A release of the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership provokes condemnation from critics

Rally against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Wellington, New Zealand in November 2014. (Photo courtesy wiki-commons and Neil Ballantyne)

The Obama administration released the entire 2,000-page Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement on Nov. 5. This is the first time the U.S. public has been able to read the fine print of a deal that will govern issues related to commerce, intellectual property and human and labor rights for 40 percent of the global economy—if it clears substantial hurdles being erected in Washington. Congress will be reviewing the proposed 12-nation pact, finally completed in October after five years of secretive negotiations, sometime in the spring of 2016.

In a statement that accompanied the release of the full text, President Obama described the deal as “the highest standard trade agreement in history,” one that eliminates 18,000 taxes on American goods and that will “boost Made-in-America exports abroad while supporting higher-paying jobs right here at home.”

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“I know that past trade agreements haven’t always lived up to the hype,” he said. “That’s what makes this trade agreement so different, and so important.” The president has gone all in on the deal, which if ratified, could be a presidential legacy builder for him or it could prove, as critics of the deal argue, a betrayal of the working people who helped two times move him into the White House.

According to the president, the T.P.P. includes “the strongest labor standards in history, from requiring a minimum wage and worker safety regulations to prohibiting child labor and forced labor.” Similarly, he said, it also includes the “strongest environmental commitments in history, requiring countries in one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking, illegal logging, and illegal fishing.

“These standards are at the core of the agreement and are fully enforceable — which means we can bring trade sanctions against countries that don’t step up their game.”

The president said, “The T.P.P. means that America will write the rules of the road in the 21st century. When it comes to Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing regions, the rulebook is up for grabs. And if we don’t pass this agreement—if America doesn’t write those rules—then countries like China will. And that would only threaten American jobs and workers and undermine American leadership around the world.”

But in an indication that U.S. labor, having already been burned by previous U.S. free trade deals, does not intend to go quietly as ratification is considered in Congress, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka rejected the agreement after a first reading. “From what we have reviewed so far,” Trumka said in a statement, “we are deeply disappointed that our policy recommendations and those of our trade reform allies in the environmental, consumer, public health, global development, and business sectors were largely ignored.” Trumka complained that the deal’s investment rules “still provide expansive new legal rights and powers to foreign businesses to challenge legitimate government actions.” He said the agreement’s labor enforcement provisions are “still inadequate to address the enormous challenges posed by this deal and the lack of enforceable currency rules subject to trade sanctions mean the promised new export markets may never materialize.” 

Also unhappy were the folks at Public Citizen, who charged that the agreement “replicates many of the most controversial terms of past pacts that promote job offshoring and push down U.S wages.” The group, long critical of the T.P.P., said their review so far suggests that the trade deal would further expand the scope of the controversial investor-state system and would roll back improvements on access to affordable medicines and environmental standards achieved in 2007.

“Apparently, the TPP’s proponents resorted to such extreme secrecy during negotiations because the text shows that the TPP would offshore more American jobs, lower our wages, flood us with unsafe imported food and expose our laws to attack in foreign tribunals,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “When the administration says it used the TPP to renegotiate NAFTA, few expected that meant doubling down on the worst job-killing, wage-suppressing NAFTA terms, expanding limits on food safety and rolling back past reforms on environmental standards and access to affordable drugs.”

The AFL-CO’s Trumka promised a more comprehensive response after more thoroughly reviewing the agreement. He first got a few digs in on the nature of the negotiations which led to the accord. “After six long years, the secrecy is over,” he said. “The public finally has a chance to scrutinize the text of the [T.P.P.] for themselves instead of having to rely on characterizations made by the agreement’s supporters. America’s voters can now make their own judgment  about whether it meets their high standards for a 21st Century agreement that will raise wages, protect our democracy and promote sustainable growth and development.”

Trumka so far has concluded that the opposite is more likely. “We will be examining the text line by line in the coming days to understand the deal's full implications for working people in every sector from manufacturing and agriculture to public and private services,” he said. “But from what we have already seen, it is clear that the threats of this expansive new agreement outweigh its benefits—for good jobs, for democracy, for affordable medicines, for consumer safety and for the environment. The hardworking families of the AFL-CIO will join with our allies to defeat the T.P.P.”

The nations in the accord include the United States, Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico and Brunei, altogether representing about 40 percent of the global economy. China has proposed a 16-nation free-trade bloc that includes India in response to the pending deal.

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