Today is an international day of action to protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country free-trade deal, in the works for over a year, that is being negotiated by national representatives and over 600 corporate lobbyists but the text of which has not been shared with the American people. In 40+ cities in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, activists will publicly make known their opposition to this trade agreement. But a great many more of us are at our desks today, or at home with our kids, and will be relying on our news organizations and our politicians to tell us the pros and cons of the TPP.
The trouble is, the TPP isn’t being discussed in Congress, President Obama didn’t mention it in his State of the Union Address, and it’s getting very little mainstream media coverage. For two reasons: first, the negotiations are being held in secret (although a number of drafts have been leaked); second, the Obama administration has requested “fast track” authorization to conclude the deal, meaning that he could sign the agreement without giving Congress any opportunity to debate its contents.
Over 50 organizations serving different missions – from environmental groups to farmers to open internet activists – have come out against fast track, and 151 Democrats in the U.S. House have pledged to vote against it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he doesn’t support it, and so likely won’t be calling a Senate vote on it any time soon, and even the Wall Street Journal reports that both Democrats and Republicans object to giving the President such unilateral power in an area the Constitution delegates to Congress.
At a moment when our executive is known to be spying on us and our neighbors and has launched more drone strikes and authorized more deportations than any prior president, we would do well to remember the checks and balances that have previously served us.
Opponents of the TPP itself site a number of objections. In general, opponents of free-trade agreements argue that they disproportionately harm the middle and working classes, such as the Mexican agricultural workers and U.S. manufacturing laborers who lost their jobs in the wake of NAFTA. Environmental groups say the TPP harms the planet in several ways, and Doctors Without Borders is concerned that the TPP will further prevent those in developing countries from accessing critical medicines. But possibly most troubling in the post-Citizens United, corporations-are-people world is the way the agreement privileges corporations over actual people and the planet and alters the mandate of our governments.
“The investment portion of the TPP creates something called ‘investor-state dispute settlement.’ What this means is that foreign investors are allowed to sue governments over lost prospective profits. A corporation can sue a country if it feels that nation’s regulations — environmental, worker protection — might impede its ability to make a profit,” writes journalist Andy Douglas.
The trade that would be governed by the TPP represents approximately one-third of all global trade and 40% of the gross world product, NRDC’s Jake Schmidt told National Geographic. That’s not nothing. We can’t afford to ignore the effects of 40% of the world’s economic activity. In a world where the 85 richest people have the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest, where “climate change is a fact“, where we’re running out of oil, and fish, and water, we are in no position to be so cavalier.
So we need to talk about the TPP. It’s time to debate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the rest of our trade agreements, out in the open. President Obama gave a very moving, and relatively progressive, State of the Union address this week, but I think we should be concerned when he asks for unilateral power to enact something so massive but doesn’t bother trying to convince us it’s a good idea.
The piece of legislation that would enact fast track authorization is officially called the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, and you can track it here. (This so-called bipartisan bill currently has only two Republican sponsors; President Obama has not been able to find a member of his own party willing to co-sponsor.)
I realize that our current Congress has been called the least-productive in history, and they’re grating our nerves and wasting our money with government shut-downs and endless arguments about why we shouldn’t have health care or reproductive rights. But they remain our representatives, sent to Washington to do a job as outlined by our Constitution. Let’s hold them accountable to doing that job, and let’s not allow an over-powered Executive take it away from them. Call your representatives in the House and Senate and ask them to publicly oppose the Trade Priorities Act of 2014. And don’t be afraid to remind them that 2014 is an election year. It’s time for our elected officials to demand Congressional debate and talk about the TPP in Washington, or to talk about it at home.