Rep. Keith Ellison hasn’t seen a draft of the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, but executives at Cargill and Monsanto probably have.
If that arrangement strikes you as skewed, you’re not alone.
At a panel discussion on the TPP July 1 in Minneapolis, Ellison faced a fiery crowd of more than 50 people, who peppered panelists with questions and concerns about the TPP, its scope and the cloud of secrecy surrounding it.
Ellison, a DFLer from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, made it clear he shares constituents’ frustrations, and he asked for their help in working to “slow this train down and get some sunshine on it.
“Let’s see it. Let’s have some transparency,” Ellison said of the draft TPP. “If it’s so good, why are they keeping it hidden?”
Representatives of 11 countries, including the U.S., will meet in Malaysia this week for an 18th round of negotiations on the TPP agreement.
Congress left in the dark
It’s unknown exactly how close negotiators are to reaching a finished product, as drafts and proposals used during the talks are classified, keeping both the media and members of Congress mostly in the dark. About 600 “cleared advisors,” the members of various federal trade advisory committees, have access to TPP drafts. Most advisors work for multinational corporations – Walmart, General Electric, Chevron – and powerful industry lobbies.
But multinational corporations aren’t the only group with a stake in TPP negotiations.
Together, the 11 TPP member countries account for nearly 40 percent of the global economy and about one-third of the world’s trade, meaning the pact will have a major impact on workers, consumers and small businesses in all 11 countries. Those groups, panelists at the July 1 event agreed, need a voice at the table in negotiations, or else the TPP will fail like NAFTA and others before it.
Ellison said he wants to see “a new trade model” capable of creating U.S. jobs and promoting stronger environmental standards worldwide.
“If you want to promote trade, it has to be between free people in one country and free people in another country … between countries that have labor standards, environmental standards, real standards,” he said.
That pretty much sums up the problem with NAFTA, which displaced an estimated 682,900 U.S. jobs between 1994 and 2010, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. Minnesota has been hit particularly hard by corporate “offshoring.” U.S. Labor Department data shows 39,797 Minnesota jobs were displaced as a result of trade between 1994 and 2012 – the 15th highest in the nation as a percentage of state population.
Sovereignty at risk?
But the TPP’s reach may go far beyond tariffs and trade. Jim Harkness of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy said drafts of the agreement, leaked anonymously to the public, include provisions to prevent governments from passing laws that would restrict the access products from other countries have to domestic markets – or so-called “barriers to trade.”
Machinists union representative Rick Ryan put it this way: The TPP threatens to “eliminate important policy decisions and tools we use to create a better society here.”
Harkness and Ryan said the TPP could enable corporations or foreign governments to sue the U.S. for enacting laws that require municipalities to use locally produced materials on public construction projects. Domestic food-safety inspections and country-of-origin labeling requirements might also be at risk. Should the FDA consider fish safe to eat because it passed an inspection in Vietnam?
“A lot of the agreement isn’t about trade, it’s about lowering standards so that corporations have more access,” Harkness said. “This is a very dangerous path to take.”
Ellison: Target ‘fast track’
Although Congress, charged by the Constitution with regulating commerce with foreign nations, has the authority to improve free-trade agreements like the TPP, Ellison doubts members will give themselves the chance.
A bill to grant President Obama fast-track authority is already in the works, and if it passes members of Congress would be prohibited from offering amendments to the TPP. Rather, the House and Senate would be locked into taking an up-or-down vote on the pact in its entirety.
Ellison said organizing against fast-track reauthorization is step one in the process of improving – or killing – the TPP, and he asked constituents at the July 1 forum to use their “attention, activism and inquisitive questioning” to shed public light on a potentially disastrous trade deal.
“We want people across the country having meetings like this,” Ellison said. “When fast track is dropped, we need to have mass rallies all across this country.”