Against Odds, Obama Ups Ante for TPP

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Seeing a solid opposition to his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade-agreement proposal from economists, legal academics, citizen activists and — most important Congress — President Obama still is pushing for a lame-duck legislative vote of approval after the November elections.

Right now, the president’s paddling hard, upstream.

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Last week, 200 economists and legal academics wrote members of Congress a letter heavily opposed to the TPP’s section dealing with the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). The letter expressed deep concerns that the TPP would basically place international corporations’ desire for profit above a nation’s right to govern. The writers, from major colleges and universities throughout the U.S., explained:

ISDS grants foreign corporations and investors a special legal privilege: the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a government for actions that allegedly violate loosely defined investor rights to seek damages from taxpayers for the corporation’s lost profits. Essentially, corporations and investors use ISDS to challenge government policies, actions, or decisions that they allege reduce the value of their investments…

 

…This system undermines the important roles of our domestic and democratic institutions, threatens domestic sovereignty, and weakens the rule of law.

Despite the letter, and ongoing widespread vocal opposition to the corporate-controlled TPP — which had been kept secret from the public and begrudgingly provided in secret sessions to members of Congress — Obama said in a public gathering last week in Laos:

I have yet to hear a persuasive argument from the left or the right as to why we wouldn’t want to create a trade framework that raises labor standards, raises environmental standards, protects intellectual property, levels the playing field for U.S. businesses, brings down tariffs. It is indisputable that it would create a better deal for us than the status quo.

Stiglitz opposes TPP

The likes of Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University disagree with Obama. For example, Stiglitz spoke last year at the University of British Columbia (Canada is a proposed TPP member). The Vancouver Sun said Stiglitz “warned Canadians that the 12-nation free-trade deal, which includes Canada, has the potential to damage certain aspects of quality of life for consumers and citizens.”

The Sun quoted Stiglitz:

That’s where these agreements are becoming particularly bad. It used to be that trade agreements were negotiated over tariffs … the consumers gained. The new agreements are about getting rid of regulations. We’re talking about regulation over the environment, safety, economy, health. The consumers, who are not at the table, get screwed.

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Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and author of The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority, was interviewed about TPP last week on the “Democracy Now!” TV report. An attorney, Wallach explained her specific concern with the Investor-State Dispute Settlement:

Were the TPP to go into place, literally thousands of multinational corporations would be newly empowered to be able to sue the U.S. government, in front of panels of three corporate attorneys, who could order the government to pay unlimited sums, including for those corporations’ expected future profits, paid by us taxpayers, and all the corporations would have to do is convince those lawyers that some U.S. federal, state, local law, regulation, court ruling, government action undermines the new rights and privileges that the TPP would grant them. And there is no appeal from these panels; these lawyers decide. And there’s no limit on how much they can order taxpayers to pay.

Wallach noted that Obama, feeling the pressure of losing on TPP, had upped the political ante:

Right now you have the president and the Cabinet officials and Vice President Biden running around pushing TPP, in conflict with and to the peril of, some would argue, the election goals of Hillary Clinton. [Clinton has flip-flopped on TPP, first favoring and now opposing it.] And her prospects for winning in certain states where these issues are very important, the lines are being blurred. But also, many congressional and Senate candidates are also running strongly against the TPP, and the president is right now prioritizing, trying to get a vote after the election, in the lame-duck period. And this should be a signal to almost every American what’s up here. This is an agreement so repugnant that members of Congress do not want to vote for it. Even the ones who support it, for the corporations, do not want it on their record before an election.

She added it will be up to the American public to contact their Congressional delegation and insist they oppose the TPP, particularly after the November elections.

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Growing Global Public Dissatisfaction

TPP isn’t Obama’s only problem in the global trade effort. He has also pushed for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a secretly negotiated proposed pact between Europe and the U.S.

However, it appears that the TTIP may have failed. On Aug. 28, time.com reported that Germany’s economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, told citizens in Berlin, “In my opinion, the negotiations with the United States have de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it.” The report added that, in 14 rounds of talks, the two sides hadn’t agreed on a single common item out of 27 chapters discussed.

Further, reports on last week’s G20 talks among the world’s leading nations, meeting in China, noted that the mood seemed to be turning against globalization. As Agence France-Presse noted in covering the conference:

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde warned last week that the world faces a potentially toxic mix of low long-term growth and rising inequality, creating political temptations to populism and raised trade barriers.

You can read more in-depth information on TPP and TTIP in our earlier coverage here and here.