Monday, June 15, 2015

Why opposing the TPP is not a cut-and-dry issue

Progressives and peace organizations seem to, across the board, oppose the TPP and Fast-Track Authority, but the peace and justice issues related to it are not as simple as they seem.

If you are signed up on any peace-and-justice-related organizations’ mailing lists, you have probably heard, or even been a part of, the resistance to the legislation on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Fast-Track Authority.  The recent news from Washington is that Fast Track Authority was defeated last Friday, June 12, 2015.  Mainstream media and progressive media alike report that the House failed to pass Fast Track Authority- and in essence that it was a defeat of the TPP, for now, and it is lauded as victory for many, because of the controversial aspects of the TPP.

 However, it is possible Fast Track Authority will still be passed soon, if the President will agree to take out the other portion of the legislation proposed- an agreement on Trade Adjustment Assistance- federal aid, partly in the form of retraining, to workers, firms, and farmers negatively affected by international trade agreements.  It was tied to Fast Track Authority in the legislation.  On Friday, a portion of the lawmakers voted against Trade Adjustment Assistance, then passed Fast-Track Authority.  Perhaps they decided they needed the portion of legislators that were opposed to the increase in the federal budget for Trade Adjustment Assistance, to vote for Fast Track Authority (TPA- Trade Promotion Assistance).  Many Democrats felt pressure from union groups (specifically AFL- CIO) and other constituents to vote no. (The Editorial Board, “Failing trade deal would fail voters: Our view” USA Today, June 7, 2015- )  Other Democrats, including House Minority Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, did not announce their plan for a yes or no vote until Friday.  President Obama’s appeal to the Democrats on Friday may have swayed some of the undecided, but Pelosi’s announcement on her vote of ‘no’ likely reversed any gains the President might have made with his appeal. ( )

Map of the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries and trade amounts between them and the U.S.

“Fast track negotiating authority for trade agreement is the authority of the President of the United States to negotiate international trade agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but not amend or filibuster.”  It is also called trade promotion authority, and is a temporary and controversial power granted to the President by Congress.  Presidents held this authority from 1975 to 1994, and from 2002-2007.  It expired in 2007, and has not been passed again since then.  (

Fast Track Authority is being sought by Obama in conjunction with the Trans-Pacific Partnership for a couple of reasons.  First, the TPP is more likely to pass if it is an approve/ disapprove decision, and second, because among other potential trade partners, Japan, the largest country involved in the agreement other than the U.S., has given conditions to the trade agreement that in order to agree to the difficult concessions President Obama wants, the TPP cannot be amended in any way by Congress. (See )

The unfortunate thing about Friday’s vote includes the decided defeat of the expansion on the Trade Adjustment Assistance.  When considering the greater good, hearing President Kennedy’s words again are insightful: “When considerations of national policy make it desirable to avoid higher tariffs, those injured by that competition should not be required to bear the full brunt of the impact. Rather, the burden of economic adjustment should be borne in part by the Federal Government.” (Kennedy, John F. 1963. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, 1963. Washington: Government Printing Office. Copy online at ; cited in “Trade Adjustment Assistance,” from

The criticisms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are many.  They include concerns about public health and safety regulations, environmental concerns, ISDS (Invester- State Dispute Settlement), and the decrease of citizen power, increase of corporate power (mostly referring to ISDS.)  Some of these things we know about the TPP are due to the leak of some of its chapters; of particular concern to many is the “Investment Chapter.”  The ISDS (mentioned above) allows corporations to sue governments if they pass laws that interfere with their ability to make profit.  Suits take place before the International Tribunal staffed by corporation trade lawyers.  In a CREDO- action email sent May 29, 2015, they state that these corporation trade lawyers may end up working for some of these corporations.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren warns that ISDS poses a threat to U.S. sovereignty and could inhibit robust regulation of industries like banking.  However, ISDS was designed to be an arbitration process that uses trade sanctions to pressure governments to compensate corporations whose property is seized, for example- a new government comes to power and nationalizes a factory.  (“What’s ISDS? And why is Elizabeth Warren so upset about it?” )  The TPP is expected to allow foreign investers to make ISDS complaints against the U.S.  The ISDS has to agree with the complaint, and the U.S. (for example) could be on the hook for damages amounting to the millions.  (“What’s ISDS?...”

The White House does note, however, that there are about 3,000 trade deals around the world with ISDS provisions including 50 with the U.S.  According to the Obama administration, the U.S. only faced 13 ISDS case under these treaties and has never lost a case.  In addition, the ISDS in the TPP will have stronger safeguards against abuse than previous treaties.  ISDS can’t force countries to change their laws or regulations- only incur financial penalty on them.  (“What’s ISDS?...”

A public health concern includes the likely event that TPP will allow the delay of introduction of generic drugs to the public, incurring higher-priced (non-generic) drugs. Negotiators are considering language exempting low-income countries to reduce some of TPP’s negative effects on these countries, but it wouldn’t do anything to lower drug prices in wealthy countries like the U.S.  ( “Why are some public health groups opposing the TPP?”

According to official statements on accessed on June 4, 2015, Obama is fighting for the most progressive trade agreement in history.  Through the TPP, he is renegotiating NAFTA and instituting stronger, fully enforceable labor and environmental standards.  It helps level the field for workers and businesses here (in the U.S.) by ensuring our trade partners are playing by the rules.  The TPP also helps preserve a free and open internet for American businesses in several ways.  They also claim more transparency than ever in the crafting of TPP- labor unions, environmental groups, faith organizations, public health advisors, consumer advisors, local and state officials, farmers, ranchers, and small businesses were all involved in helping with the negotiations.

