TPP approved, but a legislative fight looms in the U.S.

On Thursday February 4, the United States and eleven other nations which have been negotiating to create the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) finally agreed on and approved a final version, which must now be approved by their respective legislatures.  In the United States, there is going to be a fight about this, in the context of national elections.

Back on June 24 of last year, the U.S. Senate had approved fast track authority for the government to negotiate the treaty by a vote of 60 to 37, with three “not voting”.   Forty seven of the “yea” votes were cast by Republicans, and thirteen were Democrats.  Of the “nay” votes, five were Republicans, two were independents (Sanders of Vermont and King of Maine), and 30 were Democrats.  The senators not voting were two Republicans and one Democrat. 

The fast track vote came after an intense pressure campaign, with business interests and the White House weighing in strongly in favor of approval and organized labor and other grassroots constituency groups lobbying hard against it.    The approval of “fast track” means that the Senators will only have a chance to vote the finished and signed treaty up or down, and will not be able to present amendments and modifications.  Labor and its allies have made clear that they intend to fight hard for disapproval. Opposition to the TPP has been a major feature of the electoral program of Senator Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton has more recently begun to express doubts.

The other countries that agreed to the TPP on Thursday include: Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Malaysia, Australia, Brunei, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and New Zealand.  Colombia will probably join, and Indonesia is studying the possibility of doing so. In all cases except Malaysia, there also has to be a process of legislative approval which may take a while.  And in most of these countries, as in the United States, there have been strong objections to the TPP from many sectors, especially from labor unions and the political left.  

When the treaty was signed in Auckland, New Zealand on Thursday, labor unions there carried out militant demonstrations against it, and sharply criticized their country’s prime minister, John Key, for agreeing to it.   Criticisms from labor and the left occurred in several other participating countries.  Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has said the agreement will result in more race-to-the-bottom wages and labor conditions, contrary to what President Obama has promised.

In Chile, the negotiations to participate in the TPP were initiated by the previous government of right wing President Sebastian Piñera.  The current president, Michelle Bachelet of the Socialist Party, has decided to continue with the process, but her doing so has been controversial.   On Thursday, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Chile, El Siglo (the Century), carried an article entitled “Criticisms of the TPP are Growing”. “Defenders of the agreement claim that with more opening to trade, more dynamism will be injected into the economy.  Meanwhile opponents of the TPP claim that the agreement will only benefit multinational enterprises to the detriment of the smallest ones and will affect sensitive areas such as health or agriculture, severely wounding the sovereignty of the country. 

“After signing the agreement, the Chilean Parliament will have two years to vote in favor or against it; presumably it will be sent [to the Parliament] in March. This is the point at which the government will confront an important division, as some of the governing [coalition’s] parliamentarians have indicated that they will reject the controversial treaty.”

The article goes on to quote Communist Party Deputy Camila Vallejo, who is a high profile grassroots leader in Chile because of the role she has played in protests demanding educational reforms:  “I am not willing to contribute to mortgaging our sovereignty in this way and I will vote against the TPP, but I think it is essential to have a citizen mobilization so that the government backs off its [pro TPP] position and the Parliament rejects it”.  The Communist Party, a powerful force in Chile, is part of Bachelet’s governing coalition. 

Similar criticisms are being raised against their government’s agreement to the TPP in Australia, Mexico, Peru, and other countries.

People in the United States should realize that the criticisms of the TPP that are being made in the other countries are parallel to the complaints expressed by labor and other groups here.    

All are worried that their nations’ sovereignty will be subordinated to the interests and power of billionaire multinational corporations.  Since many such corporations are headquartered in the United States, and since the United States government is a major promoter of the TPP, the agreement is also seen as favoring the United States’ interests to the detriment of smaller and poorer countries. 

In all countries, including the United States, there is worry about terms in the TPP that could allow multinational corporations to sue to interfere with environmental, labor and consumer protection legislation in the future that could be seen as interfering with the “future profits” of the corporations.  Future nationalization of industries not already under government control would be prohibited on pain of severe financial penalties.  Prices of life saving drugs would be kept high to serve the interests of the big multinational pharmaceutical companies.  Democracy would take a hit, because communities could not vote to protect themselves from the depredations of the multinationals. Several countries, including Peru, have already had to pay big penalties under existing “free trade” deals because local peasant communities mounted protests which prevented multinational corporations from trashing their farmlands through environmentally harmful mining operations.  Nowhere are workers convinced that the TPP will lead to “more jobs”, the opposite seems much more likely.  

The Obama administration has advertised the TPP as a way of countering China’s economic and commercial power.  But many people in the other countries would like to continue to have the option of building trade relations with China and other countries not in the TPP, and fear that the TPP will impede them from doing so.

So there is not only going to be a fight about this in the United States Congress and the streets, but in all the other participating countries as well.  The TPP can still be turned into a lesson in worldwide labor and people’s solidarity, if activists start making connections and contacts across borders right away, and continue to protest and lobby against this awful agreement.

Photo: AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.