THE BLOG

No to 'Boehner' Trade, No to the Trans-Pacific Partnership

06/18/2014 09:43 am ET | Updated Aug 17, 2014

For the third time this year, three-fourths of the members of House Democratic Caucus have written to the president, rejecting the current framework of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The first letter focused on U.S. Trade Representative's failure to raise currency manipulation as an issue. Three-fourths of House Democrats were joined by many Republicans; as a result, a total of 230 House members weighed in on this issue.

The second letter focused on the lack of meaningful congressional input into trade negotiations. Three-fourths of the House Democratic Caucus, or 151 members, opposed "fast track" or Trade Promotion Authority.

The third letter, published recently, focuses first on the total lack of core labor standards in Vietnam, and Vietnam's 28 cent-per-hour minimum wage and 75 cent- per-hour average wage. It flagged similar problems with three other TPP partners -- Malaysia, Mexico and Brunei -- and just as important, spotlighted the track record of virtually no enforcement of labor provisions in the trade deals of this government or its predecessors, particularly when compared to the super rights that multinationals have to enforce their claims.

These corporate issues are covered by Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions, or ISDS. In the 20 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement, there have been more than 500 ISDS cases allowing multinational corporations to bypass national courts and sue governments for enacting legislation that possibly could harm corporate future profits. Veolia, a French transportation multinational, is suing Egypt for raising its minimum wage and therefore potentially limiting profits at its Alexandria-based bus company. Swedish energy company Vattenfall is suing Germany for ending its nuclear energy program and therefore limiting potential profit from their nuclear plants.

Philip Morris is using an obscure Hong Kong investment agreement to sue Australia for enacting tougher standards on cigarette packages warning consumers about health risks. Under a bilateral treaty between Uruguay and Switzerland, Philip Morris is also suing Uruguay's government, arguing that the large mandatory health warnings on cigarette packets infringe its intellectual property rights and obstruct its marketing.

And only corporations can sue countries. In contrast, under the Colombia Free Trade Agreement and its labor action plan, violations are simply discussed between our government and the Colombian government, usually with no results. NAFTA's side agreements on labor and the environment are routed to a tripartite study agency, which has done virtually nothing for 20 years. This pattern is repeated in hundreds of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements reached since NAFTA by the U.S. and other nations. Unbelievably, these ISDS clauses give multinational companies greater rights than nations or their citizens.

The TPP and now the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would repeat this same model involving nearly the entire world economy with the exception of China. Yes, nation states are giving way to corporate states, despite overwhelming evidence that this hand off of national sovereignty is overwhelmingly opposed by citizens across the U.S. and everywhere else.

The House Democratic Caucus is challenging President Obama, saying, "Which side are you on... ours or Republican House Speaker Boehner's?" They're asking, "Will you pass TPP with an overwhelming majority of your own caucus and its leaders voting no?"

The caucus and millions of Americans from environmental, labor, consumer, student, community and family-farm groups want 21st century trade that provides higher labor standards, environmental protection and consumer protections. We reject the failed 20th century frameworks that provided higher corporate profits for multinationals and rhetoric for the rest of us.