After the US and 11 Pacific Rim nation trading partners reached an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the nations’ trade representatives issued a joint statement promoting the new trade deal as one that will “support jobs, drive sustainable growth, foster inclusive development, and promote innovation across the Asia-Pacific region.”
Most importantly, continues the statement, the agreement will “benefit our nations’ citizens.”
Opponents, however, are much less sanguine about the widespread benefits that will accrue from the deal.
“The TPP represents a sweet deal for multinational corporations and the 1 percent,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communication Workers of America. “For the rest of us–US working families and communities, and workers in the other TPP countries–this agreement is bad news.”
“The new monopoly rights for big pharmaceutical firms would compromise access to medicines in TPP countries,” said Peter Maybarduk, a program director Public Citizen to The Independent. “The TPP would cost lives.”
“The Trans Pacific Partnership would empower big polluters to challenge climate and environmental safeguards in private trade courts and would expand trade in dangerous fossil fuels that would increase fracking and imperil our climate,” said Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director.
The details–where the devil always resides–of the TPP have not been officially released and won’t be until 30 days after the agreement was announced.
But based on past experiences with other trade deals there is plenty of cause for concern.
Language in other trade deals included labor standards that were meant to protect workers rights to free association and collective bargaining. These standards were supposed help workers in developing countries bargain for higher wages and better working conditions, and in doing so, reduce incentives for transferring jobs from richer to poorer countries.
But enforcement of these standards has been anemic.
According to the US Government Accountability Office, the US Labor Department has accepted only five formal complaints about violations to labor standards set out in previous trade deals. Only one has been resolved.
The report goes on to note that in Guatemala and Colombia, which have both signed trade deals with the US, “violence against union leaders continues.”
Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, reports that the TPP may include some improvements over previous trade deals on worker rights, the environment, and consumer protection, but “whether they are enforced or not is a critical matter.”
As the GAO’s report shows enforcement of trade agreement labor standards has been spotty during the present Democratic administration. In a Republican Administration enforcement would be non-existent.
Despite losing the congressional vote on giving the TPP fast track authority in April, opponents of the deal forced concessions from Congress and President Obama that should give opponents several opportunities to defeat the TPP.
One of the concessions, requires a 90-day review period after the President announces his decision to sign the deal.
Prior to the 90 review period, the full TPP text will be made available on the internet, which will give opponents some time to review it and publicize their objections.
During the review period, members of Congress may propose changes that if accepted by the administration could require more negotiations between the US and its trading partners.
Once the President signs the TPP, the administration has 60 days to report to Congress on the laws that Congress must change to comply with the deal.
During the same time, the US International Trade Commission has 105 days to analyze the TPP’s impact on the US economy.
Congress would then have to ratify the TPP. The New York Times estimates that a vote on the deal is not likely until April.
One of the problems with the TPP is that it has been negotiated in secret with little input from any stakeholders except multinational corporations.
But the review period should give opponents time to shine a light on it.
“There is a lot of concern that the American people have not been involved in the (TPP) process, that there’s not a lot of transparency,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been a long-time opponent of the TPP.
Sanders said that during the review period he wants “to make sure that this debate (on the TPP) takes place out in the public, that the American people have as much time as possible to understand the very significant implications of this trade agreement.”
“And I suspect (that we) will do our best to make that happen,” said Sanders.