Why Obama and Big Business Want Fast Track Trade Legislation

And Why We Fight Against It

TPP.jpegby Paul Garver and Simone Morgan 

The corporate business elite, the Obama administration and the neoliberal wings of both the Democratic and Republican parties have thrown down the gauntlet. The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, introduced by House Ways and Means Chairman David Camp (R), and by Senators Baucus (D) and Hatch (R), would reinstate Trade Promotion Authority (TPA, aka Fast Track) that was last enacted in 2002 and lapsed in 2007.  TPA allows rapid votes on “ trade agreements” (which consist mainly of non-trade items on the corporate wish list), limiting Congress to merely casting an up-or-down vote on legislation implementing the terms of a completed and signed negotiated agreement.

 For major corporate lobbying organizations like the Business Roundtable, renewing Trade Promotion Authority is the crucial step in facilitating the completion of three major items on the corporate agenda: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and a global Trade in Services Agreement. 


TPP will likely be the first treaty to be completed, if Fast Track legislation passes Congress this year. The TPP negotiations, which currently comprise 12 Pacific Rim nations, have continued now for nearly four years.  China is conspicuously not participating in the talks, raising the suspicion that the TTP is intended in part to isolate China’s growing economic power.

 The TPP negotiations have taken place under unprecedented secrecy. While 600 corporate lobbyists have had privileged access to the content of the talks, labor, environmental and other public interest groups have been systematically kept in the dark.  Even rank-and-file members of Congress have been allowed only the most limited information, and have been required to keep any disclosure secret from the public. 

From the negotiating documents available through Wikileaks (the sections on intellectual property and the environment), it is evident that the U.S. negotiating stance in the TPP talks represents a neoliberal globalization corporate “piñata” that would ALLOW corporations to evade or legally challenge financial, environmental, labor, food, safety and pharmaceutical regulations. 

Based on the 20-year-old NAFTA model, the TPP has been dubbed “NAFTA on steroids.”  After two decades, it is evident that most ordinary citizens in the USA, Mexico and Canada have not gained the promised income and jobs from NAFTA or “free trade” agreements on the same model, like CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement).  Weak labor and environmental side agreements have proved toothless in protecting their rights.  Instead, global corporations have been able to make use of its notorious investor-state resolution system on the basis of the loss of “potential profits,” before unelected panels of corporate trade lawyers.  States and countries have spent millions of dollars to defend these laws. Not satisfied merely with challenging environmental, health, land use, local economies and medicine patent policies, etc. directly, companies are now using this provision to undermine court judgments by asking governments to override judgments of their courts and violate their separation of powers doctrines (see Chevron v. Ecuador). These unaccountable panels would be expanded under the TPP. 

As noted by Jeff Faux, NAFTA and its progeny “created a template for the rules of the emerging global economy, in which the benefit would flow to capital and the costs to labor.” Polls have indicated growing skepticism for the supposed advantages of these deals, which apparently is the reason for the attempt to shove it through using trade promotion authority before people have a chance to react.  Years of experience with lost jobs and growing inequality, fear of lost sovereignty of national governments, unsafe food and medicines, and environmental damage, are contributing to this skepticism.  Trade promotion authority must be resisted, lest it allow a total corporate control and triumphal neoliberal globalization that destroys any hope of public control of our lives.

That “fast track” bill would pave the way for the TPP is not a slam dunk for global capital, despite its orchestration by the Obama administration, neoliberal Democrats and Republicans, massed corporate lobbyists, and all their hirelings in the mass media.  Opposition to the fast track legislation is rapidly mobilizing, extending far beyond the dedicated and well informed advocates of fair trade (Citizen’s Trade Campaign, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, etc.). We have already participated in two large national planning conference calls hosted by MoveOn and the Progressive Democrats of America, while larger organizations including the AFL-CIO, Teamsters and organizations of small farmers have issued statements opposing Fast Track and the TPP.  The Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund, the National Resources Defense Council and 350.org are urging rejection of Fast Track and the TPP because the leaked draft environmental section does not even meet the minimal standards of other trade pacts enacted since 2007.

Numerous “Thunderclaps” and other electronic protests and petition campaigns are already being organized. Visits to congressional district offices have been organized for the congressional recess week of Jan. 20-24. By the end of January, rallies or days of action will take place in cities throughout the country.

Opposition to the TPP and to its Trans-Atlantic equivalent (TTIP) is of course not confined to the USA.  In a welcome departure from the past, the AFL-CIO’s video opposing the TPP highlights faces and voices in opposition from around the world.  Americans are not the only ones fighting to preserve democracy against this giant neoliberal corporate power grab!

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) organized its members for a Day of Action Jan. 22, and a national Day of Action is planned for everyone on Jan. 31 (www.flushthetpp.org).

For a convenient way to write to your congressperson, go to http://www.flushthetpp.org/letter-to-congress-on-fast-track-and-the-tpp/.  To call your representative, go to http://www.stopfasttrack.com/.

Public Citizen provides a detailed and accurate fact sheet on Fast Track and the TPP at http://www.exposethetpp.org/Fast_Track_Bill_Analysis.pdf

Paul Garver is a retired international union organizer, co-editor of the Talking Union blog, and member of DSA’s National Political Committee. Simone Morgen is a member of DSA’s National Political Committee and co-chair of Columbus DSA.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.