As stated, the TPP will protect labor rights.  Previous U.S. trade agreements have included language on workers’ rights, but they have lacked robust enforcement mechanisms.  (“Will the TPP protect labor rights?” )

In light of the above reassuring information, two main arguments can be made that the TPP is actually good for peace.  First, passing the TPP means the United States will be able to have a big part in defining how the world will trade; as we have seen, the TPP holds our partners to some attractive standards.  Second, research shows that trade does promote peace.

Today there are 525 million middle-class consumers in Asia alone, by 2030 those numbers might be above 3 billion.  That will be 8 times the size of what the US market is expected to be.  The White House asks, “Who will set the international standards that define how the world does trade? If it’s not America, it’s going to be competitors like China.”  If America leads, there will be new rules to make sure foreign state-owned companies compete fairly with our private businesses.  If we sit on the sidelines, among other things, there will be no enforceable protections for millions of workers: no minimum wage, no prohibition of child labor, no right to form unions, no enforceable protections for our environment (eg. wildlife trafficking, illegal logging, overfishing).  A quick rise in “data nationalism” in which governments regulate the internet is possible.  There will be high tariffs that let our competitors’ goods in and block made-in-America goods out.  (“What’s at Stake if We Don’t Trade” accessed on www,, June 4, 2015)  Advocates also hope the TPP will set a precedent for broader trade deals with other areas in the world like China and Europe.  (“The TPP would lower some trade barriers.  How big would the economic benefits be?”

To confirm what’s at stake: either way, if the U.S. passes the TPP or not, a major agreement is going to be made, and it will not include the U.S.  An alternative agreement is being pushed by China which does not include any countries in the Americas.  Asian countries will turn to that if the TPP falls through.  That would freeze the U.S. out of the fastest growing market in the world, and would enhance China’s economic power and influence over its neighbors. (The Editorial Board, “Trade deal vs. fact-free uproar- Our view” USA Today, May 7, 2015;  The President and those in support of TPP in Congress framed the debate in terms of this goal of global influence and countering the rising power of China.  (

It would be troubling if China gained power in the world over the U.S.  According to Amnesty International, the Annual Report on China in 2014-2015 says that authorities continued to severely restrict the right to freedom of expression.  Activists and human rights defenders risked harassment, and arbitrary detention. Torture and other ill-treatment remain widespread.  Access to justice was elusive to many.  Ethnic minorities (Tibetans, Uigers, Mongolians) faced discrimination and increased security crackdown. ( )  People are imprisoned for challenging views of the government.  Freedom of the press and “universal values” such as freedom, democracy, and human rights come under severe attack.  ( )  There is also a 145-page report available from Human Rights Watch on police torture of criminal suspects in China, called “Tiger Chairs and Cell Bosses” based on Human Rights Watch analyses of hundreds of newly published court verdicts from across the country and interviews with 48 recent detainees, family members, lawyers, and former officials.  HRW found that police torture and ill-treatment of suspects in pretrial detention remains a serious problem.  Among findings, ‘detainees have been forced to spend days shackled to ‘tiger chairs’, hung by wrists, and treated abusively by cell-bosses- fellow detainees who oversee cells for police. ( )  Per the above information from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, I don’t trust that allowing China to have more power would promote peace or justice in many areas in the world, including the U.S.

Second, research supports that trade promotes peace. In a study done in collaboration of educators at University of Oslo Center of the Study of Civil War and Peace Research Institute Oslo, The University of Alabama, and Yale University, their analyses confirms past research that “trade promotes peace and conflict contemporaneously reduces commerce even with extensive controls for traders’ rational expectations of violence.”  They used controls for effects of distance between countries, size, (and power) to analyze past research.  (see abstract for “Trade does promote peace: New simultaneous estimates of the reciprocal effects of trade and conflict,” The Journal of Peace Research, November 2010, vol. 47, no. 6, 763-774,  [full text available at a cost]).

Although there are definite troubling aspects of the TPP, after looking into the overall outlook available by research, I find that supporting the TPP is actually promoting peace and justice.  Like President Obama said in a statement, “These kinds of agreements reflect the realities of a 21st -century economy.  These kinds of agreements make sure that the global economy’s rules aren’t written by countries like China; they’re written by the United States of America.” (  )  Although there are problems in the United States government, it is still a relatively just and moral government and society.  I call upon all activists and lawmakers to consider their positions again with the above information.

Christine Sheller is co-editor at Iowa Peace Network, former coordinator of IPN (2009-2011) and has been Church of the Brethren representative on the IPN Joint Oversight Committee for the last several years.  She lives and works between Des Moines and Eldora, also working as Office Assistant at Softshell Computer Services in rural Eldora.

1 comment:

  1. Sanders Calls Trade Deal ‘Disastrous’
    October 5, 2015

    BURLINGTON, Vt. – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders issued the following statement on Monday after negotiators announced an agreement in principle on a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal:

    “I am disappointed but not surprised by the decision to move forward on the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that will hurt consumers and cost American jobs.

    “Wall Street and other big corporations have won again. It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multi-national corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense.

    “This agreement follows failed trade deals with Mexico, China and other low-wage countries that have cost millions of jobs and shuttered tens of thousands of factories across the United States.

    “In the Senate, I will do all that I can to defeat this agreement. We need trade policies that benefit American workers and consumers, not just the CEOs of large multi-national corporations.”