Odds are that you have not have heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the TPP has been under negotiation since 2008, talks have largely been done in secret and not covered by the mass media.
The media black-out is quite impressive since this is the largest corporate trade agreement to be negotiated since the World Trade Organization got underway in 1995. Commonly called a global corporate coup, the TPP makes transnational corporations more powerful than governments. Others call it “NAFTA on steroids” because it will multiply the failures of NAFTA.
If People Knew Its Contents, It Could Not Pass
When it comes to trade, Obama has been the most secretive president. Past trade agreements were made public and discussed in the media. The Office of the US Trade Representative would publish the text on its website, even as the treaty was being negotiated.
Not this time. The TPP is being kept secret from everyone except for the 600 corporate advisers who can read the text on their computers as it is being created, and help the US Trade Representative draft the language. These include the biggest transnational corporations like WalMart, Bank of America, JPMorgan, Pfizer and Monsanto or their trade associations. The TPP is being drafted of, by and for the transnational corporations.
Members of Congress, however, have restricted access to the text and when they do see a summary of it, they must keep the contents secret even from their constituents. The media and public have only seen sections that have been leaked.
Why are the corporations operating in secret? Former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said that if the people knew what was in the agreement, it would raise such opposition that it could make the deal impossible to sign. Kirk led the negotiations on the TPP but left recently to join a lobbying firm that represents transnational corporations. If Kirk is right -- that if people knew what was in it, it would not pass -- then, should it pass?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Should Not Become Law
The answer is no, the TPP should not become law. As people become aware of the TPP, more are working actively to stop it. The TPP is much more than a trade agreement. It will give transnational corporations greater control over our food, Internet access, medicines and health care, and degrade the environment, regulation of banks and wages.
Indeed corporations will have absolute power over virtually every aspect of our lives. The agreement is being negotiated among a dozen Pacific Ocean countries but is open for other countries to join through a new "docking provision."
One major advantage we have over past trade legislation battles is that we now have vast experience with trade agreements and the evidence is stark – corporate trade agreements are bad for the economy, the environment and workers.
Recently released government trade data for 2012 show these agreements kill jobs and increase trade deficits. In countries where the US has a trade agreement, the trade deficit has grown by more than 440 percent, while in countries where there is no agreement, the deficit has declined by 7 percent.
The increased deficits from trade agreements resulted in the loss of nearly 1 million US jobs based on the administration’s net exports-to-jobs ratio. This was evident with NAFTA, which cost the US 692,000 jobs. Wages in poor countries are much lower than for US workers. So it will not be surprising to see massive US job losses as well as falling wages as Americans compete with slave-wage jobs around the world.
Some of the most heinous parts of the TPP are provisions to set up rigged trade tribunals. In these tribunals, corporations can sue governments for the loss of “expected future profits.” This means that if a country passes an environmental or a health law that will cost the corporation money, the corporation can sue for the expected profits it stands to lose. The suit will come before a trade tribunal where a three-judge panel, made up mostly of corporate lawyers on temporary leave from their corporate jobs, will decide the case.
The takeaway from the tribunals is this: they will dissuade countries from putting in place public interest laws because those governments will be sued and forced to pay millions to corporations. We've already experienced something like this, though on a less sweeping scale. Global Trade Watch reports that under previous trade agreements, “over $3 billion has been paid to foreign investors under US trade and investment pacts, while over $14 billion in claims are pending under such deals, primarily targeting environmental, energy, and public health policies.”
By the end of 2011, corporations like Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, and Cargill had launched 450 investor-state cases against 89 governments, including the US, to fight regulations that protect the environment. Among these cases were bans of toxic chemicals, hydrofracking, timber and mining regulations, and programs that incentivized green jobs and renewable energy programs.
These are just a few examples among many. The TPP provides a backdoor for restrictions on Internet freedom, further deregulation of banks and elimination of “Buy American” provisions or other programs to encourage localism and environmental sustainability. On issue after issue, corporate profits come before what is best for the people and the planet.
Strategic Action Plan to Stop the TPP
Flush The TPP is a campaign bringing people together to stop the TPP. Since the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, not only has the WTO been stalled but at least 14 trade agreements have also been stopped. The key to stopping these agreements were: (1) people knowing what was in the agreement; and (2) people taking action to oppose it. Together, we can make the TPP so unpopular that no legislator will want to go near it.
The Obama administration knows this and is trying to take Congress out of the process. They are seeking “Trade Promotion Authority,” which is a euphemism for the now unpopular “Fast Track” legislation. Fast Track would allow the president to negotiate and sign the law before Congress takes any action, undermining the US Constitution in which the Commerce Clause gives Congress responsibility for setting the terms of trade.
The President knows that if the TPP undergoes a democratic review process in Congress, it will surely fail.
Therefore, the first two goals of the campaign to stop the TPP are (1) make the contents of the agreement public; and (2) stop “Fast Track.” Congress should fulfill its constitutional responsibility and serve as a check and balance to the president.
The TPP offers an opportunity for solidarity between groups that are working on a broad variety of issues: food safety, health care, Internet freedom, worker rights, the environment and more. Coalitions of groups that support fair trade rather than free trade exist in the US and are expanding. We have a three-stage plan:
Phase I: Throughout the summer, the goal is to educate and mobilize people. The TPP has been negotiated in secret for three years, and very few people know much about it. We start with #TPPTuesdays which are weekly actions to draw attention to the trade agreement. It will be up to people around the country to decide what works best for their local area or organization. And while there is power in acting on the same day every week, actions and educational events are certainly not limited to Tuesdays. The goal is to be visible and to educate. See the Actions and Tools pages for more information. You can begin by sharing the videos with this article and urging people to sign up at Flush the TPP.
Phase II: In August during the Congressional recess, we switch focus to influencing members of Congress. We want elected officials to know that their constituents are watching, that we oppose the TPP, and that we demand Congress holds hearings and suggests amendments before the president is able to sign the agreement.
Phase III: Defeat the TPP with major actions at the last round of negotiations and in Washington, DC as well as in home congressional districts. When a major action occurs, people will be encouraged to hold solidarity actions.
In fact, this is not just something the people of the United States oppose, but is something people all over the world oppose. There have already been protests in other countries. Thousands of protesters have been taking to the streets in Japan. A cross-border coalition of advocacy groups from Canada, the US and Mexico co-wrote a tri-national statement of unity calling for public access to the text and a democratic process in Washington, DC. The cross-border group also works with advocates in other Pacific Rim countries in order to build solidarity.
The TPP is a battleground for defining democracy in the 21st century and determining whether corporations will be our masters, or whether the people will rule. It is an epic conflict between people and transnational corporations, one the people can win, if we join together to stop the TPP.