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Why the TPP is Terrible, Part the Millionth

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership was officially signed by the negotiating countries in Auckland a couple of days ago. This received almost no news coverage, although it will when it goes up for ratification in Congress. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka reminds us why the TPP is so awful and something that we must demand our politicians vote against:

From the outset, the AFL-CIO provided detailed and substantive suggestions for improving this agreement and evidence to support our positions. On everything from labor enforcement to investment rules, we offered a path forward. Unfortunately, our policy recommendations were ignored, as were those from the environmental, consumer, public health, global development and manufacturing sectors. That’s what you get from secret negotiations driven by corporate and investor interests.

There are countless ways the TPP would be disastrous for working people. Here are a few of the most egregious.

After much talk about labor standards, the TPP falls woefully short. It retains the totally discretionary nature of enforcement and does nothing to streamline the process so labor cases will be addressed without delay, leaving workers with no assurance of improved conditions. The “consistency” agreements negotiated with Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei don’t add any responsibilities beyond the current labor chapter and give Vietnam five years to come fully into compliance, even though it will receive the benefits of the TPP immediately. There is no deal to address longstanding labor problems in Mexico that have not been remedied despite 20 years of efforts to enforce NAFTA.

The TPP would take a sledgehammer to American manufacturing. The auto rules of origin are so weak that a car or truck made primarily in China or another non-TPP country would still qualify for trade benefits. Popular “Buy American” rules are watered down, requiring the U.S. government to treat bidders from every TPP country as if they were American. Finally, the lack of any enforceable currency manipulation rules means foreign nations can continue to cheat U.S. companies and workers. These features make the TPP an outsourcing deal, not a trade deal.

To add insult to injury, more than 9,000 new foreign companies will be empowered to bypass U.S. courts and access a private justice system — investor-state dispute settlement — that allows them to hold U.S. federal, state and local government decisions ransom. Let that soak in for a minute. Wal-Mart’s Japan subsidiary could sue Seattle for denying a building permit. ExxonMobil’s Vietnamese affiliate could come after the United States for rules and regulations that protect our air and water.

The TPP is also a giveaway to Big Pharma, expanding monopoly rights that will allow drug companies to further drive up costs for patients. These rules are far worse than the ones in the Peru, Colombia and Panama deals negotiated by former President George W. Bush. Doctors Without Borders says the TPP would “jeopardize people’s access to affordable medicines.”

We’ve been down this road before. The Wall Street and Washington elite always tell us that this time will be different. The truth is these trade deals have ripped apart the fabric of our nation. We see the shuttered factories. We visit towns that look like they are stuck in the past. We talk to the workers who lost everything, only to be told they should retrain in another field — but Congress has been slow to fund and authorize those programs. From NAFTA to CAFTA to Korea and now the TPP, these agreements have continually put profits over people. By driving down our wages, they make our economy weaker, not stronger.

There is almost nothing good in this agreement for working people. It’s also worth noting that the labor movement in nations like Vietnam oppose the TPP as well, fearing it will make it much harder to improve conditions in their factories and sweatshops. The TPP is great if you are an elite of any of these nations or a corporate head, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. For the rest of us, such as those who want to protect our environment or labor conditions and don’t want those protections thrown away in an extra-legal court system or those of us who think that American workers who don’t have access to college educations should be able to have a good job that allows them to live a decent life or those of us who believe that Vietnamese and Malaysian workers need to have their rights expanded, the TPP is a complete disaster.

Unfortunately, because of President Obama’s support that is combined with key Democrats in west coast states with large ports that send and receive products to Asia, the TPP is almost certain to past. It would be nice if pressure was placed on relevant senators to make them fear for their political lives if they vote for the TPP, but between the 6-year election cycle for them and the lack of primary options from the left, there’s really little hope here. It was fast-track where the real decision was made. We will be living with the consequences for a long time.

Finally, the TPP is another in a seven decade series of defeats on major bills for organized labor. On everything from Taft-Hartley in 1947 to overturning parts of T-H in 1966 to the failure of a meaningful Humphrey-Hawkins full employment bill in 1978 to NAFTA to the TPP to many other labor bills, the reality is that organized labor has never had the political power to win or defeat bills that were inimical to its most dear interests. Even when labor had more power than it does today, the combination of Republicans and conservative (or pro-business, which is not always the same thing) Democrats was always enough to beat it, at least since 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was the last comprehensive labor bill to become law in the United States. That’s a very long time.

