By Robert A. Vella
The long-awaited text of the contentious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement has been released to the public by the Obama Administration. In light of the recent announcement by congressional Republicans that they would cowardly delay a vote to approve the agreement until after the 2016 presidential election, It appears this early move by the President (the text was initially scheduled to be released next spring) is intended to call-their-bluff, so to speak. It’s also indicative of just how controversial this so-called “free trade” agreement really is. Let’s get to the details:
From The New York Times – Trans-Pacific Partnership Text Released, Waving Green Flag for Debate:
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is challenging Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democrats’ nomination, said the trade text was proof that the accord “is even worse than I thought” — a threat to American jobs, food and product safety and access to affordable drugs, for the benefit of international corporations and third-world countries.
The organization where Mr. [Tom[ Malinowski [the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor] formerly worked, Human Rights Watch, is among the skeptics who say Vietnam’s commitments are unenforceable, especially given the track record of the United States trade office. John Sifton, the group’s Asia advocacy director, said workers should have been given the same right that corporations have under this trade agreement and others: to take complaints about a country’s compliance directly to a dispute settlement panel [i.e. the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS, clause in the TPP text which critics describe as corporatist and anti-democratic]. [clarification added by TSJ]
“Are trade unionists who actually produce all the capital that we’re talking about here allowed to bring complaints against a country for violations?” he asked. “No, of course not.”
For the first time as part of a trade accord, the Pacific partners agreed in a “joint declaration” to avoid manipulating the value of their currencies for trade advantage, to report interventions in foreign exchange markets and to meet annually to hold one another accountable. The language did not persuade some Democrats — or Ford, which broke with other big businesses supporting the agreement — that it would prevent Japan and other countries from intervening to underprice their exports unfairly.
From The American Prospect – Labor and Climate Groups Blast TPP as Full Text is Released:
“We now have concrete evidence that the Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens our families, our communities, and our environment,” said Sierra Club President Michael Brune in a statement released today. In its initial review of the pact, the Sierra Club pointed to the pact’s failure to outlaw illegal trade in plants and animals, illegal fishing, or commercial whaling, all of which remain critical conservation issues for TPP signatories Peru, Vietnam, Japan, and Singapore. At the same time, the TPP gives corporations the power to roll back existing environmental regulations through the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process, the group added. The statement from Sierra also noted that, amazingly, the final text does not once mention climate change.
Jason Kowalski, policy director at 350.org, went further. “The TPP is an act of climate denial,” he said today in a statement. “While institutions across the planet are divesting from fossil fuels, the TPP would double down on the industry’s destructive business model.” Like Sierra, 350.org also expressed alarm at what an expanded ISDS system could do to local environmental regulations. “In short, these rules undermine countries’ ability to do what scientists say is the single most important thing we can do to combat the climate crisis: keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Kowalski said.
The view from the American labor movement has been no rosier. The Communications Workers of America, one of the first major unions to respond publicly to the deal, expressed concern today about what the ISDS process could mean for labor and environmental laws in the U.S. The CWA also noted that while hundreds of official trade advisers—mostly representing business—had a direct hand in the TPP’s six-year negotiation, the public is given just a 90-day review.
On Twitter, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters noted that the TPP includes no penalties for human trafficking, while also pointing out that Vietnam has a full five years to implement its much-touted labor policies, and that enforcement will likely be minimal.
This sentiment was echoed by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who also lamented the “expansive new legal rights and powers” corporations may soon use to challenge existing workplace, environmental, and financial protections. Trumka also noted that as the TPP was being negotiated, “our policy recommendations and those of our trade reform allies in the environmental, consumer, public health, global development, and business sectors were largely ignored.”
We, as American citizens and denizens of the world, should recognize the fact that the TPP and other free trade agreements are not primarily designed to improve the economic conditions of ordinary people. Rather, they are designed as geopolitical tools to maintain the hegemony of western capitalism against rivals such as China.
Related story: Sanders takes jab at Clinton over trade deal