By: Rick North
Last week, the Fast Track bill, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, was passed in the Senate Finance Committee. It would facilitate passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 other nations.
Leading the charge are President Obama, Republican Congressional leadership, and, from Oregon, Ron Wyden and Earl Blumenauer.d
Leading the opposition are Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Harry Reid, progressive Democrats like Peter DeFazio, and wary Tea Party Republicans.
The ever-growing list of organizational opposition to Fast Track/TPP is a virtual Who’s Who of Main Street America, including labor, environment, consumer protection, food and agriculture, political fairness, communities of color and religion. In fact, it’s difficult to find anyone who actually supports it other than large corporations.
So why do Wyden and Blumenauer favor it, spurning a significant majority of their constituents?
I don’t know. Many accuse them of being bought out by corporations, but I don’t think it’s that simple. On other issues, they’ve been excellent and I’d probably vote the same way they do 90% of the time. Maybe I’m incredibly naïve, but I think they’re trying to do what they think is right, especially for Oregon’s exporters.
But I have to wonder if their decades-long support of trade has morphed into some strain of ideological tunnel vision, where inconvenient truths are ignored or suppressed. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, no matter how much collateral damage results from TPP’s provisions. Only five out of 29 sections even deal with trade -the rest are greasing the skids for unfettered corporate control.
The capitulation of nations and their citizens to multinational corporations is the crux of the opposition to Fast Track/TPP. In addition to the potential loss of jobs, loss of sovereignty is THE key issue, its significance far outweighing any possible benefits.
But Obama, Wyden and Blumenauer never acknowledge this elephant in the room, other than half-truth sound bites. And our toothless mainstream media rarely, if ever, presses them on the point.
It’s fascinating – and frustrating - to examine the wording of their statements, not just for what they say, but more importantly, what they don’t.
For example, take transparency. In a press release, Wyden touted the Fast Track bill as having “unprecedented new requirements to increase trade transparency,” such as making the text public for 60 days before the president signs TPP.
What Wyden doesn’t say is that Fast Track has to be voted upon before the public can see the TPP text. Even Congress is muzzled. Only members and their staff who have received security clearance can see it. They can’t make copies of the text (no cell phones allowed), take any notes out of the room or tell anyone without a security clearance what they’ve seen. Only in the parallel universe lying inside the Capital Beltway would this be considered transparency.
And as Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown point out in a letter responding to Obama’s criticisms, this also ignores the fact that TPP negotiations have been conducted secretly almost exclusively by corporate executives and lobbyists.
Then there’s this from a Wyden/Blumenauer op-ed: “Finally, this package for the first time states unequivocally that trade agreements cannot change U.S. law without congressional action . . . it ensures that foreign companies have no more rights in international tribunals than they do in the U.S. court system.”
What they’re not saying is that corporations can (and will) sue governments merely for projected loss of profits. When they win in the three-person tribunals made up primarily of corporate lawyers, countries have two choices. They can give up (or never enact) strong banking regulations and laws protecting health, the environment, social justice or local work rules. OR they can pay penalties – our tax money - to the corporations.
Consider numerous state laws serving the public interest, such as New York’s moratorium on fracking, Vermont’s law requiring labeling of GMO food and Oregon’s potential restrictions on coal trains and gas terminals. All would be in jeopardy.
At the national level, Jeff Merkley just introduced the Invest in American Jobs Act, requiring that federally-funded transportation projects use American steel, iron and other products. Suppose this or any other “Buy America” law passes. If TPP is approved, this protection for American family wage jobs is a sitting duck for a corporate lawsuit.
Obviously, trade can be beneficial. You won’t be drinking coffee from beans grown in the U.S. Other countries can’t grow wheat for their bread and will import it from Oregon and Washington. It’s in everyone’s best interest to have trade agreements with enforceable rules fair to both sides, certainly not a simple task.
But what we’re getting is corporate interest disguised as public interest. Even if there are a few babies in the TPP, they’re drowning in the bath water.
Originally Published: Blue Oregon