Right after President Obama answered John Boehner's schoolyard taunt over immigration, he promptly took off for friendlier territory in China. Before he got on the plane he again said he was willing to work with Republicans. He proved it on Monday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing, by urging world leaders to come to agreement on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), long a priority of soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
What is the TPP? A giant trade agreement between the U.S. and twelve Pacific Rim nations now being negotiated in secret. Well, mostly in secret. Around 600 corporations and a few labor unions with stakes in the talks have seen a draft. But Congress and the public have not, except for the few chapters released by Wikileaks online last year.
The so-called partnership is an insult to U.S. workers, with many provisions that will hurt women the most. According to Doctors Without Borders, the agreement may well cut off access to generic drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS (now predominately women and kids). And the Communications Workers of America says it will steal majority-female jobs from low wage workplaces such as call centers, as well as higher wage sectors like human resources.
Women in Congress have been leading the opposition for some time. On the House side, Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) pointed out in a strongly worded op-ed in the Los Angeles Times last April that the agreement would not only force Americans to compete against workers from extremely low-wage countries, but also roll back environmental standards and U.S. laws that protect food and drug safety.
Because the negotiations are secret, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has expressed worries that the agreement could weaken financial regulations. She opposed the appointment Michael Froman as the U.S. Trade Representative (a job that has made him the chief arbiter of the final treaty-making process) because he flatly stated his opposition to more transparency in the negotiations.
And there's another little-known provision. Under rules, businesses incorporated in Trans Pacific Partnership countries would be guaranteed equal treatment with U.S. firms when bidding on government contracts. That means our tax dollars would be underwriting countries like Brunei, which imprisons unmarried women for getting pregnant and allows stoning of gays and lesbians.
Women's groups, led by the Feminist Majority, sent a letter to President Obama in June, urging him to either initiate action for removing Brunei from the TPP process or suspend TPP talks altogether until Brunei revokes its new penal code. More than a dozen national women's organizations, including American Association of University Women, Jewish Women International, the National Organization for Women, and the U.S. National Committee for UN Women were signatories.
The president certainly has some leverage. Though Brunei is the smallest U.S. trading partner among TPP countries, in 2012 total goods trade between the United States and Brunei still amounted to $243 million. The top U.S. imports from Brunei are oil and oil products. Business with the U.S. is crucial to Brunei's economy, because fuel and mining products make up over 96 percent of its total exports.
I'm all for cooperation in government, and I hope President Obama and Mitch McConnell can agree on some things -- like a higher minimum wage for instance.
But the Trans Pacific Partnership? Sink it.Listen to the two-minute radio commentary here: