Business groups back Obama on trade

Business groups are defending the dispute settlement boards that would be included in trade agreements being negotiated by the Obama administration.

In a letter to lawmakers on Monday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and more than 60 other groups voiced support for the boards, which have been lambasted by organized labor and the left.


The letter argues that critics are mischaracterizing the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) boards as having more power than they actually have.

“These ISDS panels never have overturned and never can overturn any country’s laws or regulations,” the groups wrote. “ISDS is a strong enforcement tool that helps ensure that American businesses and their workers will be treated fairly overseas.”

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' The Trojan Horse of protectionism Federal Reserve officials' stock trading sparks ethics review MORE (D-Mass.) and other critics have charged that the boards serve as a way for corporations to tilt the playing field in their favor, allowing them to sue countries and sidestep U.S. laws.

It’s one of the arguments that the left is using against Obama’s push for fast-track authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation economic agreement that would include a dispute-settlement board.

Labor groups argue that the deal would put U.S. workers in direct competition with foreign workers. The administration argues that it would help boost economic growth, while providing fair rules for countries that have faulty workers' rights records.

Linda Dempsey, vice president of international economic affairs for the National Association of Manufacturers, said the boards protect “businesses of all sizes.”

“Foreign governments continue to close their markets, discriminate against us, steal our technology, or otherwise deny our businesses a fair shake,” Dempsey said. “Investment rules, enforced through ISDS, provide vital recourse against unfair treatment and must continue to be a priority in new trade agreements.”