Secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership is more treaty than trade deal

Secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership is more treaty than trade deal

A secretive job-killing global trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will soon appear before Congress. Supporters want to rush it through with a procedure called “fast-track” that forces a quick vote and offers no opportunity to amend the deal. This would be a mistake.

The latest draft of the TPP comes out to around 1,000 pages, making public review a challenge even without the severe time constraints fast-track would impose. In reality the deal is more treaty than tariff reduction measure and should not even be eligible for fast-tracking. This deal needs to be fully reviewed as a treaty, debated and voted on by the U.S. Senate in full sunlight, with a two-thirds vote requirement to ratify.

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In its current form, the TPP would outsource good jobs, degrade global environmental and working standards and allow investor rights to overrun the rights of workers. The TPP is also packed with special-interest perks thanks to the more than 600 transnational corporations that weighed in on, and in some case wrote, the agreement in secret. Meanwhile the American people have still not been allowed to read it. 

For six years the U.S. trade representative has kept the TPP buried under a top secret classification. Even members of Congress can only read it in a secure room under the watchful eye of a security monitor. I visited that room last week to review several sections of the deal and was not allowed to make copies, keep notes, take pictures, or share anything I learned with anyone unless they have Top Secret security clearance, all under threat of prosecution.

Despite the secrecy, this deal has provisions the American people need to know about. Something called Investor-State Dispute Settlement would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States to force products into our marketplace. If federal or state health, consumer safety, environmental or labor laws ban a product, a three-person panel of international trade lawyers, not subject to Senate confirmation or conflict-of-interest restrictions, can impose heavy fines unless those laws are overturned. These decisions cannot be appealed in any U.S. court.

The TPP would also nullify many financial safeguards put into place after the Wall Street collapse of 2008. It ignores currency manipulation, a rampant practice internationally. Importantly, like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement before it, it does not open closed foreign markets, nor does it deal with discriminatory border taxes that increase the costs of importing U.S. products and decrease the cost of foreign exports. And many of the labor and environmental provisions in the deal are entirely unenforceable.  

The American people need to gauge the TPP’s impact on workers, the economy and our rule of law. Its complicated provisions need to be unpacked in full view. If the TPP was a good deal for America’s working families, small businesses or manufacturing industries, it wouldn’t be kept secret. Members of Congress would not need to be threatened with prosecution to prevent us from sharing its contents with the American people. 

Our Constitution assigns Congress, not the executive, responsibility “to regulate Commerce with foreign nations.” Using “fast-track” is an end run around the Constitution to force us to rubber-stamp a bad deal. The TPP will outsource good jobs, liquidate America’s industries and punch holes in U.S. sovereignty. Congress and its constituents, the American people, must be allowed access to the TPP — and time to review it. Given the opportunity, Congress could amend this deal and put our economic strength to work for the American people.  

If Congress agrees to give up our constitutional responsibility and fast-track this secretive deal, we will be cashing out America at the expense of future generations.

Kaptur has represented Ohio’s 9th Congressional District since 1983. She sits on the Appropriations Committee.