In a move that dismayed the growing chorus of labor leaders, environmentalists, clergy and other activists who had sounded the alarm on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Senate voted 60-37 on June 23 to help clear the way for fast-track approval for the trade deal.
The Senate is now expected to take a final vote on fast track this afternoon. If today’s vote mirrors yesterday’s tally, a filibuster-proof majority all but ensures President Obama’s approval.
“This is a day of celebration in the corporate suites in this country,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said after the vote. “Because they’ve got another corporate-sponsored trade agreement that will mean more money in some investors’ pockets, but only more plant closings in Ohio, Arizona, Delaware, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Maine – and all over this country.”
The TPP would govern trade between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations: Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Mexico, New Zealand and Vietnam. Supporters, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and Obama, say the TPP will expand trade with some of the world’s most vibrant economies, representing close to 40 percent of global GDP.
But legislators, unions, environmental and other citizens groups have been excluded from the talks, while hundreds of corporate lobbyists have been inside the discussions from the beginning. Details about the TPP have only come from drafts leaked by the website WikiLeaks.
“This trade agreement was supported by virtually every major corporation in this country – the vast majority of whom have outsourced millions of jobs to low-wage countries all over the world,” said independent Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats. “This trade agreement will continue the policies of NAFTA, CAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China – agreements that have cost us millions of decent paying jobs.”
Republicans and Democrats have been sparring over the inclusion of Trade Adjustment Assistance with the TPP vote. TAA provides government assistance to retrain American workers who lose their jobs as a result of so-called free trade deals. Several Senate Democrats said their vote to pass fast track was on the condition that the Senate later votes to include TAA with the final deal.
Critics point to the TPP’s so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement process as an example of how the trade deal could benefit multinational corporations while undermining U.S. sovereignty. In a Feb. 25 op-ed in the Washington Post, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote:
ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws – and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers – without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences.
If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions – and even billions – of dollars in damages.
IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson expressed support to lawmakers who stood with working families when casting their votes.
“The momentum is gaining to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of everyday Americans have raised their voices against this disastrous trade deal. As many pro-worker lawmakers said on the Senate floor, this country cannot afford another NAFTA. We need a fair trade policy that includes real and enforceable labor protections, one that isn’t negotiated in secret. Transparency and fairness should be values that all Americans can agree upon.”
Keep reading www.ibew.org for updates on how you can help stop the TPP.