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The Pacific trade deal, Fast Track, and the 2014 elections

Posted Jun. 20, 2014 / Posted by: Bill Waren

Recently, I had the opportunity to appear with Ian Levitt, the host of The Daily Report on Minnesota radio station KTNF. He is conducting a series of interviews with me regarding the environmental threat posed by legislation that would "fast track" the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement and a similar trans Atlantic free trade agreement, which is the early stages of negotiation.

The focus of our discussion was the TPP, which appears to be in the final stage of closed-door bargaining among the parties. It is a colossal trade deal in terms of its geographic and economic reach. The participants in the secretive negotiations include Japan, the communist dictatorship of Vietnam, the Sultanate of Brunei (ruled under sharia law), and eight other Pacific nations: a mixed bag in terms of observance of human rights standards, to say the least.

The TPP would undercut sensible safeguards related to food safety, financial industry abuses and global warming, among many others. As I told KTNF listeners, "a long list of special favors to the wealthy and the corporations is in this so-called trade agreement. It’s a Wall Street Bill of Rights."

"The TPP is not a trade agreement in the traditional sense. It is an attempt to constrain the capacity of governments to act in the public interest." The U.S. Trade Representative, Mike Froman, is attempting to lower so-called non-tariff barriers to trade such as economic and environmental regulations.

The TPP and other trade deals are intended to deregulate the world economy, expand corporate property rights and establish principles in international law of what I’d call market fundamentalism. This would allow global corporations, in many instances, to have their way regardless of the views of the people and parliaments and regardless of international human rights standards.

Of particular concern are the leaked U.S. intellectual property proposals that would grant monopoly rights to multinational pharmaceutical corporations. As I explained in the interview, the TPP “still contains provisions on intellectual property that could cause the price of lifesaving medicines to skyrocket." You’re really talking about the putting lives of millions of people at risk.

Intellectual property provisions would also allow biotechnology firms “to patent life forms, taking title to our common genetic inheritance.”

Similarly, Biotech giants like Monsanto want to protect trade in genetically modified food and restrict GMO labeling through TPP provisions on so-called “technical barriers to trade.”

Even worse, “The TPP still contains ‘investor-state dispute settlement ... which would create a  'private court' for multinational corporations…” We have lots of horror stories to tell about existing investment agreements on the same general model.

For example, take the “rain forest Chernobyl” case, Chevron v. Ecuador. The oil company refused to clean up an oil spill that polluted an area the size of Rhode Island, destroying a wild and biodiverse place and causing deaths, miscarriages and illness among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Yet, the oil giant is suing Ecuador before an international tribunal and hiding behind the U.S.-Ecuador bilateral investment treaty in order to resist the Ecuadorian courts and the call of common decency to make amends.  

The TPP investment chapter could also be used to protect the fossil fuel industry from climate regulations. “They want to use these agreements to protect their investments in shale oil and shale gas and to continue to ‘frack’ and to continue to export planet-killing, carbon -polluting products around the world.”

Fast Track legislation is the key to getting the any trade deal approved by Congress. Fast Track would allow the TPP to be ratified on an expedited schedule with little debate, no amendments, and a straight up or down vote. This turns the U.S. Constitution upside-down -- the founders intended for Congress, not trade bureaucrats, to regulate trade with foreign nations.

“If they pass Fast Track,” I explained, “we are going to be in a corner. We will not have lost everything, but it would be like going into the fourth quarter of a football game two or three touchdowns behind.” Pressure from big campaign contributors would make it tough for legislators to shoot down the whole deal, when it’s presented on a take it or leave it basis.

Ian asked me whether the amount of public attention on the TPP has been successful in stopping it thus far. As I explained, “We have been successful in the last part of 2013 and the first part of 2014. The corporations and the U.S. trade representative made a serious push to complete the TPP and more immediately threatening to push through Congress the Fast Track trade promotion legislation that would be necessary to ratify such a radical plan.”

“In the short term, I’m optimistic. But, we have mid-term congressional elections coming up and because progressives are not as active in mid-terms and do not vote in the same numbers as the folks who are rallied by corporate money, people are expecting the Republicans to take control of the Senate and perhaps increase their margin in the U.S. House of Representatives. And, that will bring Fast Track legislation and the Trans Pacific Partnership roaring back.”

We could even see an attempt to move a Fast Track bill in the lame duck session of Congress after the November election. “So, this is no time for people to be complaisant... Unfortunately, too many good progressives only show up at the polls when it is a presidential election year.”

People need to talk to their members in Congress today about the dangers of Fast Track and the TPP. And, they need to vote in November.

Listen to the full interview below. The segment begins at the 6-minute mark.

To listen to Ian and Bill’s longer discussion of Fast Track and the TPP, click on this link.

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