By Bill Waren, originally posted Oct. 17, 2013 / Friends of the Earth
In collaboration with Republicans in Congress, the Obama administration is expected to soon seek so-called Fast Track or Trade Promotion Authority legislation in order to facilitate ratification in 2014 of a Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal that would gut environmental and climate protections. If you have a chance to talk to your member of Congress, consider asking for a “NO” vote on the Fast Track bill and drive home two points: (1) Fast Track guts congressional authority; and (2) Fast Track will allow the U.S. Trade Representative and the House Republicans to ram the disastrous TPP trade agreement through Congress.
Gutting the constitutional authority of Congress.
Presidential fast track authority for negotiating trade agreements and its process for congressional approval eviscerates Congress’ constitutional authority and political influence over trade agreements, delegating them improperly to Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative. Fast track hands over to the executive branch powers that the founders of our constitution intended for Congress to exercise, including:
- The power to determine which countries join trade negotiations with the U.S., regardless of whether they are repeat violators of environmental and human rights standards;
- The power to finalize the legal text of trade agreements before Congress votes;
- The power to write domestic legislation implementing a trade deal by rolling back environmental safeguards and other public interest measures;
- The power to circumvent ordinary congressional committee review and submit the legislation directly for a mandatory and expedited floor votes in the House and Senate;
- The power to override House and Senate control of their schedules for floor votes;
- The power to ban any amendments to a trade agreement; and
- The power to override other normal congressional voting procedures, including the Senate’s super-majority (60 vote) requirement to end a filibuster (extended debate).
Ramming the TPP trade deal through Congress.
The United States is pushing for a Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal that not only integrates the trade policies of Pacific nations, but also deregulates their economies in many areas. Currently, Singapore, Malaysia, Chile, New Zealand, Brunei, Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico, Japan and the United States are participating in the talks. South Korea and others may seek to “dock onto” the agreement in the very near future. The U.S. negotiating agenda will subordinate the role of governments in environmental protection to corporate profits. U.S. Trade Representative’s agenda for the TPP must be rejected. Friends of the Earth has a long list of concerns and demands. Here are just a few:
- End the secrecy: TPP talks are being held behind closed doors and civil society has been excluded from the most recent negotiations. The TPP negotiating text is kept secret from the public and press, although a few chapters have been leaked.
- No cave on the environment chapter. The environment chapter must include enforceable obligations to implement domestic environmental laws and abide by global environmental agreements. On that point, the U.S. delegation agrees with environmentalists because Democrats in Congress insist on it, but other negotiating parties strongly resist. There is a growing possibility that U.S. negotiators will cave on the one item on their negotiating agenda that could be good for the environment.
- No private investment court for rich corporations & investors. Leaked text of the TPP investment chapter shows that it would authorize foreign investors to seek awards of money damages from business-friendly tribunals in compensation for lost future profits and the cost of complying with environmental and other public interest regulations.Damage awards can run to millions or billions of dollars. For example, La Oroya, Peru is one of ten most polluted places on earth.Renco, a U.S. company, has repeatedly failed to meet its contractual and legal deadlines to clean up the pollution caused by its metallic smelter at La Oroya. Renco has sued Peru before an international investment tribunal, seeking $800 million in damages for the cost of complying with Peru’s environmental and mining laws.Mining, oil drilling and infrastructure construction are the most frequent topics of litigation under international investment agreements.Restrictions on construction of tar sands oil pipelines or on coal, oil or liquefied natural gas export terminals might also give rise to TPP investment suits Challenges to water pollution measures are a frequent issue in international investment litigation. Land use regulations and smart growth policies similarly are at risk.
- No patents on plants, animals, other life forms. Leaked text indicates that TPP provisions on intellectual property would protect corporate patents on plants, animals and other life forms, thus facilitating the theft of traditional knowledge from native peoples and expanding the commoditization of the commons.
- No corporate-friendly cost-benefit analysis. Exclude the regulatory coherence chapter, proposed by the United States, that could facilitate business-friendly, cost-benefit analysis to hamstring environmental or other public interest regulations. When used in a reductionist manner as contemplated in the TPP, such cost-benefit analysis amounts to an attempt to measure the immeasurable, such as the risks of synthetic biology, and prevents regulators from implementing the “precautionary principle” in environmental policymaking.
- No constraints on green criteria in government purchasing. The TPP government procurement chapter raises concern because governments are beginning to build environmental and other social criteria into their purchasing decisions that might run afoul of international trade rules. International rules on government procurement often seek to confine public purchasing decisions to economic and engineering criteria such as price and performance, thus constraining green purchasing policies by government.
- No constraints on environmental labeling. Friends of the Earth has no confirmation that TPP provisions on technical barriers to trade will not mimic or exceed World Trade Organization standards that have been used to successfully challenge U.S. dolphin-safe tuna labeling law and other product labeling measures.
- No constraints on food safety. The TPP chapter on sanitary measures might be used to challenge food safety laws based on the precautionary principle such as regulation of pesticide residue, chemical additives or genetic modification.
- No constraints on clean air regulation. Friends of the Earth has no assurance that clean air regulations will not be threatened by the TPP. To the contrary, the U.S. – Korea trade agreement, for example, requires that auto emissions standards be relaxed for U.S. auto exports to South Korea.
- No green light for deforestation, palm oil plantations or destructive corporate farming. Agriculture and investment provisions of the TPP would likely encourage deforestation to make way for massive palm oil plantations and other forms of corporate farming.
The root problem is that the bulk of the TPP text has far less to do with trade policy per se and much more to do with limiting the role of government as it regulates corporate polluters. This is not the time to fast track the TPP!
- We need your help in educating Congress on Fast Track & the TPP. PLEASE Contact: Bill Waren, trade policy analyst, Friends of the Earth, U.S., firstname.lastname@example.org,
- Click here to watch Friends of the Earth’s video on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
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