WASHINGTON, DC, February 5, 2016 (ENS) – The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement was signed Thursday in Auckland, New Zealand by officials from 12 nations from around the Pacific Rim that together account for nearly 40 percent of the global economy.
In a joint statement, the signers said, “We, the Ministers representing Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam, are pleased to announce that we have today signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.”
Calling the deal “an historic achievement for the Asia-Pacific region,” the ministers said, “TPP will set a new standard for trade and investment in one of the world’s fastest growing and most dynamic regions. We signatories comprise nearly 40 percent of global GDP, a market of more than 800 million people, and around one third of world trade. Our goal is to enhance shared prosperity, create jobs and promote sustainable economic development for all of our nations.”
Now the attention turns to completion of the 12 countries’ domestic processes for ratification of the deal.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman says, “To level the playing field for American workers and businesses so that they can compete and win in the global economy, American trade policy needs to help shape globalization in a way that plays to the strengths of the United States economy.”
As the agreement goes to Congress for its approval or rejection, ordinary citizens can also weigh in.
The U.S. International Trade Commission, a federal agency, has begun an investigation to assess the likely impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Public comments are welcome.
The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 requires the USITC to prepare a report that assesses the likely impact of the Agreement on the U.S. economy as a whole and on specific industry sectors and the interests of U.S. consumers.
The USITC’s report, which will be public, is due to the President and the Congress later this year. Written comments from the public are due by February 15, 2016.
President Barack Obama has said, “This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products. It includes the strongest commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history, and those commitments are enforceable, unlike in past agreements. It promotes a free and open Internet. It strengthens our strategic relationships with our partners and allies in a region that will be vital to the 21st century. It’s an agreement that puts American workers first and will help middle-class families get ahead.”
Yet many U.S. environmental groups oppose the agreement for a host of reasons.
A movement of labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith and other organizations have escalated their campaign to defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership with a joint 1,525-group letter urging Congress to oppose the trade agreement.
“As you would expect from a deal negotiated behind closed doors with hundreds of corporate advisors, while the public and the press were shut out, the TPP would reward a handful of well-connected elites at the expense of our economy, environment and public health,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, which organized the letter.
The TPP would roll back environmental enforcement provisions found in all U.S. trade agreements since the George W. Bush administration, requiring enforcement of only one out of the seven environmental treaties covered by Bush-era trade agreements, Stamoulis charged in a letter to supporters emailed Thursday.
“Beyond just failing to mention the term “climate change” in its thousands of pages, the TPP would also provide corporations with new tools for attacking environmental and consumer protections, while simultaneously increasing the export of climate-disrupting fossil fuels,” Stamoulis wrote.
“Tell Congress we can’t afford a trade deal that threatens the air we breathe, the water we drink and the future we leave for our children and grandchildren.”
The U.S.-based global climate campaign 350.org called the TPP “a toxic deal that would give dangerous new powers to the fossil fuel industry and pose a serious harm to the climate.”
“The TPP is a fossil fuel industry handout,” said Payal Parekh, 350.org Global Managing Director. “This partnership in pollution gives corporations the right to challenge any local government or community that tries to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
“The deal signed in New Zealand today makes a mockery of the climate agreement decided in Paris last December. If countries are serious about addressing the climate crisis, they need to stand up to coal, oil and gas companies, not reward them with new rights and privileges,” Pareckh warned.
350.org is one of many organizations around the world that will be mobilizing members to fight back against the TPP and block its final approval and implementation.
Globally, the organization already has delivered tens of thousands of signatures to world leaders calling on them to reject the deal.
“This toxic and secretive agreement is not only a climate disaster, but a serious affront on democracy,” said Hoda Baraka, 350.org’s global communications manager.
“The TPP serves the interests of corporations at the expense of people and planet giving them supranational legal powers to be enacted through private and non-transparent trade tribunals. But the might of our movement is greater than their money or manipulation and we will continue to stand up for a safe planet putting an end to such destructive agreements and the corporate interests behind them,” said Baraka.
Friends of the Earth trade analyst Bill Waren says his group is lobbying Congress to turn down the deal, which he too says is bad for the climate. “More oil, coal, and liquefied natural gas would be exported out of Puget Sound and other West Coast ports. Those exports would endanger orca, salmon, and other wildlife. And more fossil fuel exports = more global warming.”
On the other side, the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, announced their support in January.
NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons called the TPP “a significant improvement over the status quo – for manufacturers and for the broader economy” because “it will open markets and put manufacturers in a much stronger position to compete in an important and growing region of the world.”
“Without such an agreement, the United States would be ceding economic leadership to other global powers, letting them set the rules of economic engagement in the region,” he said.
“We recognize this agreement is not perfect, and there are some principled objections to the TPP, so the NAM will continue to work closely with its members to address remaining barriers, to raise standards, to promote the rule of law and to further level the playing field for all,” said Timmons.
Also speaking in favor of the agreement is Derek Aberle, president of the digital communications giant Qualcomm Inc.
“The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – once approved by Congress and implemented – will create new market opportunities for American businesses, and grow and maintain high-skill, high-wage jobs for American workers,” said Aberle. “This is why Qualcomm and other U.S. ICT [information and communications technology] companies strongly support TPP and urge Congress to approve TPP implementing legislation at the earliest opportunity.”
The Information Technology Industry Council endorsed the agreement in December.
Greg Delagi, senior vice president and general manager of Texas Instruments, sees the deal as good for the high-tech industry, as he said in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“This year at CES, we are demonstrating more than 100 technology solutions that enable the dramatic advancements we are seeing in areas like automotive to make cars more fun, safer and greener, and the revolution that smart, connected devices will have across all industries,” said Delagi. “Open trade – specifically the expanded Information Technology Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership – will enable us to spread these innovations around the world.”
But the points made by supporters of the TPP fail to persuade Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign.
“While a handful of well-connected corporations got a more-than-fair deal for themselves – for everyone else, the TPP would be a disaster for the economy, the environment and public health,” wrote Stamoulis in a letter sent to supporters Thursday.
He objects to the TPP’s labor standards, calling them “so abysmally weak that countries could literally set their minimum wage at $1/day and their maximum hours of work at 24/day and still be in compliance.”
“The TPP is so poorly negotiated that it contains a massive backdoor for products that are assembled mostly from parts made in third-party countries such as China, with no TPP obligations whatsoever, to enter the U.S. duty free,” warned Stamoulis.
“The TPP would flood the United States with unsafe foods,” he warned. “Going beyond previous trade deals, the TPP includes first-of-its-kind language allowing corporations to challenge both U.S. food inspection protocols and individual food inspection decisions.”
Many of the TPP’s intellectual property provisions would delay the introduction of low-cost generic medications, increasing health care prices and reducing access to medicine both at home and abroad, wrote Stamoulis.
The deal does little to protect human rights, he wrote, charging that “The TPP includes several notorious violators of international human rights, such as Brunei, where LGBT individuals and single mothers can be stoned to death under Sharia law, and Malaysia where huge numbers of ethnic minorities are trafficked through the jungle in modern slavery.”
But U.S. Trade Representative Froman points to endorsements from the National Small Business Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation who, he says, “are representative of the growing coalition of support for TPP from U.S. economic and industry leaders.”
“Exporters in every sector of the U.S. economy increasingly realize that the cost to the U.S. economy of delaying TPP will be billions of dollars lost to our foreign competitors,” Froman said. “Working with Congressional leaders, we will continue to work for passage of TPP as soon as possible to ensure that the economic benefits these endorsements cite are not delayed.”