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  • Sue.K.Mabels

    This is where Sanders’ talk on starting a political movement rather than just a presidential campaign is important. Can an anti-TPP movement ride the coattails of the campaign? Would be nice.

    • Well, there was a lot of talk a year or so ago that if the TPP took this long that it would not pass Congress in the middle of a presidential campaign and thus would be delayed. Under this scenario, theoretically a Sanders presidency would kill it (in fact, I’d be shocked and horrified if it didn’t). But I don’t really get the calculus–why wouldn’t an end of term Obama be able to create the same coalition to pass it he did for fast track? Especially after the primaries mean that Republicans won’t suffer for voting for an Obama bill?

      • Dilan Esper

        One really interesting question for Sanders is whether he would withrdaw from or abrogate existing trade agreements. We pretty much know Clinton would not, and this would be something he could do using his executive authority (and thus is not subject to Clinton’s arguments about achievable change).

        • Gwen

          Sometimes the threat is more useful than the actual policy.

          I think we could get a lot of things done if we put withdrawing from NAFTA on the table.

          I would not actually support withdrawing from NAFTA however, but don’t tell the Mexicans that.

          One would assume that Bernie Sanders understands the concept of bluffing.

      • Quite Likely

        If Sanders was the nominee and out there railing against the TPP it could be very awkward for Obama to push it through at the 11th hour. And given that both Trump and Cruz oppose the TPP as well, it wouldn’t exactly be a comfortable vote for the Republicans either.

  • Dilan Esper

    You know, I’m really sick of that “labor movement in Vietnam opposes TPP” link. You’ve used it 5 or 6 times now. You found one organization in one developing country that opposes TPP, and from that you are extrapolating widespread opposition. My understanding, which I admit is limited (but I do spend a fair amount of time traveling to TPP countries), is that in general labor organizations, and the left wing more generally, in these countries are supportive of the TPP and other trade agreements for fairly obvious reasons.

    I’d like to see some more examples of opposition in different TPP countries rather than just hearing over and over again about one group in Vietnam.

    • Ronan

      Tpp is very popular in most of the countries involved. Most notably Vietnam where (iirc) over 80% support it . I’ve linked to the polls multiple time on related threads (can’t now because my kindle no longer allows me copy and paste links for some reason) . But the polling is easy to find

      “However, support for this free trade agreement is much more robust in most other TPP nations surveyed. This includes two-thirds or more of Vietnamese (89% good thing), Peruvians (70%) and Chileans (67%). And at least half or more in Mexico (61%), Japan (53%), Australia (52%) and Canada (52%) also support the deal. In Malaysia, only 38% support the agreement, but that is due in part to 31% volunteering that they have not heard enough.”

  • anonymous

    The TPP, while ostensibly a trade agreement, is really about creating an anti-China alliance.

    Whether that goal and the means to achieve it via the TPP is worthwhile is another matter.

    That’s why TPP is so “vital” in the eyes of the Establishment, not because of economics but because of strategic considerations.

    • Linnaeus

      From what I’ve been reading, the TPP probably won’t have much effect on US jobs, either positively or negatively, since most trade barriers are already quite low. The real prize, for US business at least, is intellectual property protection.

      Re: China, it’s true that Obama has specifically invoked China in arguing for the TPP, claiming that the TPP will keep China from setting labor standards and so forth. Which would seem to go against free trade doctrine – from that standpoint, why shouldn’t China set labor standards?

  • Gwen

    I genuinely appreciate these posts on TPP.

    Like Keystone XL, TPP is an issue where I could probably be swayed either way. After learning more about it, I’m clearly against it.

    My initial reaction to TPP was favorable largely because it had Obama attached to it.

    It’s really important to educate people about things, particularly ones with a complex mix of arguments that the mainstream media absolutely refuses to print.

  • Lt. Condition

    From my personal, anecdotal interactions with people in Hanoi, nearly everyone I speak to seems to support TPP. Then again, I’m in Hanoi and primarily interacting with emerging middle-class people (or those who aspire to be), not factory workers and the like. The general income bracket / standard of living is decidedly higher than in the provinces.

    That said, most of the people I’ve spoken to generally approve of the idea of “closer relations” with the US / the west in general and are more wary of China than anyone else. None of the people I’ve spoken to have thought about or are aware of the insidious nature of the ISDS, and none have really considered what American IP having legal teeth over here would potentially mean (every third storefront uses stolen American IP, I swear).

    If the TPP has any impact on life here, I can’t see it being good for anyone.

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