Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice to Congress and the President about the newest free trade agreement in the works for America, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which because of its location would affect California more than any other part of this country:
Go slow, and open up the negotiations to press and public.
Whenever this country negotiates a new free trade deal with other countries, government officials try desperately to keep their horsetrading as secret as possible and it always leads to trouble.
The latest dickering over the Trans-Pacific agreement follows the same pattern, with Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade respresentative insisting he must have “some measure of discretion and confidentiality” so he can “preserve negotiating strength and encourage our partners to be willing to put issues on the table they may not otherwise.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which many call “the newest NAFTA,” would see this country enter a free-trade area already begun by Brunei, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore. Others that would be involved now include Canada, Japan, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam.
This agreement, like the North American Free Trade Agreement, would have more effects in California than other states because most American trade with the those nations flows through California. Since Barack Obama became President, his administration has held 19 negotiating sessions on this pact, reaching tentative agreements on copyright infringement and the environment, on human rights and on an independent judicial tribunal, among others.
Yes, a tribunal. These have been dicey from the time NAFTA’s took effect more than 10 years ago; they tend to interfere with American sovereignty, sometimes allowing international judicial panels to overrule U.S. law.
The most famous of these cases came while California in the late 1990s sought to rid gasoline sold here of the additive MTBE and its noxious odors and taste, along with the alleged cancer risks, it gave some drinking water as it leached from rusty storage tanks and the engines of small boats into aquifers and reservoirs.
The MTBE ban threatened profits of the Canadian Methanex Corp., which filed a $970 million claim for lost sales in a NAFTA tribunal, circumventing the American court system. Methanex eventually lost, but the point was made – in some cases, the U.S. Supreme Court may no longer be supreme, especially when corporations want to bypass the court systems of countries where they do business, including ours.
That’s a loss of sovereignty, one that would be widened under suspected provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The text of the agreement has not yet been released, but consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen group claims it would off offshore “millions of jobs,” roll back banking reforms, expose Americans to unsafe food and other products, further threats to Internet freedom and attack environmental safeguards.
Even members of Congress have not yet seen the full text of the pact as it now stands, one reason Democrats there rejected the Obama Administration’s early January effort to get authority for fast-track negotiations. Fast-tracking would forbid any amendments to the treaty when it comes before Congress and prevent full-scale hearings on it.
Meanwhile, Wikileaks, which delights in publicizing secret documents, has published a draft of the pact’s proposed environment chapter, written in Salt Lake City last November and making many promises about trade of wood products, wildlife protection, climate change and preventing overfishing. But Wilileaks griped in its release that the chapter is “noteworthy for its absence of…meaningful enforcement measures.”
Kirk responded that “The U.S.….will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter…”
One good thing about the refusal to fast track this slippery concoction is that it could eventually lead to wide publication of the full planned treaty. At the very least, every member of Congress should read the entire thing before approving it.
For going fast could lead not just to reduced American authority over our own affairs but to corporate lobbyists sneaking in self-serving elements. That’s why complete openness should feature any consideration of this agreement before it’s adopted. That way, anyone who cares will know just what America gets if the treaty takes effect, and just what it loses.