agreement. Both support and opposition are bipartisan. Fast track is supported by Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, the chair and vice-chair of the Senate finance committee, and Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, chair of the House ways and means committee.
Senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are against the TPP. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is for it. Hillary Clinton hasn’t said anything, so far as I know.
A staff member of the libertarian Cato Institute, a strong advocate of free trade, co-authored an article with a staff member of Public Citizen explaining the biggest problem with the TPP.
Pacts with ISDS are often promoted as simply prohibiting discrimination against foreign firms. In reality, they go well beyond non-discrimination, and create amorphous government obligations that have given rise to corporate lawsuits against a wide array of policies with relevance across the political spectrum.
Foreign corporations have used this system to challenge policies ranging from the phase-out of nuclear power to the roll-back of renewable energy subsidies. Nearly all government actions and in-actions are subject to challenge, covering local, state, and federal measures taken by courts, legislators and regulators.
Take, for example, the recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that companies cannot patent human genes or obtain abstract software patents favored by patent trolls. Foreign holders of those patents could use ISDS to claim that these decisions interfere with their patent rights and ask an international tribunal to order compensation from the U.S. government.
And just recently, some TPP supporters suggested that foreign firms could use ISDS obligations to challenge domestic antitrust enforcement decisions.
This is not the only pro-corporate trade agreement being negotiated. There is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, aka TAFTA) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), being negotiated by the United States, Canada and the principal European nations.
Liberals and Democrats ought to be trying to figure out ways to disentangle the USA from NAFTA and other such treaties and agreements, rather than pushing for new and worse agreements.
Deal Reached on Fast-Track Authority for Obama on Trade Accord by Jonathan Weisman for the New York Times.
Special courts for foreign investors by Simon Lester of the Cato Institute and Ben Beachy of Public Citizen for The Hill.
Agency Overseeing Obama Trade Deal Filled With Former Trade Lobbyists by Lee Fang for The Intercept.
Fast Track to Hell: Trade Bill Officially Introduced in Congress by Deirdre Fulton for Common Dreams.