Opponents of fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are gaining momentum. In spite of a virtual media blackout, public awareness of the coming trade deal is increasing.
More and more public-interest organizations are organizing and denouncing the rigged fast-track approval process and TPP trade agreement. One after another, members of Congress are announcing opposition to fast track and demanding that trade problems like currency manipulation be covered by the TPP agreement.
Meanwhile, the expected fast-track bill has been delayed again.
Fast Track 'Stuck'
Fast track is a process under which Congress agrees to bypass its duty to define, consider, debate and approve trade deals. Fast track limits discussion and debate and gives Congress only 90 days in which to bring the deal up for a vote. It is a rigged process designed to ensure that the TPP trade agreement, "history's largest trade deal," is pushed through Congress before the public has time to fully analyze, understand and consider its ramifications and organize opposition if opposition is warranted.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said that negotiations on a new fast-track trade promotion authority bill are "stuck" and no bill will be introduced before April. On the one hand, this is a good sign; there is enough opposition that they are holding back the bill. On the other hand, this could mean that the bill will be introduced with a very short time for legislators to consider its full implications before having to vote on it. Also, it would mean there is little time for any media reporting that might occur, and for the broad general public to register opposition or support.
The Sticking Point
The delay of the fast-track bill appears to be based on Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-Oregon) insistence that the fast-track "protection" process have a way to be revoked if the TPP does not do what Congress wanted it to do. According to a behind-paywall Politico report (and other reports), Sen. Wyden wants to be able to strip the TPP of fast-track protections "if lawmakers decide that the administration failed to adequately consult with Congress or ignored its negotiating objectives." Sen. Hatch refuses to allow this to be put into the fast-track bill.
In other words, Republicans (and the big corporations that sponsor them) are resisting Democratic efforts to be able to set aside the rigged fast-track process if the TPP turns out to not follow Congress' objectives for the agreement.
But fast track is, in part, being sold as a way for Congress to define the terms of trade agreements. For example, the U.S. Trade Representative website promises, "TPA [fast track] is a legislative procedure, written by Congress, through which Congress defines U.S. negotiating objectives and spells out a detailed oversight and consultation process for during trade negotiations."
The Chamber of Commerce also promises that under TPA, "Congress defines U.S. negotiating objectives and priorities for trade agreements and establishes consultation and notification requirements for the President to follow throughout the negotiation process."
In another example, this American Enterprise Institute (AEI) promotion of fast track says that "the president agrees to negotiate trade agreements pursuant to objectives and priorities established by the Congress; in return, Congress agrees to an expedited up-or-down vote on the agreement and implementing legislation, without amendment." It also claims, "Congress's most potent power to dictate the substance of future agreements comes through the negotiating mandates it gives to the president when it passes the TPA."
So fast track is being sold as a way for Congress to define the terms of the TPP and set objectives -- but Republican Sen. Hatch is refusing to include the ability to revoke fast track if it does not do what Congress has said it must. In other words, if the big corporations and Republicans get their way, Congress does not get to set the terms after all.
Other TPP Problems
A Los Angeles Times op-ed by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, "Let's debate the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- history's largest trade deal -- before OKing it," explains some of the problems with the TPP -- at least from what we know from leaks of the secret, corporate-negotiated agreement:
What's been leaked about its proposals reveals, for example, that the pharmaceutical industry would get stronger patent protections, delaying cheaper generic versions of drugs.
The deal also gives global corporations an international tribunal of private attorneys, outside any nation's legal system, that can order compensation for lost expected profits resulting from a nation's regulations, including our own. These extraordinary rights for corporations put governments on the defensive over legitimate public health or environmental rules.
The deal would encourage and reward American corporations for outsourcing even more jobs abroad. And it does nothing to prevent other nations from manipulating their currencies to boost their exports and undermine the competitiveness of U.S.-made products.
