Transpacific Pact Worse Than People Realize

WASHINGTON -The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a planned “free trade” pact that’s a top trade goal of the Democratic Obama administration, is far worse than predecessor pacts – and far worse than even its foes realize.

And that led a panel at Green Jobs, Good Jobs conference in mid-April to urge listeners to stop TPP before it starts, by denying President Barack Obama unlimited, unfettered authority to bargain any trade pacts without input from anyone else.

Congress took its first whack at TPP at an April 24 Senate Finance Committee hearing. Finance is one of two committees that would consider legislation to implement the TPP once Obama negotiates and signs it. Business interests, led by the Chamber of Commerce, were scheduled to testify to senators. Workers and their allies weren’t.

The TPP issue is important to workers, speakers said, because it presents a distinct threat to labor standards, environmental rules and even such simple things as whether a company can erect a factory in your back yard, without your permission.

Obama wants to present a completed TPP to Congress by October, reported Ken Peres, a top economist for the Communications Workers. He added TPP is a top goal of multi-national corporations who owe no allegiance to the U.S. or workers.

“The point of their agenda is to attack what they view as obstacles: Government and labor,” Peres said. “This gives you an idea of why corporations want to push this agreement.”

Like other prior trade pacts, TPP would supposedly rip down tariff and other barriers in the U.S. and the other nations involved. Those 11 nations range from developed and advanced Australia and New Zealand to low-wage low-cost Vietnam.

It’s unfinished, but TPP already draws flak from unions and workers. The AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers, the Steel Workers and the Auto Workers oppose Japan’s bid to join the talks, citing its high trade barriers and refusal to allow imports, its currency manipulation, and the labor law-breaking by Japanese firms in the U.S.

And some 600 companies, including many multi-nationals, are “advisers” to U.S. bargainers, and get to see proposed U.S. text of the TPP. But only one consumer group is an adviser, as is the AFL-CIO. TPP’s text is kept secret from Congress.

There’s a big reason for that, the panelists warn: The proposed text could literally
upend and invalidate virtually every protection U.S. law gives workers, citizens and consumers, from acts of Congress on down to local ordinances.

TPP would let the multi-nationals challenge and overturn “any law, regulation, requirement, procedure or practice” that a company – bypassing a national government – believes restrains trade, Peres added, quoting from leaked pact text.

“What they want is to set the rules of the game so that they can get the govern-ment – any government – out of their way,” Peres said of interests pushing TPP.

If TPP goes through, firms “wouldn’t have to deal with such local issues as food safety standards, labor standards and environmental standards. TPP is not a trade agreement, but an economic integration agreement,” for corporate interests’ benefit.

TPP would also let firms get away with undercutting U.S. workers by paying rock-bottom wages and exporting exploited workers’ goods to the U.S. without restrictions, Peres said. The current U.S. minimum wage, he noted, works out to $56 for an 8-hour day. The daily minimum in Malaysia, a TPP nation, is $8.70, compared to $4.59 in China – which is not in TPP – and $2.23 in Vietnam.

“All U.S. laws would have to conform” to the TPP’s rules, even down to the local level, adds Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Trade Campaign. That would eliminate everything from ‘Buy American’ state laws to community zoning ordinances, if the complaining firm feels they “restrain trade,” she said. Peres added prevailing wage laws and state laws banning purchases from human rights and worker rights violators.

And when a company sues under TPP, Wallach adds, it would go not to an open court, but to a secret 3-person tribunal. The tribunal would be trade lawyers “who know nothing about these other issues” and their decision is binding upon the loser. “And the companies would get to name one” of the three “judges,” Wallach warned.

“It’s a bad, bad deal for us, but it’s a great deal for globally integrated corporations,” Peres summed up.

TPP can be stopped by halting the pact even before Obama sends it to Congress. “By the time it comes up there, it may already be too late,” Wallach said. If the U.S. rejects it, TPP falls apart, “because we’re the linchpin,” another panelist noted.

Instead, workers, citizens and consumers must pressure lawmakers to deny Obama so-called “fast track,” formally called trade promotion authority. Presidents used fast track for NAFTA and other such pacts. Fast track lets a president bargain for trade pacts such as TPP, then jam laws implementing them through Congress by simple ma-jority votes in each house, without amendments and on just one up-or-down vote.