In their desperation to enact the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement, proponents are pressing for a vote during the post-election “lame duck” Congress. A lame duck Congress gives representatives cover to vote for bad or unpopular legislation with minimal accountability. Many soon disappear through the revolving door into lucrative lobbying stints, powerful board appointments and the talk show circuit. Most count on the voters to forget what happened well before the next election.
The TPP empowers “investors” from 12 Pacific Rim nations to sue governments in global arbitration “tribunals” if government actions threaten or reduce corporate profits. The TPP is less about “trade” and far more about protecting corporate power, investments and profits. Policies protecting public health and environmental quality are frequent targets of corporate suits under much smaller and weaker existing trade agreements. The TPP will significantly increase the power of many more corporations to forestall future protections.
The TPP is a much bigger deal than any of its predecessors. Besides compromising national sovereignty and significantly expanding market coverage, many enhanced provisions will impose strict drug patent rules on poor nations, stifling less expensive generics. It will protect global banks from enhanced financial regulations, mandate approval of natural gas exports and weaken food safety regulations for imports.
The TPP will more than double the number of firms empowered to sue the U.S. Successful corporate suits force governments to suspend popular public policies or pay huge compensation claims to foreign corporations.
The TPP is the first of several giant pacts now in the works. Together they will increase our exposure to such suits fivefold. This enhanced corporate power will chill government initiatives to protect public health, reduce pollution, deal with climate disruption and protect workers and consumers from corporate abuses.
The TPP will facilitate the exploitation of cheap labor in notoriously abusive locations such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, and threatens what still remains of American manufacturing. The TPP will effectively nullify legislation such as the 1933 Buy America Act, which is intended to create local jobs and benefit domestic firms. Claims that the agreement contains strong labor and environmental protections, much like those made on behalf of NAFTA, are greatly exaggerated. History and the TPP’s weak language on labor and environmental protections suggest little will change.
Notably, only foreign corporations can “sue” under the TPP. Citizens, domestic businesses and public interest groups cannot.
Even the most optimistic estimates of the TPP’s overall economic benefits project minuscule gains, bypassing most Americans. More realistic forecasts see significant U.S. job and income losses, particularly in manufacturing, as occurred after NAFTA and more recently with the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. Multi-national corporations, global bankers and wealthy investors will reap the benefits as middle class incomes fall behind and good jobs disappear.
The official text was released in November so there’s been plenty of time to understand the TPP’s implications. Yet Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder)still claims to be “undecided.” He seems to be in denial while repeatedly defending the agreement and acting like the tribunals are no big deal.
Mr. Polis needs to hear from you. He needs to understand the TPP is an anathema to democratic principles and unfit for human consumption. Call Mr. Polis at 303-484-9596. First tell him “no lame duck vote.” Tell him you want fair trade that protects democracy, people and the planet rather than the corporate version of “free trade” that does the opposite. Then politely insist Mr. Polis reject the TPP rather than compromise the welfare of most his constituents.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.