Yet more secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations are underway today in Washington. Thanks to some hearty protestors braving the heat and humidity to hold a location pointer out in front of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the word got out.
For TPP negotiations launched in 2008 on a deal that was supposed to be done in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively, the sell-by date has long passed on this sort of closed-door diplomatic legislating.
But here is the kicker: the plan is only to release the text of the TPP after the agreement is completed! That's right: those who will live with result would not be able to see the 1000-page agreement until after it is too late to do anything to change its terms. And those terms would require all signatory nations to conform wide swaths of their domestic non-trade laws on financial regulation, food safety, Internet freedom, climate and energy policy, medicine pricing, government procurement, and more. Failure to do so would result in indefinite multi-million dollar trade sanctions or orders to compensate foreign firms with our tax dollars for alleged violation of these terms.
Since the "last" official round of negotiations, which happened last August in Brunei, the negotiating process has only gotten more secretive. There is no longer any official notice to Congress, the public or the press. Nor any opportunity for stakeholder input or press inquiry or briefings. It has been a total lock down as five more full TPP negotiating rounds have been held - as well at least two dozen "intersessionals" and endless U.S.-Japan bilateral negotiations.
Three weeks ago, President Barack Obama surprised everyone by announcing a new deadline for the TPP. During a visit by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, Obama announced that the TPP heads of state plan to announce a deal on the sidelines of the Nov 10-11 APEC summit in China.
After missing three past public TPP deadlines, we were told earlier this year by several TPP countries' chief negotiators that no more deadlines would be announced unless and until they basically knew that they could deliver because repeatedly missing deadlines was starting to hurt the TPP's prospects.
And, there has been a very serious push to complete the deal -- with 10 days of locked-down marathon negotiations in Ottawa that ended mid-July to be followed by another marathon session in the start of September in Vietnam. Yet, it seems that Obama's announcement was not coordinated with the other TPP countries.
Rather, the announcement seems aimed at creating the optics that Congress must act on Fast Track trade authority for the TPP in the lame duck session of Congress that is to begin in the second week of November.
Fast Track is an arcane Nixon-era process that Congress has only allowed to go into effect for five of the last 20 years. It would allow the president to sign the TPP before Congress votes to approve it, and then guarantee a vote within 90 days in both chambers of Congress with no amendments allowed and limited debate.
A bill to establish this legislative luge run landed with a big dull thud at the start of this year: only nine House Democrats announced support and more than 100 House GOP indicated that they were not inclined to support what they view as the shredding of a major constitutional check and balance. (Congress has exclusive authority over trade in the Constitution - Article I-8.)
So, now we start the Lame Duck Hunt and stand by for more TPP and Fast Track news from the lame duck blind here in Washington D.C.