Tight-lipped police officers and security guards: not exactly what I expected to see when I walked onto the second floor of the Intercontinental Hotel in Addison, Texas where trade negotiators convened last week. While representatives from the U.S. and eight other Pacific Rim countries met behind closed doors for the 12th round of negotiations for a massive new free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, I was barred from negotiating sessions. I have never seen a single word of the draft TPP. And while roughly 600 corporate and 30-odd non-corporate trade advisers do have access to the text, federal law prohibits them from discussing specific contents of the TPP.
The Sierra Club is deeply concerned about the environmental implications of the TPP. We understand and appreciate that U.S. negotiators are pushing for strong and enforceable standards in the environment chapter of the agreement, including binding language that would address environmental challenges such as illegal logging and overfishing. As these provisions are core to the work of the Sierra Club, we should be satisfied, right? Well, since the text is being kept from the public, we don't actually know the status or details of these proposals. And there are many other parts of the TPP that could directly undermine these very efforts to strengthen environmental protection while also putting the U.S. economy and workers at risk.
Why is this "21st century trade agreement," with such purported benefits, being hidden so jealously from the American public? Let's take a look at what they're hiding:
1. Unfettered rights to corporations. Every indication is that the TPP will include provisions that give corporations the right to sue a government for unlimited cash compensation -- in private and not-transparent tribunals -- over any law or regulation that a corporation argues is hurting its expected future profits. Corporations have been quick to take advantage of such rights and have profited from them. Nearly $700 million in tax-payer dollars have been paid to corporations already, and about $12 billion in claims are pending. Tragically, dozens of cases attack common-sense environmental laws and regulations, such as regulations to protect communities and the environment from harmful chemicals or mining practices.
2. Increase in dirty fracking. The TPP may allow for significantly increased exports of liquefied natural gas without the careful study or adequate protections necessary to safeguard the American public. This would mean an increase of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the dirty and violent process that dislodges gas deposits from shale rock formations. It would also likely cause an increase in natural gas and electricity prices, impacting consumers, manufacturers, workers, and increasing the use of dirty coal power.
3. Rollback of consumer rights. Just recently the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against U.S. dolphin-safe tuna labels. The WTO found that these labels, which allow consumers to choose to buy tuna that was caught without using dolphin-killing fishing practices, discriminated against Mexican tuna fishers. The TPP, we understand, has provisions that would leave the door wide open to such outlandish cases which not only threaten our environment, but consumers' right to know and our government's right to regulate.
4. Threats to American workers. While free trade agreements are often sold as job-creators, the evidence simply doesn't stack up. For example, the Economic Policy Institute has found that nearly 700,000 U.S. jobs were lost as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The TPP would likely give foreign corporations greater rights than domestic ones, providing an incentive for U.S. corporations to leave home and set up shop abroad. The TPP would also severely limit the U.S. government's ability to set policies that would boost our domestic economy, such as giving preference to American goods or American workers in government contracts.
Many other areas of our everyday life, including access to affordable medicines, food safety, and internet freedom would also quite certainly be limited under the guide of "free trade" in the TPP. And if I've got any of this wrong, I invite someone to prove me wrong. Release the text.
So, now that we have a sense of what they're trying to hide, the next question is, from whom are they hiding?
The answer: us.