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Congress, Left and Right, Finally Wary of Alarming Trade Pact

While Obama presses for fast track up-or-down vote

It was thought that the trade pact that hopes to tie together twelve Pacific nations would be where the left and right in Congress would finally come together to pass a bill with bipartisan comity. Instead, both sides began to align against it.

If you were a subscriber over a year ago, you hopefully read our analysis of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a huge trade pact that we identified as giving multinational corporations greater powers than the government of the signatory countries themselves, the United States being one.

It is for Congress to approve it, yet only now are members on both sides of the aisle awakening to some of the jaw-dropping provisions they will be asked to vote for.

The Pacific pact (and a European counterpart) is what President Obama, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have been holding up as a benefit to all that will prove all sides can work together. So why not just rush this through on a "fast track" where there is no filibuster, no debate, no amendments. Just a thumbs up-or-down vote.

Before anyone discovers what's in it, they are careful not to mention, because the terms of the trade pact are secret.

Here's s summary of what we said a year ago February (found here, plus these two updates):

The trade agreement would link twelve nations that circle the Pacific. The talks were initiated by George W. Bush in 2008 and have taken place in secrecy all this time — secret from Congress, secret from the public. Only Wikileaks has succeeded in exposing sections that have given hints of what's in store.

Corporations are another matter. Representatives from some 600 have special reviewing access are letting their desires be known.

Only 5 of the TPP's 29 covenants are concerned with typical trade rules such as tariffs and quotas. The rest for the most part give special privileges to corporations. This is what Congress has been principally ignorant of, thinking of it as purely a trade deal. And that is what may explain why member nations are pledged not to reveal the contents of the agreement until four years after the final deal is struck or talks are abandoned. Are we mistaken or doesn't that mean Congress would be asked to vote for the pact without being allowed to read it?

All government contracts would be open to bidding by foreign corporations. Buy American would be outlawed.

Corporations will not be constrained by a country's laws. They will be able to sue governments when disputes arise, their cases decided not in that country's judicial system, but by World Bank and United Nations tribunals.

Corporations setting up shop in a member country would be given special privileges. If a law is subsequently passed that affects their profits negatively, they will be compensated. Native companies will not enjoy that benefit.

There is more in our original article.

attention deficit

The arguments for or against the trade deal have been almost entirely unmindful of the bulk of the draft agreement that is occupied with elevating the corporation above the state.

Business interests and the Obama government are promoting the pact with no mention of the transfer of power to corporations. An example is a Wall Street Journal op-ed in December co-written by Robert Zoelick, the U.S. Trade Representative under George W. Bush and then head of the World Bank, that urges signing the agreement because Americans, somehow able see past its secrecy and divine its virtue, think the TPP is a "good thing", 55% to 25%, according to a poll they don't specify. The writers say the TPP will add $3,000 a year to the U.S. family of four. A trade agreement that flattens barriers between rich and poor nations cannot help but result in a transfer of jobs from the former to the latter, in some cases small Pacific countries with wages a fraction of America's. So the writers can only be counting on dollars a family would save from buying low cost imported goods.

A bill referred to as Trade Promotion Authority that sets the rules for fast tracking is expected to come up for a vote in the coming weeks. It is understandably crucial for Obama because letting loose among the 535 members of Congress an agreement years in the making by twelve nations for debate and amendment would be its destruction.

Some Tea Party members base their objections to fast-tracking on their distrust in Obama, who they say has once again "seized power" with a "usurpation of legislative authority" by keeping negotiations secret and pressing for an up-or-down vote. Even this late, lawmakers permitted access to the text of the negotiations may not bring aides and may only take notes.

Democrats in their traditional role of siding with labor are focused on the loss of still more jobs overseas, not the plotting of corporations to gain special privileges. They point to the damage done to American manufacturing by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, signed by President Clinton.

The left ia also preoccupied with inserting clauses to police against currency manipulation, "a favorite moan of unions and uncompetitive businesses, which like to blame their problems on currency shifts", as a Wall Street Journal columnists puts it, which gives an idea how much both left and right are distracted from what's really being manipulated.


And so it was that not until late February did we spot a small mention in an inside page article in The New York Times that "a provision of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would undermine American sovereignty by allowing foreign companies to challenge United States laws". There was no further elaboration.

In mid-March the Journal reported that "some 50 to 60 House Republicans are expected to buck GOP leadership" promoting passage of the fast-track bill that they "oppose on ground of U.S. sovereignty". Comes the light. [4]

In late March, dawn broke. The lede (as in lead) story in the New York Times business section began,

An ambitious 12-nation trade accord pushed by President Obama would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States government for actions that undermine their investment “expectations” and hurt their business, according to a classified document… Companies and investors would be empowered to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings — federal, state or local — before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations."

The Times acknowledged WikiLeaks as its source.

What explains Obama? Some might think his dogged advocacy is a narcissistic urge to put his name on yet another "signature achievement" to embellish his legacy, jobs and sovereignty be damned. But he does have interests that go beyond trade that cause him to go too far. He hopes to tie together twelve nations rimming the Pacific as part of his tilt eastward to create a bulwark against China, which is on the move to establish its own trade alliance. And over Obama's unsuccessful pleas to them not to join, China has just gathered even our European allies into a rival to the U.S. dominated World Bank called the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

But opposition is mounting as different elements in Congress object to the secrecy and are discovering what is being covered up. Conservatives abhor anything that infringes on sovereignty, and on the left the article above cites both Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren as being alarmed at ceding authority to foreign corporations.

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1 Comment for “Congress, Left and Right, Finally Wary of Alarming Trade Pact”

  1. castrate the villains, then have a fair trial before execution for treason.

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