Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an unprecedented trade pact that has been developed in secret by diplomats representing eleven nations as well as lobbyists for large, multinational corporations, have finally been completed, the Obama administration announced this morning.
“This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products,” claimed President Obama in a statement.
“It includes the strongest commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history, and those commitments are enforceable, unlike in past agreements. It promotes a free and open Internet.”
“It strengthens our strategic relationships with our partners and allies in a region that will be vital to the 21st century. It’s an agreement that puts American workers first and will help middle-class families get ahead.”
“Once negotiators have finalized the text of this partnership, Congress and the American people will have months to read every word before I sign it.”
Reaction to the announcement poured in, and much of it was negative.
The Ford Motor Company, one of America’s traditional Big Three automakers, said it would oppose the pact, and lawmakers from Michigan echoed the company’s concerns that the TPP doesn’t address currency manipulation.
“To ensure the future competitiveness of American manufacturing, we recommend Congress not approve TPP in its current form,” Ford said in a statement.
“Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) expresses its dismay that TPP countries have agreed to United States government and multinational drug company demands that will raise the price of medicines for millions by unnecessarily extending monopolies and further delaying price-lowering generic competition,” the respected nongovernmental organization (NGO) said.
“The big losers in the TPP are patients and treatment providers in developing countries. Although the text has improved over the initial demands, the TPP will still go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries, which will be forced to change their laws to incorporate abusive intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies.”
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking to succeed Barack Obama as the next President of the United States, blasted the pact almost immediately and said he would do all he could to defeat it in Congress.
“Wall Street and big corporations just won a big victory to advance a disastrous trade deal. Now it’s on us to stop it from becoming law,” Sanders said in an email to his supporters, going on to explain what is known about the TPP.
“Not a lot of presidential candidates would use their campaigns to influence legislation being considered in Congress,” Sanders noted. “Some candidates haven’t even expressed an opinion on this critical issue, which, frankly, I don’t really understand. But as I’ve said before, this campaign is not about Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, or Jeb Bush — it’s about the needs of the American people.”
“And we need a new approach to trade in this country — one that benefits working families and not just the CEOs of multinational corporations.”
“We have no reason to believe that the TPP has improved much at all from the last leaked version released in August, and we won’t know until the U.S. Trade Representative releases the text,” said the EFF’s Maira Sutton in a blog post.
“So as long as it contains a retroactive 20-year copyright term extension, bans on circumventing DRM [digital restrictions management], massively disproportionate punishments for copyright infringement, and rules that criminalize investigative journalists and whistleblowers, we have to do everything we can to stop this agreement from getting signed, ratified, and put into force.”
“We are disappointed that our negotiators rushed to conclude the TPP in Atlanta, given all the concerns that have been raised by American stakeholders and members of Congress. The Administration had a hard time reaching this deal for good reasons: it appears that many problematic concessions were made in order to finalize the deal. We ask the Administration to release the text immediately, and urge legislators to exercise great caution in evaluating the TPP.”
“As we’ve said, rushing through a bad deal will not bring economic stability to working families, nor will it bring confidence that our priorities count as much as those of global corporations. We will evaluate the details carefully and work to defeat this corporate trade deal if it does not measure up.”
Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, who helped secure passage of legislation to fast-track the TPP for Obama, pledged to subject the pact to “intense scrutiny”.
Republicans control Congress, so if they wanted to, they could pass TPP on their own. Senate Democrats would not be able to filibuster, because fast-track guarantees a vote in both houses of Congress, and precludes any amendments.
However, it’s unlikely that Republicans will be united on TPP. In the House, a significant number of Republicans refused to vote for fast-track legislation, both on the first go-around (which failed) and the second (which succeeded).
If the tea party wing of the Republican Party withholds its votes on final passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the administration would need some Democrats to cross over and vote yes in order to win approval for the agreement.
We have no doubt the administration will vigorously lobby the same Democrats who voted for fast-track (like Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Maria Cantwell, and Patty Murray) to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But because the TPP is behind schedule (negotiations were finished later than the administration wanted), a vote will not happen until 2016 — smack in the middle of the presidential nominating season, and in an election year.
As the old adage goes, in politics, timing is everything, and the TPP will be landing in Congress at a time when congressional and presidential candidates are looking to secure support from the respective bases of their party for the 2016 presidential election. The Republican base can’t stand Barack Obama and is reflexively opposed to anything he proposes. The Democratic base, meanwhile, is sick of losing jobs to grand trade schemes that failed to live up to their billing (like NAFTA).
That will make it very hard for the administration to procure votes.
Hillary Clinton could play a decisive role. She has already announced her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, having gotten tired of the White House’s dithering on the matter. If she comes out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it could make it extremely difficult for the White House to sell TPP to skeptical Democrats.
As Obama has said several times, he’s never going to face the voters again. He’s run his last campaign. In a year and a half, he’ll be out of office, never to return. He can pursue whatever agenda he wants without worrying about the electoral fallout. Democrats in Congress simply don’t have that luxury.
Even if they did, though, their allegiance should be to the people of this country, not to powerful corporations. Trade deals that fatten the bottom lines of giant firms at the expense of working people should not even merit consideration from any Democrat who truly believes in the values expressed in the party’s platform.
President Obama claims TPP is not like NAFTA. We agree that TPP is different — it’s unprecedented in size and scope — but that doesn’t mean it’s better. In fact, we believe it has the potential to be worse. It all depends on what’s actually in it.
The administration pumped out multiple pro-TPP “fact sheets” this morning which were fairly light on facts, but very heavy on platitudes and pro-trade rhetoric.
We are not interested in those materials. We want to see the actual text of what will be submitted to Congress so we can evaluate it for ourselves.
If it turns out the agreement is what we suspect it to be (another giveaway to powerful multinational corporations) we will be unequivocally opposed.