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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr15/05)
20 April 2015
Third World Network
 
Opposition to US fast-track bill may destabilise TPP talks, says NGO
Published in SUNS #8005 dated 20 April 2015
 
Geneva, 17 Apr (Kanaga Raja) -- The "fast-track" trade authority bill introduced in both houses of the US Congress on Thursday risks destabilising the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, due to the unprecedented level of both Congressional and public opposition that it currently faces, according to Public Citizen, a US-based public interest advocacy group.
 
In a press release issued on Thursday, Public Citizen said that the fast-track bill (also referred to as Trade Promotion Authority - TPA) would revive the controversial Fast Track procedures to which nearly all US House of Representatives Democrats and a sizable bloc of House Republicans have already announced opposition.
 
Noting that the chief negotiators of the TPP are due to meet next week, the civil society group said that the unprecedented level of opposition to the Fast Track bill may destabilise the talks, as the chances of the bill becoming law are extremely remote.
 
Public Citizen also charged that the bill that was proposed Thursday replicates the language of the failed 2014 fact-track bill, and thus is expected to share a similar fate as the 2014 bill.
 
In a statement issued on Thursday, US Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman said that the Bipartisan Trade Priorities and Accountability Act (the trade authority bill) represents "the most significant upgrade to our approach to trade in over four decades, including the requirement that labour and environmental protections be fully enforceable; new requirements for taking on unfairly subsidized foreign state owned enterprises; strong and balanced intellectual property protections; and new consultations and transparency requirements."
 
"TPA will move us one step closer to delivering trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) which will open growing markets to "Made in America" exports, protect our workers, and ensure that America, not our competitors, sets the rules of the road on trade," he claimed.
 
In its press release, Public Citizen noted that because Fast Track involves a broad delegation of Congress' constitutional authorities to the president, Congress has rarely enacted it.
 
Since 1988, only two presidents have persuaded Congress to approve Fast Track powers. In the 21 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect, Fast Track has been authorised only once - from 2002 to 2007.
 
According to the US public interest group, many members of Congress that supported past US trade pacts oppose President Barack Obama's request for Fast Track for the TPP because the almost-completed pact does not include the disciplines against currency manipulation demanded by large majorities of senators and representatives.
 
In 1998, the House voted down Fast Track for President Bill Clinton, with 71 GOP members joining 171 House Democrats, Public Citizen pointed out.
 
"Especially after the president dismissed Congress' demand that the TPP include currency disciplines, many in Congress are simply unwilling to give up their constitutional trade authority for the TPP," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.
 
"In the House of Representatives, there is almost no Democratic support, which is not surprising given that the Democrats' base of support - trade unions and family farm groups, environmental and free Internet advocates, faith and consumer groups and more - oppose Fast Track and there is a substantial bloc of Republican opposition given conservative groups also oppose it," she added.
 
Public Citizen underscored that the bill comes despite broad and growing US public opposition to Fast Track and the TPP.
 
It cited a new bipartisan poll from The Wall Street Journal and NBC News that showed that 75 percent of Americans think that the TPP should be rejected or delayed.
 
During the most recent Congressional recess, voters in Oregon, Massachusetts, Washington, Maryland and other states protested against Fast Track, citing the devastating impact past Fast Tracked pacts have had on local jobs, small businesses and farmers.
 
According to the Public Citizen press release, in a typical two-year session of the US Congress, only between 2 and 5 percent of the bills that are introduced become laws.
 
The bill introduced Thursday, which was sponsored by US Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (Republican-Utah), House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan (Republican-Wisconsin) and Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (Democrat-Oregon), failed to attract a single House Democratic sponsor.
 
"The House of Representatives is where Fast Track and trade pacts always have their most difficult challenge, and this will certainly be the case in the current Congress," said Public Citizen.
 
Even though House Republican leaders support Fast Track, almost every House Democrat opposes it. Passing it would require a party line vote by Republicans to grant massive new authority to the Democratic president they have attacked for years as an "imperial president" who grabs power, it added.
 
"That scenario is already generating a chorus of opposition by tea party conservatives, especially as many conservative Republicans oppose Fast Track as a constitutional aberration anyway. Even with the corporate lobby in favour, the Republican leadership will be hard pressed to overcome this political dynamic."
 
Prominent Republican free traders have insisted that the TPP include enforceable disciplines against currency manipulation that would undercut Japan and other nations' practice of devaluating their currency to boost exports, said Public Citizen.
 
Letters making that demand were signed by a super-majority of 60 US senators and 230 House members.
 
According to Public Citizen, Senior Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an ardent "free trader" who has supported all past free trade agreements and whose leadership Obama would need to pass the TPP, says he will oppose it absent such terms.
 
"Officials from TPP countries, such as Japan, Canada, Chile, Australia and New Zealand, have expressed concern about the absence of Fast Track authority by the Obama administration, and TPP proponents in the US have repeatedly claimed that other TPP countries would not put their final offers on the table in the absence of Fast Track."
 
However, said Public Citizen, today's Fast Track bill faces long odds for approval during this session of Congress.
 
It emphasised that the proposed bill makes only minor adjustments to the Fast Track bill that was dead on arrival in the House when it was introduced in January 2014.
 
At the time, only eight out of 201 House Democrats supported the bill and House Republican leadership could not count more than 100 members as "yes" votes (any legislation requires a simple majority of 218 "yes" votes to pass the House of Representatives.)
 
Since then, 14 of the 17 current first-term Democrats in the House have signed letters opposing or expressing serious concerns with Fast Track, despite pressure from the administration.
 
And, in contrast to past Congresses, a sizable bloc of first-term Republicans refused to sign a February letter declaring their support for Fast Track despite a major corporate lobby push, said the press release.
 
Public Citizen also said that Democrats and Republicans alike have objected to how Fast Track empowers the executive branch to use trade pacts to legislate through the back door on non-trade issues over which Congress and state legislatures have authority.
 
It recalled that the recent posting by WikiLeaks of the TPP's Investment Chapter has fuelled concerns by conservatives and liberals alike about the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system, which would allow corporations to skirt domestic laws and courts, and demand compensation from taxpayers for policies that investors claim violate new TPP privileges.
 
Were the TPP to be enacted with ISDS, more than 9,000 firms in the United States with parent corporations in TPP countries would be newly empowered to launch ISDS claims against the US government, Public Citizen warned.
 
Meanwhile, in a separate press release, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) said that with fast-track, Congress would lose its ability to ensure that trade pacts benefit workers, the environment, and communities around the United States.
 
Modern agreements like TTIP are not simply about trade; they are about regulation, with wide-ranging effects on environmental, health and safety standards designed to protect the public interest, it said.
 
The press release quoted CIEL President Carroll Muffett as saying: "Trade agreements like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated out of sight and with no meaningful public input, reflect the wish-lists of industry lobbyists, not the needs of the American people."
 
"Increasingly, these agreements deal less with inconsequential border taxes than with critical issues of public policy. Chemical safety, consumers' and workers' rights, and the power of federal and state governments to protect the public from hazardous substances and products all will be affected by the deals being negotiated. These deals would grant new rights to corporations and investors to undermine democracy and public policy in the name of private profit. Deals like TTIP and TPP demand public scrutiny and careful Congressional review. Fast track fails that standard and fails the American people," she added. +

 


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