Obama signs TPP


The secret negotiations are complete. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — kind of a quadruple NAFTA — was finalized Oct. 5 and will be heading to Congress for a ratification vote. TPP is a partnership between corporate lawyers and government leaders from 12 Pacific Rim nations — to write a massive set of rules that would lock in corporate profits and protect investors from democracy.

[pullquote] We already know enough to oppose the TPP. It’s going to offshore jobs and drive down wages.” —  Citizens Trade Campaign director Arthur Stamoulis [/pullquote]But that’s not how President Barack Obama’s trade czar put it. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is a former Citigroup executive and Harvard Law classmate of  Obama’s. During his Senate confirmation it came out that he owned substantial funds in a Cayman Islands tax haven. Froman’s the guy who led the TPP talks to completion, and he wants you to think TPP is all about benefiting American workers.

For details of the sales pitch, or just to witness the Obama Administration’s world-class chutzpah, take a look at Froman’s brand-new propaganda web site — ustr.gov/tpp. The site features a red-white-and-blue logo that reads “TPP: Made In America,” and the tagline, “leveling the playing field for American workers and American businesses.” The TPP “includes the strongest worker protections of any trade agreement in history,” the web site says.

The public has only the administration’s word for that, for now. The text of the agreement will continue to be classified until it’s released in about a month.

The TPP’s corporate-written text may have been Made in America, as illustrated by the new logo on the Obama Administration’s official propaganda web site, but the deal’s labor critics say it will lead to further offshoring of U.S. jobs.

In his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said he’d preside over the most transparent administration ever. But his trade talks were even more secret than those of the Bush years. Almost everything about the talks was classified. Even members of Congress had to go to a special room just to see what the U.S. was proposing in the talks — and they weren’t allowed to take notes or pictures. What does Froman’s TPP web site say about that?

“President Obama made the TPP negotiations the most transparent in American history.”

Arthur Stamoulis is executive director of the labor-backed Citizens Trade Campaign in Washington, D.C. Reached by phone, he chuckles wearily when asked if he thinks TPP has strong worker protections.

“Nobody in labor is buying it,” Stamoulis says.

Judging by the details so far released, Stamoulis says the claim of strong workers’ rights protections looks pretty flimsy for two reasons. First, TPP nations would commit to meet the core labor standards of the International Labor Organization, but TPP negotiators chose to define those standards by the broad principles of the ILO’s “Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work” — not the specific enforceable language of ILO Conventions. Second, it’s enforcement that matters, not pretty promises. To protect foreign investor rights, TPP lets foreign investors sue governments directly in special dispute resolution panels. But workers and unions wouldn’t have a similar right to sue governments when they violate TPP worker rights provisions: Only governments can make those complaints. And the past record doesn’t inspire confidence, Stamoulis says. The Bush Administration lauded CAFTA for its “enforceable” workers rights standards before it passed in 2005. Today CAFTA-signatory Guatemala is one of the deadliest countries on earth for trade union organizers, and has faced no meaningful sanction under CAFTA.

“We’ve heard it before: ‘Trust us; this is going to do a better job on labor and environment.’” Stamoulis said.

TPP is also said to be better for workers than past agreements because it would require countries — like Vietnam — to have a legal minimum wage; it doesn’t say how high, just that they have a law.

“Can you imagine the Obama Administration going to PhRMA [the pharmaceutical industry lobby group] and saying this is a good agreement because we require them to have patent laws?” Stamoulis said.

And there are other reasons besides weak worker protections to oppose TPP, Stamoulis said. Its Investor-State Dispute Resolution process would create incentives to offshore. Its government procurement rules would seriously limit efforts to buy American or buy local. And its rules-of-origin provisions are worse than those of NAFTA — it would treat autos as “Japanese made,” even when they have lots of Chinese parts.

“We already know enough to oppose the TPP,” Stamoulis said. “It’s going to offshore jobs and drive down wages.”



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