Saturday, April 4, 2015

Pushing Congress on TPP

By Reginald Johnson

                  BRIDGEPORT ---- A coalition of activist groups is pressuring Congress to stop the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership, which critics claim would allow corporations to thwart state and local regulations covering health, safety, the environment and labor rights.

     Recently-leaked documents from the TPP secretly negotiated by the Obama administration and 11 other nations on the Pacific Rim, disclosed that new power could be given to companies based in foreign countries to sue states like Connnecticut or cities like Bridgeport to block legal requirements they believed were cutting into their profits. The cases would be decided before special tribunals, and not the traditional court system.

   Not only could local laws be challenged, but companies could be awarded financial damages.

   The proposed rules, in the investment chapter of TPP, are being characterized as a threat to democracy.

   The treaty would have a “very chilling effect on democracy in action,” said Patrick Woodall, from the group Food and Water Watch, speaking recently on the Counterpoint Radio show on WPKN in Bridgeport. (  Woodall said regulations passed by local city councils or state legislatures dealing with say, hydraulic fracking or GMO labeling on foods, could be affected.

   “All these things are liable to be challenged by foreign companies for damages as barriers to trade,” Woodall said.

   The opponents are targeting both the TPP and companion legislation, called trade promotion authority, or “fast track.”  As the name implies, fast track would mandate that Congress vote on the trade treaty within 60-90 days.  Also, only limited debate could take place on the treaty as negotiated and no amendments would be allowed.

     A vote on fast track could come soon after Congress returns from their Easter recess on April 13.

     A number of Democrats in the House and some Republicans have come out against fast track. In Connecticut, where there are five members of the House --- all Democrats --- four of the five are opposing fast track. U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, of the 4th congressional district, however, is still sitting on the fence.

   Groups like are lobbying Himes to join his House colleagues and oppose the trade promotion authority, as well as the TPP, especially in the light of the newly-revealed provisions dealing with the power of foreign companies.

   Mary Levine, of Danbury, a coordinator for in Fairfield County, showed up at Himes’ office in Bridgeport recently to speak with Himes’ staff to urge the congressman to oppose the legislation. She and others have been there before.

   “Whenever we’ve spoken to him, he’s very gracious, and said he’d look into it,” she said. “Everytime we come, we give them more documents.”

   Levine said she thinks many of Himes' constituents feel positive about his work, and that he represents their interests.

   "We expect he will come around on this," she said.

   Himes said in a statement that “as a rule” he doesn’t take positions on legislation that he hasn’t read yet, and the fast track bill has still not been submitted.  “If and when a new Trade Promotion Authority bill is introduced, I will review it and see whether the labor and environmental negotiating objectives are worthy of my support and what level of input congress is afforded in considering trade agreements.”

  “Regarding TPP, I have begun to review the text, and I have emphasized to the Administration the need to raise labor, environmental and IP standards in other countries,” Himes said. “I will review the final text and see whether the deal will benefit American workers by expanding access to key markets and eliminating barriers, supporting job creation, our values and our standard of living.”

   Critics have charged that TPP will cause job losses, similar to a previous trade treaty, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Officials of the AFL-CIO, the federation of labor unions, contend that the elimination of trade barriers for imports, specifically tariffs, caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S., when manufacturing plants decided to relocate to Mexico, where labor rates are much lower.

  But the administration argues that TPP will boost U.S. exports and lower tariffs for American goods in the fast growing Asia-Pacific region, where the U.S. is facing strong competition from China.

  “Those who oppose these trade deals ironically are accepting a status quo that is more damaging to American workers,” President Obama said at a meeting of the Business Roundtable in December, according to a story in The Washington Post.

  Obama said people shouldn’t view the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the same way as NAFTA. The president said the TPP aims to boost workers’ rights and environmental standards in some Asian nations, the Post story said.

  “Don’t fight the last war,” Obama said.


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