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President Barack Obama wants the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 nations on the Pacific Rim, approved and ratified before he leaves office, and he's asked Congress to give him "fast-track" authority to speed up the negotiations. Both ideas are bad ideas. Obama doesn't need fast-track authority, and the citizens in the 12-nation partnership don't need this trade deal.
Giving the president fast-track authority -- the administration prefers the term "trade promotion authority" -- would give Congress a single vote to approve or reject the package negotiated by the administration. Congress would lose essential oversight authority, and debate about specifics of the trade deal would be dangerously truncated. Fast-track authority is antithetical to transparency, and transparency is something government needs more of, not less. For these reasons, Congress should deny the president trade promotion authority.
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The Trans-Pacific Partnership itself has suffered from a lack of transparency since negotiations began in 2010. In January, as a round of talks were underway, Pulitzer Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote in The New York Times, "Powerful companies appear to have been given influence over the proceedings, even as full access is withheld from many government officials from the partnership countries."
Most of what is known about the talks comes from documents released by WikiLeaks and what intelligence certain individuals -- like Stiglitz and former Clinton administration officials Clyde Prestowitz and Robert Reich -- can gather from personal contacts and then share. Prestowitz and Reich helped shape the North American Free Trade Agreement, but oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
As just one example of the direction these trade talks are heading, leaked documents show that the pharmaceutical industry is pushing for stronger patent protections that would decrease competition by delaying the introduction of cheaper generic drugs. Big pharma will rake in profits while the most vulnerable in these 12 nations are denied access to affordable drugs.
The Obama administration has claimed that the trade agreement will create 650,000 jobs in the U.S. Similar promises were made before previous trade agreements, and none were delivered. The Labor Department itself has certified 845,000 job losses to NAFTA. Private studies say 5 million manufacturing jobs have been lost because of trade agreements since the mid-1980s.
Corporate profits are at record highs and CEO pay has increased 937 percent over the past 35 years, while all other U.S. wages have stagnated at 1970s levels. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would increase the protection for corporations over government "intrusions" like health, environmental and labor regulations. Measures to hold corporations accountable for polluting the environment and exploiting workers would be weakened.
Furthermore, the agreement would establish private tribunals, independent of any nation's legal system, to which corporations can appeal for compensation for profits lost to government regulations.
Reich calls the trade agreement "a pending disaster" and "a Trojan horse in a global race to the bottom, giving big corporations and Wall Street banks a way to eliminate any and all laws and regulations that get in the way of their profits."
We take our cue from the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment, which wrote to Congress last month about elected officials' "sacred task of stewardship over people and policies": "Trade, like the rest of the economy, must be a means of lifting people out of poverty and ensure a country's ability to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their citizens and the planet."
The Trans-Pacific Partnership won't do this; it should be opposed.