2,000 groups urge Congress to oppose fast-track authorization

The Wisconsin Gazette

A coalition of labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith, Internet freedom and other organizations this week escalated the campaign to defeat fast-track trade authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A letter endorsed by 2,009 groups was sent to members of Congress.

The letter said TPP threatens American jobs and wages, food safety, affordable medicines, the environment, financial stability and more. The pact also replicates the labor and environmental framework first established in George W. Bush’s final trade agreements, which recent U.S. government reports reveal has proven ineffective. This, according to the coalition, has generated wide opposition to the agreement and undermined the White House effort to characterize it as “progressive.”

“Fast track is rigged to give special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We’ve seen this before and it has led to massive job loss. We cannot get better trade agreements until we get our priorities straight.”

“While we are not currently permitted to see the terms of the new trade deal, what we do know is the fast-track process enables trade deals that hurt everyday Americans and stack the deck in favor of corporations,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “It limits public and congressional oversight and does not allow effective enforcement. We need trade policy that strengthens our country — ensuring the rights of workers, and protecting consumers and the environment. We need a democratic and transparent trade process that offers a fair shake for American workers. Fast track fails these standards and should be rejected.”

The legislation would allow the president to sign and enter into the TPP before Congress approves its contents with a guarantee that the done deal would then be voted on within 90 days after it is submitted with ordinary congressional review, amendment and debate procedures forbidden.

If enacted, the legislation also would allow a president to unilaterally select trade partners, launch new negotiation, set the terms and sign and enter into any and all agreements before Congress approves pacts’ contents or trade partners.

“President Obama may believe the TPP is good for America, even if from what we have seen of the text we strongly disagree, but who knows who will be president next, and if Congress approves this fast-track bill that unknown president would get unacceptable powers to unilaterally dictate trade policies that are do or die for American jobs and wages and the consumer and environmental safeguards on which all of our families rely,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The opposition to fast track has been fueled, in part, by the administration’s admission that the TPP is modeled after the Obama administration’s biggest trade agreement to date: the 2012 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. That pact was sold with the claims that it would lead to more exports and more jobs. However, U.S. exports to Korea have declined 5 percent and the goods trade deficit with Korea has climbed 84 percent, which equates to the loss of an estimated 85,000 American jobs using the same trade-jobs ratio that the administration used to claim the pact would create 70,000 jobs.

Leaked texts first published by the Citizens Trade Campaign and more recently by WikiLeaks, further reveal U.S. negotiators pushing investor-state dispute settlement and intellectual property provisions for the TPP that, according to opponents of the agreement, would jeopardize environmental protections, consumer safety standards, Internet freedom and access to medicine in the United States and throughout the Pacific Rim.

“We have serious environmental concerns about the pending trade agreements which is why we oppose giving a blank check to turn those into law,” said Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “These agreements could undercut many of our bedrock environmental and public health protections.”

Other organizations to sign the letter include 350.org, Action Aid USA, Alliance for Retired Americans, American Sustainable Business Council, Consumers Union, Defenders of Wildlife, Electronic Frontier Foundation, League of Conservation Voters, Presbyterian Church USA, NAACP, National Nurses United, Presente.org, SEIU and Union of Concerned Scientists.

The letter notes that the Hatch-Ryan bill’s much-touted negotiating objectives “are entirely unenforceable,” that its transparency provisions “fail to match even the level of transparency found in past practice,” that “provisions that would ostensibly enable Congress to strip Fast Track authority from trade agreements … are, in fact, more difficult for Congress to trigger than simply voting down a Fast Tracked agreement in the first place,” and concludes that, “Put simply, this is the same failed Fast Track process that has delivered harmful trade agreements again and again.”