One of the few areas of common ground with Republicans and thus one of the few opportunities remaining to burnish his legacy in the waning days of his administration, the Trans Pacific Partnership is a major legislative priority for President Obama. But it's one fraught with land mines. The major one is the Investor State Dispute Settlements clause, which allows corporations to sue countries for loss of profits due to regulations. In October of last year, The Guardian counted 568 such challenges since 1993.
Should the trade treaty pass, the ISDS provision has the ability to blow up Obama's other initiatives as well, like his historic joint effort with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Washington tends to view trade and climate change as separate issues and largely negotiates them as such, although the issues are clearly interdependent -- carbon consumption fuels consumer economies. (Naomi Klein's book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate is a brilliant analysis of that relationship.) If Obama really wanted to be a game-changer, he would mandate strong environmental protections within the TPP, not as an afterthought, but as a driver of the discussion in creating a new model for global trade.
At Progressive Congress, the annual summit of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I talked to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI 2) about tying climate change negotiations into the Trans Pacific Partnership trade treaty. Pocan recounted a conversation with the U.S. Trade Representative, who is the chief negotiator and adviser to the president on trade policy:
Specifically, I've been in meetings with the U.S. Trade Representative, where I've asked about some of the major provisions that we're concerned about to have strong environmental protections, and I was told each and every time that they were non-negotiable from a U.S. perspective. However, the very next person who asked a question said, "Does that mean you won't bring us a trade deal if they're not included?" And the answer was, "Well, I didn't say that."
Presumably the congressman was referring to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, though he did not mention him by name. Froman's equivocation on environmental protections further underscores the shroud of secrecy around the TPP negotiations. Watch the interview here and subscribe to The Undercurrent for more on-the-ground reporting: