What To Look For When the Trans-Pacific Partnership Text Is Released

Dave Johnson

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been completed. The agreement is a big deal. It is said it writes the rules for doing business in the 21st century and covers 40 percent of the world’s economy. The agreement will determine whether the giant corporations will increase their domination or if regular people will instead be able to fight back, restore self-governance, and make a decent living in good and safe working conditions.

Unfortunately, TPP was negotiated through a corporate-dominated process, with representatives of labor, environmental, consumer, human rights and other “stakeholder” groups largely kept away from the table. The negotiations were conducted in secret and the results have been kept secret.

Now all that is in the past (except the continuing secrecy). At some point the actual text of the agreement will be made available to the public. Organizations, academics, experts and regular people will be able to read, analyze and discuss what has been agreed to in our name. We will all be playing catch-up and will have limited time to organize public opposition if that is warranted. So here are a few things to look for to try to help us understand if TPP is good or bad for regular people here and elsewhere, our environment, our economy and our country.

Proponents of the agreement have been making promises that can’t be verified because of the continuing secrecy. They promise that TPP is “the most progressive trade deal the world has ever seen,” and that it will “level the playing field for American workers.” They say it will “create jobs, raise living standards, improve welfare and promote sustainable growth.”

Their promises have set a very high bar. Will TPP live up to the promises?

What To Look For

To help decide whether TPP lives up to the promises made by those selling it, here are some questions to ask as you read the agreement. Don’t be misdirected by what might have been in TPP or what we were afraid it might do; look at what is in it now and how what is in it will affect our jobs, pay and benefits, our environment, our relationship to the giant corporation and the billionaires and their immense and growing power, and our ability to self-govern and make laws and regulations that benefit and protect us.

In other words, as you read the text of TPP ask what specifically do regular, non-wealthy people in the U.S. get from TPP, and what do regular, non-wealthy people in the U.S. lose?

● How does TPP undo the damage done by past trade agreements that President Obama says “haven’t lived up to their promise”?

● How, specifically, does TPP reverse past outsourcing of U.S. jobs, factories and industries?

● Or are there still NAFTA-style provisions that encourage outsourcing of jobs to low-wage countries like Vietnam?

● How does TPP increase the number of jobs and the pay for regular working people in the U.S. and elsewhere, and by how much?

● Does TPP have provisions that force wages in countries that currently pay very little to rise to a level that approaches U.S. wages? (This would help those workers buy American-made products, too.)

● How, specifically, will TPP help fight income inequality? What is in TPP that would prevent companies that benefit from the deal from keeping all of the proceeds while leaving their employees behind?

● Are the rumors and leaks about Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions true? Will foreign investors with complaints about U.S. laws or regulations be able to bypass U.S. courts and sue us for taxpayer monies before private tribunals?

● How and when does it make countries like Vietnam allow working people to organize unions and get raises?

● How does TPP protect companies that make and do things inside of the U.S. from unfair competition due to currency manipulation?

● Will provisions on “state-owned enterprises” be used to force further privatization of our publicly owned and publicly operated infrastructure like the U.S. Postal Service, highways, water systems and other public utilities?

● Will TPP let our government continue to use “Buy America” procurement policies so American tax dollars help American companies and the American economy?

● Will TPP expand imports from countries where food is often found to contain banned toxic chemicals?

● Will TPP require increases in food and product safety standards and inspections? (How much money is committed in the agreement to beefing up our own food inspection service?)

● What provisions are in TPP to detect and prevent illegal transshipment of goods from non-TPP countries like China?

● What provisions are in TPP to combat human trafficking and forced labor?

● Does TPP increase oversight of financial companies like banks, insurance companies and hedge funds?

● Does TPP contain provisions requiring member countries to jointly fight global climate change?

Environment

Speaking of climate and the environment, recently several environmental organizations joined in a letter on “Environmental Provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership” to members of Congress outlining key elements that should be included and excluded in TPP.

It begins by saying TPP “must include all of the May 10th obligations.” (Click here to see the details of the May 10 “Bipartisan Trade Deal” agreement, which include “all of our FTA environmental obligations will be enforced on the same basis as the commercial provisions of our agreements – same remedies, procedures, and sanctions…”) The letter urges members of Congress to vote no on TPP unless it contains provisions protecting the environment and keeps other provisions from threatening that protection, including:

● A legally enforceable prohibition on trade in illegally sourced timber, wildlife, and marine resources. Countries must be required to adopt, maintain, and implement policies to identify contraband and to penalize violators of the prohibition in a manner that will serve as a strong disincentive to engage in illegal trade.”

● A parallel enforceable ban on “illegal, unreported and unregulated” fishing.

● No barriers that would keep countries from regulating as needed to fight climate change.

● No investor protection provisions that would be “used to challenge environmental and other public interest policies.”

● No “rules that threaten product labels designed to protect the environment.”

Enforcement

Words are words and actions are actions. TPP can have all the best words, but they will not count unless the agreement also enables actions that enforce the words. What does TPP have in it that enables working people, environmentalists and other stakeholders to enforce the promises?

For example, corporations (and their representatives in government) wrote TPP and it looks like they made sure that they will be able to get what they want from it through very strong enforcement mechanisms. It is rumored (and leaked) that TPP contains investor-state dispute settlement provisions that let corporations sue governments when they feel their “rights” under the agreement are being violated or profits hurt. It is said that they can bring these suits to special “corporate courts,” where the cases are heard by corporate attorneys and the rulings override anything governments and their courts can do.

That’s some serious enforcement capability there.

How can working people be ensured that their rights under the agreement will also be enforced? Will TPP have similar enforcement provisions for working people? Will labor unions be able to sue governments if the rights of working people are violated? If they do have the same ability to bring cases up for enforcement, will these cases be heard by labor attorneys in the same way that corporate grievances are adjudicated by corporate attorneys?

Similarly, will environmental groups be able to sue governments and have those suits heard by environmental attorneys?

These are just some of the questions we should be demanding answers for once the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is made available.

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