Unraveling the Secrecy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership is actually the name of one of three agreements that together comprise the largest international trade agreement in US history. In popular use, the name also refers to the entire trade pact.

Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner are working tirelessly to pass the TPP.

Fast-track, or trade promotion authority, are temporary powers Congress grants to the president in which they agree to pass his trade agreements without any amendments or filibusters. The president needs these powers to advance his TPP. On May 22, the Senate passed fast-track and set the stage for full passage of the agreement. John Boehner is now pushing aggressively to pass fast-track in the House.

Unlike any trade pact ever presented to Congress, the TPP authorizes control over vast segments of Americans’ lives, including the information internet service providers must collect, the healthcare system, the privatization of hospitals, and even control of banking institutions. The agreement consolidates greater power in the executive and diminishes Congress’ role in trade oversight.

Opponents complain the President shrouded the trade deal in secrecy. The administration counters, “There are going to be many months in which people will be able to look at every comma and period and semicolon in this deal.

The president argues the pact will “level the playing field” internationally, boost imports and lower tariffs for US goods in Asia-Pacific region nations. All of this will create 650,000 new jobs and $77 billion in new income.

TPP is shrouded in deceit and misrepresentation
While the WH did solicit opinions and publish summaries of their intentions for the pact, this might have been little more than a polite listening session. Most Americans still have no clue what the actual agreement says or does nor if any of those opinions were included.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is in a locked room where Congress can read it. Congressional members may not remove it, nor repeat or distribute details of what is in the agreement. Any notes they take must be surrendered upon exiting the ‘secret’ room.

President Obama rightly says he does not want to “announce our bottom lines…to the other side of the table.” Still, this whole process raises red flags, given the expansiveness of the new program, and that the Constitution provides Congress, not the executive, final trade authority. At the least, Congress is guilty of neglecting their responsibilities. It appears few members have gone to the private room to read the TPP.

As for “leveling the playing field,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), read sections of the agreement and concludes it does the opposite. According to Warren, the TPP is a handout to large international corporations. Under the agreement, if a multi-national corporation is in violation of US law, they can bypass our judicial system and take their case to an international board of arbiters.

Not only does this undermine the US rule of law, the conflict of interest is staggering. Many of the board judges are the same corporate lawyers representing the companies they are to judge. Since only large international investors, not small businesses can use this court; the TPP is inherently unfair.

Then there is the claim of improved exports and new jobs. According to an Economic Policy Institute report titled, “Heading South, US-Mexico Trade and Job Displacement After NAFTA”, as the result of the 1994 trade agreement, the US lost a total of 682,900 net jobs and continues to lose more every year. Over 60% of the job losses were in manufacturing.

Nor did the predictions of improved exports under NAFTA materialize. According to the report, “Abstract promises about increased jobs and exports misrepresent the real overall effects of trade on the U.S. economy.”

What is most disturbing is that congressional leaders and administration officials continue to make the same job predictions for newer trade agreements. KORUS, the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement signed in 2007, predicted a $4-5 billion improvement in our trade balance with South Korea. Instead, domestic exports decreased by $3.5 billion in the agreement’s first year alone. By 2012 KORUS had cost the US 40,000 jobs.

We now know that the administration fabricated the 650,000 new jobs claim by manipulating the data in a policy analysis from the Peterson Institute for International Economics. It is unlikely the TPP will create any net new jobs. Peter Petri, one of the report’s authors explained, trade agreements barely effect new jobs at all.

Sen. Jeff Sessions: Power the agreement bestows on the executive branch and the worsening of our trade deficit

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) read the agreement and defied the WH by speaking out. He points to several inclusions that should disturb Americans. Two of his major concerns are the power the agreement bestows on the executive branch and the worsening of our trade deficit.

Under the agreement, the president can make additions to the trade deal. Congress is limited to either accepting or rejecting his regulations, but cannot change them.

This creates a large problem for Americans. Trade deal changes can run into hundreds or even a thousand pages or more. Congress does not read them. Like the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus package, Dodd-Frank and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership, most of Congress never reads bills before voting on them. They have no idea what the fine print contains.

There is no reason to expect future practice to be different. ‘Take it or leave it’ deals forced on Congress by the executive branch further erode government’s checks and balances and remove another layer of representation for Americans.

The TPP does require the president to submit any changes to Congress 60 days before providing the accompanying legislation. Even this is little help as it also authorizes the president to redact or black out information he does not want Congress to see. So, once approved, the agreement that was born in near secrecy, authorizes itself to continue in near secrecy.

Finally, the only way Congress can end TPP is to agree to vote it out of existence at the end of its authorization period. Even here, the administration has the advantage. The president, by filing a simple request receives an automatic extension.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a California-based non-profit firm that “protects civil rights in the digital domain.” They promoted President Obama’s Net Neutrality, (at least until they voiced serious reservations about the wording after the regulation passed,) and have generally supported the president’s initiatives.

After reading the leaked TPP Intellectual Property chapter, the group was outraged at the extensive control the agreement exercises over freedom of speech, right to privacy and limitations on due process. EFF notes, “The entire process has shut out multi-stakeholder participation and is shrouded in secrecy.”

The group concludes that “…innovation, the future of the Internet’s global infrastructure, and the right of sovereign nations to develop policies and laws that best meet their domestic priorities” are all placed at risk under this secretive agreement.

Few in the world are better at shedding light on secrets than Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. His group recently published online the complete Investment Chapter of the TPP.

TPP constructs an entirely new regulatory structure above US laws and places it in treaty form

Assange observes that the TPP constructs an entirely new regulatory structure above US laws and places it in treaty form.

“By putting it in a treaty form, there are 12 countries involved, that means it is very hard to overturn. So, if there is a desire, a democratic desire to do it on a different path…you can’t easily change the TPP treaty because you have to go back to the other nations involved.”

In January of 2014, WikiLeaks published the TPP Environment chapter. While the administration presented the TPP as an “ambitious 21st century trade agreement,” upon reading the section, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund all agreed, “the TPP Environment Chapter text does not meet that goal.”

Assange remarked, “Today’s WikiLeaks release shows that the public sweetener in the TPP is just media sugar water. The fabled TPP environmental chapter turns out to be a toothless public relations exercise with no enforcement mechanism.”

Judging from emerging documents, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is more like a treaty wrapped in the verbiage of a trade pact. This construction enables the administration to win the authority of a broad treaty, while sidestepping the required 67 Senate votes.

Even more than secrecy, the TPP is shrouded in deceit and misrepresentation. Until there is greater transparency and an opportunity for all Americans to see what Congress is signing, I urge you to tell your representatives to vote “no” on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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