Currency manipulation is one of the biggest problems in trade today. Countries like China and Japan manipulate the value of their currency, causing goods made in their countries to cost less -- up to 40-percent less -- than goods from countries with "stronger" currencies. One result is that because the U.S. currently has a very strong currency -- the strongest in 11 years -- and imports have surged so far beyond exports, we have an enormous, humongous trade deficit. It is estimated that currency manipulation is costing up to 5.8 million U.S. jobs.
Several members of Congress from both parties have demanded that rules about currency manipulation be included in the TPP:
Five senators -- Democrats Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Republicans Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) -- delivered a similar message, saying they will withhold their support for trade promotion authority (TPA) and any trade agreements that don't tackle the currency issue.
Graham said there appears to be "growing support" among Republicans and Democrats for the U.S. to put up a fight against countries that deliberately manipulate their currency.
"I believe there is bipartisan opposition to any trade agreement that doesn't deal with currency," said Graham, a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Stabenow argued that she and other lawmakers have been in discussions with the Obama administration at every level, so the latest push "isn't a surprise."
Brown said without a focus on currency, it would be "strike three" for the trade agenda.
In another Tuesday briefing, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said any trade deal "like TPP without strong enforceable currency manipulation provisions is bad for American workers, bad for businesses, and bad trade policy."
But while members of Congress say currency rules must be included in the TPP, Reuters reports that currency-manipulating countries do not want to change. From "Japanese official: Adding currency rules would kill Pacific trade pact":
Any effort to add rules against currency cheating in a 12-nation Pacific trade pact would mean the end of negotiations, a senior Japanese negotiator said on Tuesday.
Some U.S. lawmakers are pushing for a currency chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is near completion, partly due to concerns about a weak Japanese yen.
But Japan's deputy chief trade negotiator, Hiroshi Oe, told reporters there were no discussions about currency manipulation, and if the issue was brought to the table it would mean the end of negotiations.
The U.S. administration and other TPP partners have also warned against introducing currency into the deal.
This is another sign of momentum against the TPP. And if Sen. Hatch and the Republicans get their way, Democrats can't even revoke fast track if they have specified that the TPP must include currency rules but then the TPP shows up without currency rules. Too bad, so sad, gotta vote within 90 days anyway.
Workers Urge Congress to Oppose Fast Track
On Wednesday the AFL-CIO organized a "Lobby Day on Trade." Nearly 400 labor leaders, workers and allies from more than 20 states came to Washington, D.C., to ask members of Congress to oppose fast track, holding meetings with more than 120 senators, representatives and staff.
The day began with a press conference with U.S. Reps. Rose DeLauro (D-Connecticut), Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) and Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), along with Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO President; Art Pulaski, California AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer and Chief Officer; Ilana Solomon, Director of Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program; and Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA of Maryland.
Rep. Grijalva talked about the promises made to sell NAFTA and how we have "an opportunity to get it right, to get the focus off the interests of the richest corporations and onto the needs of the working people of this country."
"Stopping fast track is essential to the public's right to know, the protections that we want for working families, and for once Congress exerting their authority on the very critical economic issues and quality of life issues," he said. "We are here because we care about jobs."
Solomon said, "If Congress fast-tracks the deal, it will affect everyone and everything in our daily lives. For example, the TPP will require the Department of Energy to automatically approve all exports of natural gas to all countries in the agreement, leading to more fracking, more emissions and higher electricity prices." She added, "People across the country are speaking out against the agreement and rightfully so."
"We've got a big coalition here," Rep. Ellison said. "We have every right to feel confident and enthusiastic that we will win, because we're not by ourselves."
Rep. Ellison described a visit to see the agreement, where he was told he could not bring a member of his staff who understands trade law, could not take notes and could not see the agreement in its entirety. He said this inhibits his ability to represent his district.
"You could do a good trade deal with Congress; it would just mean that every community that is affected would have a say-so," he said. "Now, what's wrong with that?"