I have had the distinct pleasure of working closely with John Kerry over the past several decades on a multitude of environmental issues and have a deep and abiding respect for his record and accomplishments. However in his current capacity as Secretary of State his argument for forging a Pacific future (Oct. 18 Los Angeles Times op-ed) that is dependent upon passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership is less than convincing.
Our twenty year experiment with the North American Free Trade Agreement does not support the contention that free trade creates jobs as we have seen a flood of offshoring jobs and a growing chasm of income inequality here in the United States. And the current effort to negotiate a mammoth agreement covering 40 percent of the world economy based on the same model employed in NAFTA portends serious adverse consequences for our own economic and environmental security.
Of the 29 chapters involved in the current Trans Pacific Partnership only 5 have to do with trade. For an administration that purportedly cherishes transparency this treaty is being negotiated under extraordinary secrecy, so much so that even Members of Congress are restricted to access to negotiating texts and confidentiality. Yet nearly 600 "advisors", mostly representing the corporations and industries that stand to benefit the most from the treaty, not only have access to the negotiating texts but draft them.
Concern and opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership have nothing to do with nascent isolationism but rather a commitment to economic prosperity and sustainable growth, which is why the environmental aspects to the treaty are most troubling. Because of the investor-state provisions that are a hangover from NAFTA, it is possible that multinational corporations can sue nation-states for loss of "expected profits". That is right, it is already occurring in places like Ecuador and Peru and Canada.
Corporations will have the ability to sue governments to recoup expected profits if those governmental entities pass stringent environmental laws, rule and regulations. And the case will be heard in an international tribunal consisting of three lawyers, who get to decide whether or not to put a chilling effect upon the needs of the citizens of countries that enact strong actions to protect the environment. So if a nation were to enact a strong anti-fracking laws it is possible that oil and gas corporations could circumvent the intent of the laws by winning in this international tribunal.
Even more insidious, however, is the fact that the Obama Administration is intent upon seeking from Congress a Nixon-era trade promotion authority mechanism that will expedite consideration of the treaty without an ability to amend or modify it. This so-called fast track authority limits time for debate and requires an up or down vote on the entire package. Thus, Congress will have no ability to amend environmental provisions, workers' rights provisions, and public health agreements, patent and copyright measures, food safety clauses or language on genetically modified organisms.
While the Constitution provides Congress with the express responsibility to "regulate Commerce with foreign nations" that responsibility will be abrogated to the Executive Branch under fast-track. There is currently underway a move to express Congressional opposition to granting fast-track authority.
The Trans Pacific Partnership is a truly monumental trade pact and it should be openly debated and discussed. To do any less would be a dereliction of duty on the part of Congress and would make a mockery of the desire of the American people to have these important issues under the light of true transparent decision-making.
If the case can be made that the treaty is in our best economic and national security interests then so be it. But to force feed an already cynical and suspicious public another dose of "trust-me" assurances, particularly in light of the recent political dysfunction that brought us face to face with an internationally embarrassing prospect of default is neither wise nor responsible.
Free trade is not synonymous with fair trade, and the people benefit and expect the latter while corporate interests prefer the former. It is time to put the people ahead of profits. Fast track authority should not be allowed to short-circuit and circumvent our democratic process.