Why is Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership agreement being negotiated in secret?

Answer: Because the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is not really a free trade agreement. It’s Obama’s parting gift to the 1%—a global, corporate Trojan Horse.

Thom Hartman, writes at Alternet, “The TPP would give big pharmaceutical companies virtual monopoly patent power, it would let corporations sue countries in international courts over regulations that those corporations don’t like, and and it would gut American environmental and financial rules.”

Lori Wallach writes in the New York Times, “Ron Kirk, until recently Mr. Obama’s top trade official, was remarkably candid about why he opposed making the text public: doing so, he suggested to Reuters, would raise such opposition that it could make the deal impossible to sign.”

The Nation quotes Elizabeth Warren who thinks the TPP should not happen: “From what I hear, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, telecom, big polluters and outsourcers are all salivating at the chance to rig the deal in the upcoming trade talks.”

If the TPP goes into effect, it will be the largest trade deal in history.

The proposed twelve member countries are the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. It would encompass 800 million people—about a third of world trade, and nearly 40 percent of the global economy. Because the terms of the TPP are being written by banks, corporations and the global elite, it will have tremendously negative consequences for ordinary people in the United States and around the world. Obama, who has been negotiating the TPP for five years, is trying to gain fast track approval from Congress to avoid public debate on its contents.

In his latest State of the Union Address, Obama pushed the TPP as a remedy for growing income inequality and a sluggish economy, claiming it would “protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in America.’” In reality, it would do nothing of the kind.

In a perfect example of Orwellian doublespeak, Obama used the SOTU to address growing criticism of the TPP, which, since Wikileaks leaked some chapters, has come under attack. Instead of protecting workers and the environment, as Obama claimed, the TPP would rewrite a raft of U.S. laws, including labor and environmental laws, to favor corporate interests. Rather than support American small businesses, as Obama claimed, the TPP, would undercut them, as did NAFTA.

What candidate Obama promised on trade deals

“NAFTA did not have enforceable labor agreements and environmental agreements. And what I said was we should include those and make them enforceable.” (Presidential Debate, October 15, 2008)

“It is absolutely critical that we engaged in trade, but it has to be viewed not just through the lens of Wall Street, but also Main Street, which means we’ve got strong labor standards and strong environmental standards and safety standards, so we don’t have toys being shipped in the US with lead paint on them.” (Presidential Debate, Feb 21, 2008)

Congress has a responsibility because we’ve got right now provisions in our tax code that reward companies that are moving jobs overseas instead of companies that are investing right here in the US. And that is a reflection of the degree to which special interests have been shaping our trade policy. That’s something that I’ll end. (2007 AFL-CIO Democratic Primary Forum)

“I voted against CAFTA, never supported NAFTA, and will not support NAFTA-style trade agreements in the future. While NAFTA gave broad rights to investors, it paid only lip service to the rights of labor and the importance of environmental protection.” (Ohio, 2008)

President Obama’s TPP is NAFTA on steroids

According to Lori Wallach, in her Op-Ed at the NYT, TPP would include “more expansive incentives to relocate domestic manufacturing offshore than were included in NAFTA—a deal that drained millions of manufacturing jobs from the American economy.” Alternet’s Thom Hartman says bluntly, that if the TPP becomes law, it would “gouge the American economy.”

Although over 600 banks and corporations, and their lawyers and lobbyists, have access to the draft agreement, and are, in fact, writing it, we, the public—and until last June even members of Congress—are not allowed to know what’s in it. In June of last year, after 150 members of Congress wrote Obama complaining about lack of access to the TPP draft, he responded with a process whereby members of Congress can only read individual chapters of the document. If requested, a particular chapter is delivered to a Congressperson or Senator, who is required to read it alone, without staff present, and is forbidden to take extensive notes. After reading it, they are also forbidden to talk about it to anyone.

Rep. Alan Grayson, who spearheaded the effort to gain access to the TPP, and has read chapters of the draft said, “I can tell you it’s very bad for the future of America. I just can’t tell you why. ”

Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed Lori Wallach of Public Citizens Global Trade Watch on the dangers of TPP. The following are some excerpts from that interview.

AMY GOODMAN: Lori, welcome back to Democracy Now! Just explain what the TPP is.

LORI WALLACH: Well, one of the most important things to understand is it’s not really mainly about trade. . . The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establish new powers for corporations.

For instance, there are the same investor privileges that promote job offshoring to lower-wage countries. There is a ban on Buy Local procurement, so that corporations have a right to do sourcing, basically taking our tax dollars, and instead of investing them in our local economy, sending them offshore. There are new rights to, for instance, have freedom to enter other countries and take natural resources, a right for mining, a right for oil, gas, without approval.

And then there’s a whole set of very worrisome issues relating to Internet freedom. Through sort of the backdoor of the copyright chapter of TPP is a whole chunk of SOPA, the Stop Online Privacy Act, that activism around the country successfully derailed a year ago. Think about all the things that would be really hard to get into effect as a corporation in public—a lot of them rejected here and in the other 11 countries—and that is what’s bundled in to the TPP. And every country would be required to change its laws domestically to meet these rules. The binding provision is each country shall ensure the conformity of domestic laws, regulations and procedures.

Now, the only reason I know that level of detail is because a few texts have leaked, and I have been following the negotiations and grilling negotiators from other countries to try and find between the lines what the hell is going on; otherwise, totally secret.

[TPP] would rewrite wide swaths of our laws. . . . if this were in effect, we couldn’t ensure the safety of the food we feed our families. We would have to import, for instance, fish and shrimp that we know, from the limited inspection that’s done, is extremely dangerous from certain kinds of growing ponds that are contaminated, etc., in some of the TPP countries. Or, for instance, some of the financial reforms where the banksters were finally regulated would be rolled back. All of this, and it would be privately enforceable by certain foreign corporations.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lori, what’s been the Obama administration’s position on these negotiations in terms of tobacco? Could you talk about that specifically?

LORI WALLACH: The tobacco issue is one of those that’s the most gruesome. So, the TPP includes the very controversial investor-state system, which empowers individual corporations to directly sue governments—not in our courts, but in extrajudicial tribunals where three corporate attorneys act as “judges,” and these guys rotate between being the judge and being the guys suing the government for the corporation. They’re empowered to give unlimited cash damages from us, the taxpayers, to these corporations for any government action—a regulatory issue, environment, health, safety—that undermines the investor’s expected future profits. Under that system, big tobacco companies have been attacking health regulations. And famously—infamously—these kinds of investor-state cases have extracted billions of dollars and undermined important laws.

So, Philip Morris has used this to attack Australia, one of the TPP country’s plain-packaging-of-cigarette laws. So, a lot of the TPP countries are very worried that they would be basically handcuffed from being able to regulate for health around tobacco. So, the U.S. originally was going to offer an exception. Big tobacco came in and basically won the day. The U.S. pulled away what was a medium exception, put in something that’s really worse than nothing, and then Malaysia came in and actually offered a real exception, which the U.S. is opposing—just like the U.S. is opposing an exception to maintain financial regulations for prudential reasons, just like the U.S. is opposing a real exception to those investor tribunals with respect to health and the environment. It’s incredibly depressing.

The only good news is a bunch of the other countries have basically said, “Basta! We are not going to roll back these things.” So the reason there isn’t a deal is because a lot of the other countries are standing up to the worst of these U.S. corporate-inspired demands.

For more information on TPP, go to www.exposethetpp, tradewatch.org, or www.citizenstrade.org. You’ll see there’s almost no part of your life or the things you care about that this agreement couldn’t undermine.