What Is the Trans Pacific Partnership?

06/18/2015 11:52 am ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016

What is this 29-chapter trade bill called the Trans Pacific Partnership?

Both Republican and Democrat activists are working overtime to pressure Congress not to pass H.R. 1314, a bill that was defeated in the House on Friday, but is still in the process of being resurrected by Obama and Republicans in Congress. The bill repeals Section 233 of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act of 2011, allowing smoother passage of trade bills for another five years.

All we really need to know is that passing H.R. 1314 essentially puts the omnibus, 29-chapter Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement onto the fast track, where Congress members don't get a chance to deliberate or discuss it on the floor of the House. It only gets and up or down vote, and there's no opportunity to change the wording. It becomes an iron-clad agreement if Trade Promotion Authority (or 'fast track') is allowed.

If you have any doubt that the TPP trade agreement is misunderstood, just ask your representative: have you read all 29 chapters yet? If they had, they would have learned the following.
1. Food Safety - According to the TPP, transnational companies can sue our states or federal government if our food safety laws stand in the way of expected future profits. Instead, lax international food standards will apply, making GMO labeling a thing of the past, even if we win labeling laws against the wishes of the giant seed and chemical companies. Currently, our laws mandate evaluating such things as pesticide levels, bacterial contamination, fecal exposure, toxic additives, and non-edible fillers. A company that proves our safety regulations to be a barrier to profits can sue our government, then only the tribunal has to decide between keeping our food safe or allowing the multinational company to sell tainted food.
2. Jobs - If the TPP passes, member corporations can enjoy the benefits of suing governments to allow for less stringent worker practices. "The corporation could skirt Vietnam's laws and demand compensation at an international tribunal for any government policy or action (such as a hike in the minimum wage) that undermined its 'expected' profits," write Jim Hightower and Phillip Fraser. The TPP would incentivize offshoring of good-paying jobs by offering special benefits to firms that relocate to low-wage nations.
3. Fracking - Under the TPP, the Department of Energy would have no authority to regulate natural gas that is produced for export. Our environmental laws will be helpless to protect our water table against fracking companies that sell to member nations. "The TPP...could mean automatic approval of liquid natural gas (LNG) export permits--without any review or consideration--to TPP countries," writes the Sierra Club. Japan is the largest importer of LNG. This is why, in a September, 2013 visit to Japan to attend the G20 summit, Obama remarked "I know that Japanese Prime Minister Abe is committed, as we are, to completing this year's negotiations around the Trans-Pacific Partnership." Through the process of drilling wells, sloppy fracking practices have allowed cancer-causing contaminants into the water table and caused a host of health problems for local residents. The Breast Cancer Fund's website warns: "Fracking fluids can contain chemicals linked to breast cancer, including known and suspected carcinogens such as benzene and toluene, and endocrine-disrupting compounds such as the phthalate DEHP."
4. Banking - The U.S. Business Coalition for the TPP includes banking firms such as Citi, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs. Their objective through the TPP is to prevent any regulations that would hamper the continued unregulated practices of the banking industry. The new law would:
a. Prohibit any "Robin Hood" taxes that would discourage super-rich speculators, the kind that caused the crash of 2008.
b. Restrict firewall reforms that would mimic the Glass Steagall protections.
c. Roll back reforms that member governments adopted to fix the extreme banking deregulations that caused the 2007-2008 Wall Street crash.
d. Provide a safeguard against laws that would limit the size of "too-big-to-fail" companies.
5. Can't "Buy American" - The TPP empowers corporations "to launch [their] own litigatory (sic) attack on our domestic laws in global trade courts - potentially costing municipalities millions of dollars." Instead of boosting our local economy by buying American or supporting businesses in the community with which we share common values, the new trade law would require local companies to bid against multinational companies who are TPP members. Simply the threat of a lawsuit could undermine the "buy local" movement.
6. Drug Prices - The TPP extends patents on medications to 20 years, and if pharmaceutical companies tweak the formulation of a drug, they can extend that patent another 20 years, delaying cost-saving generics from entering the market to save lives. Doctors in Japan are worried that the continual rise in costs will threaten their healthcare system.
7. Environmental Protection - The TPP allows companies to sue our government if our environmental laws stand in the way of their making a profit. Under the TPP, Monsanto could sue the United States or the State of California if our laws ban such things as GMOs, pesticide, or other cancer-causing contaminants such as MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether), a gasoline additive. Corporations have already been suing governments for such things. Chapter 11 of NAFTA allows multinationals to make claims against governments, leaving taxpayers on the hook for paying out damages or loss of revenue, even if the corporation made drinking water unsafe or polluted the natives' land.
8. Internet Freedom - The TPP imposes similar restrictions to SOPA (The Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). Currently, if you download a recipe from a website and print it, it's free. But if the TPP passes, then you may be assessed a fine of up to ten thousand dollars for violating copyright laws. The folks who are crafting the TPP say they won't do this, but they've already lifted language from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) that lays the groundwork for collecting data from individuals sufficient to bill and prosecute Internet users later for use of material. The Electronic Frontier Foundation states that the TPP legislation "is likely to further entrench controversial aspects of U.S. copyright law [such as the DCMA] and restrict the ability of Congress to engage in domestic law reform to meet the evolving IP needs of American citizens and the innovative technology sector." The TPP opens the door to set up policies that:
a. Ban you from Internet use if you violate copyright, which will be set at 120 years by the TPP.
b. Require you to have your blogs or content filtered by an Internet intermediary for possible copyright infringement.
c. Block websites if they might be infringing on copyright.
d. Force Internet Service Providers to hand over your identity should you infringe on someone's copyright.