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Pocan Op-Ed: Why I oppose a fast track for Pacific trade deal

Apr 22, 2015
In The News

Wisconsin State Journal

By Rep. Mark Pocan

Well, it’s here. The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is the biggest trade deal since NAFTA, containing over 40 percent of the world’s economy.

Unfortunately, over the last three decades, in large part because of bad trade deals, Americans have worked harder than ever for less. The reality of our nation’s trade policy since NAFTA is littered with the broken promises made to America’s hardworking middle class.

Now the Obama administration, along with Republicans and a handful of Democrats, is going all out to push the TPP on members of Congress and American workers with little debate and no means of amending the trade deal.

Supporters of these trade agreements always make the same promises: more jobs, bigger paychecks and a stronger economy. Instead, the Economic Policy Institute reports the United States lost three times as many jobs as we were assured NAFTA would create, wages for American workers have remained flat, and millions of good-paying American jobs have been shipped off to countries such as China and Mexico.

The TPP will force American workers to compete with workers in countries such as Vietnam who earn a minimum wage of pocket change — not helpful to raising wages in the United States. Worst of all, the TPP lacks enforcement mechanisms necessary to hold our trading partners to the same high standards we hold ourselves.

And now we’re hearing the same broken promises again. Top administration officials have said the TPP would “provide $77 billion a year in real income and support 650,000 new jobs in the U.S. alone.” This claim is blatantly false and misleading. A fact-check by the Washington Post rated this “four Pinocchios” saying, “In this case, the correct number is zero (in the long run), not 650,000.”

The TPP also puts the interests of foreign investors ahead of our national sovereignty with the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. This allows multinational corporations to sue a country if they feel laws, which protect consumers, the environment or workers, would hurt their bottom line — putting taxpayers on the hook for the lost profits.

Worse yet, the case would be heard not in a federal or state court but in a foreign tribunal run by the same corporate trade lawyers who represent these multinational companies. These ISDS provisions are so dangerous for Americans, I’ve sponsored legislation to keep ISDS out of any future trade agreement, but it’s still in the TPP.

While supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership have admitted the failures of past trade agreements, they are promising the TPP will be different this time around. Proponents say the TPP is a “21st-century trade agreement” and will correct the mistakes made in NAFTA — but Americans will have to take their word for it since the entire agreement has been negotiated in secret.

What we do know is though it is called a “trade agreement,” the TPP is not mainly about trade. Of the TPP’s 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. The other 24 chapters protect corporate interests from any government accountability on important consumer issues such as worker’s rights, food safety and environmental protections.

And with so much of the agreement still unknown, the Obama administration and Republicans are now trying to put TPP on a fast-track through Congress. That means Congress would have to give up its constitutional authority to amend the agreement and would only have minimal time for debate. This should make everyone suspicious. If it’s such a great deal, why is it a secret and why does it need to be rammed through Congress?

And now, after years of secret negotiations, advocates say the fast-track proposal will increase public transparency and Congressional consultation on trade agreements prior to Congressional consideration. Congress and the public should have been included in the negotiations from the beginning. Pushing for a fast-track package as negotiations come to an end insults the intelligence of the American people. We know when we’re being deceived.

The TPP will impact tens of millions of American jobs. Instead of rushing to get it done, President Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman should focus on getting it right.

All of us in south-central Wisconsin understand the impact of failed trade agreements. We’ve seen closed factories and lost jobs in our communities. Until we can ensure the TPP will help hardworking Americans get ahead, I will oppose the fast-track proposal for TPP.