After ten years of secretive discussions and closed-door deals between trade representatives, Wall Street corporations, the pharmaceutical industry, and media companies, Congress will vote upon the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a proposed regional trade treaty. Modeled after previous trade agreements, the TPP aims to set a definitive set of guidelines and deregulation of trade between the participating countries, focusing on competition, co-operation, e-commerce, intellectual property, legal issues, and much more. Proponents suggest it will improve free trade and investments, increase employment, and create a forum to improve labor standards. Indeed, supporters will attempt to convince Congress to approve the largest trade agreement in U.S. history in fast-tracked, up-or-down vote. But the majority of government officials and the general public have yet to view the treaty, which has fostered concerns of an increase in outsourced jobs, threats to environmental protection, and a reduction in workers’ bargaining power. In this sense, the vendetta is that the TPP is marred with controversy and lacks in transparency, and should not be passed by Congress.
The beginnings of the treaty can be traced back to 2005, when Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore, negotiated and agreed on a trading partnership known as the “Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement” (TPSEP), or the Pacific-4. Then in 2008, the last year of George W. Bush’s presidency, the United States expressed interest in joining, and successfully became another member in the agreement. Today, after nearly a decade of negotiations, the list of partnering nations has expanded to include seven additional countries. The twelve countries bordering the Pacific Ocean in Asia and the Americas account for 40-percent of the global economy, and constitute the primary members of the TPP.
The election of President Barack Obama raised doubts regarding the United State’s future commitment to the trade agreement. However, such concerns quelled shortly after the inauguration, when the President appointed Ron Kirk as the new trade representative. Kirk announced to Congress his dedication to expand American exports and to maintain and grow jobs in the United States by making TPP a top priority on his agenda. To prove their commitment the Obama Administration placed the trade negotiations through the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), allowing the treaty to avoid congressional added amendments or filibusters, limiting debate on the issue and reducing the process to a “yes or no” vote.[ref]”Trans-Pacific Partnership Announcement,” United States Trade Representative, 2009, accessed May 3, 2015. https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2009/december/trans-pacific-partnership-announcement.[/ref]
Proponents see the TPP as a great way to expand free trade. In a New York Times op-ed, Investment Banker Roger Altman, along with former deputy Treasury Secretary Richard Haass, argue in favor of the TPP, stating that the fate of the U.S.’s national security hinges its approval. These individuals suggest that each participating nation has their own reasons for ratifying the TPP. Canada and Chile, for instance, see the agreement as an opportunity to spur economic growth, while Asian countries hope the formation of a strong trade partnership could help counterbalance China’s recent economic explosion. According to Altman and Haass, United States has an opportunity to regain its credibility through its membership in the TPP. Indeed, the recent government shut down, the failure to bomb Syria, and the recent letter signed by forty-seven Republican Senators that undermined nuclear talks with Iran, damaged U.S.’s standing.[ref]Roger Altman and Richard Haass, “Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Matters,” The New York Times, April 3, 2015, accessed May 3, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/04/opinion/why-the-trans-pacific-partnership-matters.html.[/ref]
Yet the combination of secret proceedings, controversial clauses, and proposals to fast-track the treaty, has raised concerns with a variety of health professionals, internet freedom activists, labor organizations, and elected officials. Due to the confidentiality and classified nature of the discussions, various members of congress and the public have not read the TPP, let alone, be able to tailor the agreement to protect those it mostly affects: the general public. This, in turn, is a major concern since a lack of transparency casts a shadow of suspicion and distrust, spurring ethical debates regarding the establishment of a non-expiring multinational agreement that will affect millions of people in complete secrecy. Much of what is known of the TPP comes from drafts leaked and published by WikiLeaks.[ref]”Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) – Investment Chapter,” WikiLeaks, 2015, accessed May 3, 2015, https://wikileaks.org/tpp-investment/WikiLeaks-TPP-Investment-Chapter/page-1.html.[/ref] The drafts published reveal the TPP’s lack of meaningful environmental enforcement, the right for corporations to challenge sovereign nations’ laws and massive deregulation, all for a mere marginal benefit of forty-three cents for each individual per month. The opponents to the TPP, such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, consider it disastrous for workers, consumers, and the environment, even likening it to NAFTA on steroids.[ref]Bernie Sanders, “The Trans-Pacific Trade (TPP) Agreement must be Defeated,” Bernie Sanders – United States Senator for Vermont, accessed May 3, 2015, http://www.sanders.senate.gov/download/the-trans-pacific-trade-tpp-agreement-must-be-defeated?inline=file.[/ref]
In addition, TPP supported have also made arguments similar to those of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, Mexico and the United States. NAFTA aimed to increase the trade of goods and employment through eliminating tariffs, between the three countries, and streamlining regulatory practices. But twenty years later, while the increase of trade is undeniable, most of the promises have generally fallen short and improvements have been marginal in the U.S. and Canada. Highlighting the failure further, Mexico’s agriculture industry has been devastated by subsidized crops, resulting in the replacement of local farmers with multinational corporations.[ref]Laura Carlsen, “Under Nafta, Mexico Suffered, and the United States Felt Its Pain,” November 24, 2013, accessed May 3, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/11/24/what-weve-learned-from-nafta/under-nafta-mexico-suffered-and-the-united-states-felt-its-pain.[/ref] In this sense, perhaps the TPP will also fail to meet desired goals, and even the damage the U.S. financially as well.
Such an expansive and everlasting trade agreement should be written and passed in the light of congressional and public scrutiny, not in secret with multinational corporations. The Obama Administration’s proposal to place this vote on a fast-track only adds insult to injury. Any legislation bound to affect millions upon millions of individuals should be approved by the public and their elected officials.
The Public Citizen is an informative website with a number of articles, videos, and statements, arguing against TPP. But more importantly, the Public Citizen offers several links to petitions, organizations, and letter templates to congress peoples, encouraging the public to take action, and work towards defeating the fast track trade authority.