by Peg Mitchell
Have you heard about the “TPP” and wondered why there is so much disagreement among Democrats, Labor and our President about it? Gretchen Newsom, Political Director of the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 569 in San Diego spoke to our club members at our monthly meeting about the current trade deal with Asia that is under negotiation.
To first set the stage for common understanding, Gretchen explained why this is so important – this trade deal is the largest ever negotiated in global history, covering 40% of the global economy affecting 792 million people. She then unraveled the confusion around what the various acronyms such as TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), TPA (Trade Promotion Authority) and TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance) mean.
Currently, the President and his representatives from the State Department are in negotiations with 12 other Asian countries on a far reaching trade deal, the “TPP”. The first item that Congress already passed a few weeks ago was “TPA” – this gives the President sole authority to continue negotiating in secret. Once the deal is completed it will come to Congress for approval. But Congress will only be able to vote “Yay” or “Nay” on it, without changing it in any way or adding any amendments.
Congress also recently passed the “TAA” which aids U.S. workers displaced by global trade agreements. This aid was originally intended to be funded by taking funds away from Medicare, but it was amended during passage to change TAA’s original offset to different non-Medicare funds.
The major obstacle with the trade deal is its secrecy. No one really knows what’s in it but assumptions are being made based on impacts of past trade deals such as NAFTA and on some of the content of the current deal that has been leaked to the press. Complicating matters is the security clearance needed to read current drafts. It has been made available to members of Congress to read in a special room, with no aides or other devices available for copying portions. Since most Congress members rely on staffers for the details it is unclear how many members have taken the time to actually read the current draft.
What is the history that has led Labor to oppose the current negotiations? One example given is the FTA, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement that was designed to lower tariffs, increase competition, and bolster trade mobility in both regions. However, it never addressed the ongoing violence against labor leaders in Colombia, of which more than 3,000 leaders and protestors have been assassinated since 1986. Another example is the 2012 trade deal with Korea, touted to create many American jobs but in actuality so far 75,000 American jobs have been lost.
“Fast track” authority therefore breeds distrust in labor’s eyes. Every labor union in the country along with many large and small environmental groups including Sierra Club, and lost progressive groups all oppose the deal. If history can be trusted, the result of this deal will mean many more jobs will be sent offshore. Why wouldn’t U.S. corporations take advantage of cheaper labor in Vietnam or Malaysia where the average pay is $1 a day? NAFTA promised 200,000 new American jobs and to date we have instead lost 682,900 jobs!
Locally 324,710 jobs in the San Diego region, 25% of the area’s workforce, would be at risk of job loss through this deal. The jobs cross many sectors including customer service, computer programmers, financial analysts and more.
The area invoking the most opposition revolves around dispute resolution and prohibitions in the “Investor-State” chapter. In the Financial section of the agreement which was leaked, anything that occurs in the future once the deal is passed, that is deemed to impact a corporation’s profits or perceived “future profits” would be illegal and the U.S. could be sued as a result. For example, should a new environmental law go into effect after the deal is passed that would impact the bottom line of a foreign company doing business in the U.S. a dispute could be filed. However, all such disputes do not go through the normal U.S. court system. Disputes are settled by a “Tribunal” made up of lawyers from the countries in dispute and their decision is binding. Such disputes are not settled quickly and currently there are over 500 such disputes from past deals pending. This directly overturns the sovereignty of our own laws.
What does Labor feel a “good trade deal” would include? Gretchen explained that it should create robust jobs here so we benefit from trade, improve enforcement of currency manipulation, allow for a “Made In America” program (which would be prohibited under the deal) and provide for worker training and safety net programs.
So how does our San Diego Congressional delegation feel about it? Surprisingly, Reps. Duncan Hunter and Juan Vargas voted against providing the President with Fast Track Authority (TPA), while Reps. Scott Peters, Susan Davis and Darrell Issa voted for it. In particular, Scott Peters has been a target of protestors ever since, as it is felt he sided for the deal due to pressures from Irwin Jacobs (Qualcomm) and the pharmaceutical companies in his district. Pharmaceutical companies have been particularly involved lobbying for extension of patent exclusivity in the deal, extending the time generics are kept off the market after new drug approval from 7 years to a full 14 years, making drugs much more expensive for the whole world.
Now that the President has the Fast Track Authority he sought, the next step is that the deal, once finalized, will come before Congress for an up or down vote. However, a 60 day public review period has been granted so there will be time for finding out the details and reaching out to our Congress members as appropriate before the final vote.