When First Lady Michelle Obama came to Los Angeles a year ago February to raise money for the
Democratic Party at the home of the producers of "Everybody Loves Raymond," trade pact
activists were there to tell her that "Nobody Loves the TPP."
Congress is on the verge of voting for "fast-tracking" the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade deal that has been negotiated secretly for the past decade. Only pieces of the draft deal have come into public view, and the biggest hunk of those because of Wikileaks. A fast-track bill that is an awfully lot like this one
failed in 2014, according to Democratic Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan.
What is known about the deal has not soothed U.S. opponents who have pointed to damage previous trade deals have done to American workers, among other things. The Obama administration has said that this time things are different and that the TPP has improved provisions for labor and the environment. But foes of the deal are not convinced and opposition has been vigorous. In an interview published today, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez pushed back. More about that in moment.
Under the Constitution, it's Congress that has the power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations.” But under fast-tracking Congress gives up much of that power and gives it over to the executive branch. Congress ordinarily gets to set negotiating parameters for the executive branch to follow, but when approval time comes it can only vote yes or no, no amendments allowed. Dave Johnson, at the Campaign for America's Future, points out some of the problems:
Even for trade agreements, this use of the fast track process for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be unusual. Usually fast track is set up by Congress before a trade agreement is negotiated. This way Congress can at least say who to negotiate with and lay out a set of objectives they are directing the administration to achieve.
But the TPP agreement that this fast track process will apply to is already nearly completed! So for TPP only, fast track’s special procedures to bypass the usual process—short time period, limited debate, no amendments—are only for pushing the agreement through, without the pre-designation of trade partners, objectives, and other matters that some say justifies doing so.
So what we've got with the fast-tracking of TPP is that Congress doesn't get the usual fast-track arrangement of saying ahead of time what should be included in it.
Before reading more about this below the fold, please join us in signing the petition to Nancy Pelosi: Oppose Fast Track for TPP.
The administration is, naturally, lobbying and twisting arms. As part of that effort, Secretary Perez granted an interview with Greg Sargent, who writes the highly respected Plum Line at The Washington Post. Among the questions and answers:
PLUM LINE: What do you get from a country like Vietnam in terms of a time commitment for them to come into compliance [with the deal’s labor standards]? On Day One, can they participate in the TPP without being fully compliant?
PEREZ: They are going to have to make significant changes in their laws. We will have what’s called a “consistency plan,” if are able to get to the finish line. That is, an enforceable agreement in which they will have to do certain things as a condition for participating in TPP.
PLUM LINE: Do they have to be fully compliant to participate?
PEREZ: Right now, we’re negotiating what those steps are. Some of it will be law reform. We are not going to transform Vietnam into Germany overnight. In Vietnam, we want a whole series of reforms and tariff elimination. We want to put in a regime that is meaningfully better.
positive. But the lack of transparency, past experience with trade pacts and the fast-tracking push cannot help but lead to suspicions that the deal as it has been negotiated may well contain harm for Americans whatever its claimed benefits are. There is a way to ensure such harms are removed: Let the deal be fully explored, debated and not fast-tracked.