Don’t feel like an ignoramus if you are baffled by all the rancor surrounding TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade agreement. Most Americans are scratching their heads wondering whose right. On the one hand or side, you have President Obama saying “this is the most progressive trade agreement in history.”
The president’s aggressive push for a free trade policy and fast-track authority has irked fellow Democrats, none more visible and outspoken than Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. And Obama has personally challenged her opposition to the measure, telling the press that “she is absolutely wrong.”
One of the basic problems Warren has with the president’s proposal and the possibility of a fast-track authority, which the Senate would be compelled to vote up or down with no opportunity to approve amendments, is that future presidents could undo the banking reforms in place since the economic recession of 2008.
Obama’s response to Warren’s concerns was voiced recently on Yahoo. “The notion that I had this massive fight with Wall Street to make sure we don’t repeat what happened from 2007, and then I signed a provision that would unravel it?” he explained. “I’d have to be pretty stupid, and it doesn’t make any sense.”
During his speech at Beaverton, Oregon at Nike, Obama said that once the American public sees the agreement they will see that it’s a good deal.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Warren snapped back on the president’s comments. “But the president won’t actually let people read the agreement for themselves. It’s classified,” Warren said.
With Nike as his pivotal corporation, Obama stressed that increased trade is a significant factor in this age of globalization, particularly in the Pacific basin where China has a veritable monopoly, though China is not included in the talks. “We can’t stand on the beaches and stop the global economy at our shores,” he said.
Obviously, Nike has approved the agreement, noting that it will enhance its financial standing by lowering U.S. tariffs on athletic shoes that are principally made in Vietnam. Plus, the company said the deal would help create thousands more jobs in the U.S. over the next decade. (It should be noted that the workers in Vietnam, according to a recent report, are exposed to carcinogens that exceed local legal standards by 177 times in parts of the plant and that 77 percent of the employees suffer from respiratory problems. The report also said that the employees at the site, which is owned and operated by a Korean subcontractor, “were forced to work 65 hours a week, far more than Vietnamese law allows, for $10 a week.”)
If this is the “most progressive trade agreement in history,” why aren’t labor, human rights, and environmental organizations on board?
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka testified last month before the Senate Finance Committee against the fast-track authority for TPP, an agreement that includes Japan, Australia, and nine other Pacific Rim countries. “The key to reforming our trade policies is abolishing the outdated, unaccountable, and undemocratic fast-track process.” Taken together they represent 40 percent of the world GDP.
Trumka said this agreement could be the last trade agreement that “we negotiate, so it’s especially crucial that we get the terms of this one right.” He said, for the most part, the deal is done and Congress will have no impact of the basic provisions.
“I understand the president’s desire to pull these countries away from China’s orb here, but I feel middle-class income decline is the greatest problem Americans face, and trade agreements exacerbate that decline,” said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York who put the impetus squarely on jobs.
Warren said that “trade deals matter,” but she remains concerned about key parts of the TPP agreement. “I understand that we want to be a nation that trades, that trade creates many benefits for us. But only if done on terms that strengthen the American economy and American worker. I should say the American family, because that’s what this is really about,” she concluded.
On Tuesday, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the fast-track proposal.