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
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,"
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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. +