Members of Congress: Fast Tracking the TPP is a Non-Starter
On the eve of an attempt by executive branch negotiators to rush the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to conclusion in negotiations happening in Singapore this weekend, members of Congress, speaking from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, declared that an attempt to Fast Track the secretive, sweeping pact through Congress would be dead on arrival. Below is a transcript of excerpts of floor speeches made by Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), and Representative Jared Polis (D-Colorado).
See video highlights here:
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)
“…Unfortunately we appear to have a massive, secret and likely very harmful unfair trade deal on our hands, the TransPacific Partnership or the TPP for short. It is a NAFTA-style agreement between the U.S. and 11 other nations that has been largely negotiated in secret and seems to not just repeat, but perhaps worsen the mistakes made in the past.
In fact, this coming week, TPP negotiators are going to meet again in Singapore and they plan to have a deal by the end of the year, in less than a month, meaning that we may be less than 30 days away from having a final TPP deal, a deal that we have no idea what may contain. And while we may not know what’s in the deal, we do know what we have been promised: and so much of the promises that people across the country and in my state of Wisconsin have been told before about these massive trade deals – from NAFTA to CAFTA to the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement. We’ve been told that free trade would lead to increased U.S. jobs, it would reduce our trade deficits, it would boost our exports, and it lead to improved human rights and labor standards around the globe. Unfortunately, almost every single one of those promises have gone unfulfilled. In Wisconsin we have seen the devastating effects of the free trade agreements such as NAFTA to our local manufacturing industries and our jobs…"
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
“...This could have been a new opportunity. It represented an effort to create something that was new, a sustainable model that promoted economic development, with shared prosperity. But as you know, unfortunately, the talks have gone down the same road as previous trade agreements. Export of more jobs, not more goods, unsafe imports, and threats to public health, among other things…
There is no reason to believe that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal will not be the same kind of a raw deal for U.S. workers and more, as the agreement would be unprecedented in scope.
The president himself has commented that the pact would establish rules that extend far traditional trade matters to include, and I quote, “a whole range of new trade issues that are going to be coming up in the future: innovation, regulatory convergence, how we are thinking about the Internet, and intellectual property.”
The agreement will create binding policies on future Congresses in numerous areas to include those that are related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, state-owned enterprises, and government procurement policies, as well as financial, health care, energy, telecommunications and other service sector regulations. This is a treaty that goes beyond tariffs. The scope is as I’ve outlined: it is unbelievable. And we also know that the lack of transparency on this treaty is unbelievable.
It’s interesting to know that industry has had great access to the process and what’s going on. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have not had that same access to the information in this trade agreement. And it is our constitutional authority, as members of Congress, to approve trade agreements. We cannot be frozen out any longer. We’re not going to tolerate that.
We also know from the recently leaked text, that U.S. trade negotiators, and I say ‘recently leaked’ because I repeat: we don’t have access to the information. We’re not able to go, to come in and have people lay it out for us. The leaked text that U.S. trade negotiators are proposing [show] an unbalanced intellectual property provision that are going to hinder our trading partners’ access to safe and more affordable drugs. This is not only going to raise the price of medicines overseas, preventing millions from getting the medical care that they need, but it limits the ability of the United States companies exporting these drugs to grow internationally and to generate more jobs at home.
Incredibly even as the administration is proposing to lower drug costs for consumers here in the United States, by proposing in its budget to modify the length of exclusivity on brand name biologics from 12 to 7 years, our trade negotiators are demanding 12 years of data exclusivity, from our trading partners, denying their people quicker access to more affordable drugs.
How can the U.S. be in this business? It’s morally unacceptable: that life-saving drugs, that people overseas will have less access to. That’s not who we are as a nation. That’s not where our values lie.
These and other critical areas are being negotiated without sufficient congressional consultation even though as I mentioned under the Constitution, the Congress— not the executive – has the exclusive, constitutional authority to “regulate commerce with foreign nations” and write the nation’s laws. Over the last few decades, presidents have increasingly taken over both of those powers through a mechanism known as Fast Track. Simply what it does is that it erodes Congress’s ability to shape the content of the free trade agreements, which today as I said again earlier clearly go well beyond tariff issues. Not only does it, (relate to) the shaping of the trade agreement, but it then becomes, if you provide for Fast Track authority, then that means it comes to this body and my colleague from Wisconsin knows this, he’s served in legislative bodies, that we have no ability to amend. You just come and you rubber stamp it.
No more, no more.
Under the recent iteration of Fast Track, which expired by the way in 2007, U.S. trade negotiations required various stages of congressional consultation before and during the negotiations, but even that minimal level of congressional consultation has not occurred with regard to the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty. Which is why myself and so many other colleagues, including my colleague from Wisconsin, Mr. Pocan, both sides of the aisle, have made clear that the 20th century Fast Track and its lack of any meaningful input from Congress in the formative stages of an agreement is not appropriate for the 21st century trade agreements like the TransPacific Partnership.
More Fast Track is a nonstarter.
What we need to do is to create a 21st century mechanism to negotiate approved trade agreements that ensure that they benefit more Americans: don’t decrease the wages, don’t decrease the minimum wage, give them a fighting chance to help themselves and their families. We cannot approve a TransPacific Partnership agreement that continues to follow the same failed trade template that has hurt working families for so long, that jeopardize our public health here and abroad, and that creates binding policies on future Congresses that we had no input in creating.
If we are to uphold the trust of our constituents, for them, for this economy, for our country, we need to do better. And the content and the process of the TPP does not allow us to do better by our constituents or the great people of the United States.
This is a treaty that needs to be restarted. Instead of being brought up and finished by the end of the year, we need to restart the effort, have Congressional input, and do something that will help to make a difference in the lives of the people that we serve..."
"...We know that in Vietnam the wage is 28 cents an hour, that’s 4% of our currently, already low minimum wage and to think that somehow we can have fair trade with a country that has 28 cents minimum wage, that has violated, they work in factories that have violated safety requirements 8 out of 10 times that they’ve been inspected, workers routinely fail to get the minimum 4 days per month of rest. This is not a “trade partner” that you can have in a trade agreement that’s going to at least raise the level for American workers; it can only lower the level.
Another concern that I know you and I have had, Rosa DeLauro, has been on procurement and what exactly is in this agreement on procurement. I was an author when I was in the state legislature in Wisconsin of Buy American laws, to make sure that our tax dollars went to goods that supported American workers. The very language that’s been in these trade agreements could take away our ability to have buy local and buy American laws. And we need to change that, so again thank you so much for your efforts on this. We are going to work with many other colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to do what we can to defeat this Fast Track authority...
One of the things that as we’ve talked about, the various provisions, is that there are literally over 20 chapters that involve everything from labor conditions, the environment, procurement, food safety, intellectual property, they go on and on. This is a wide variety of topics that are covered in a trade deal, and the fact that Congress could maybe lose its say through a Fast Track agreement would be completely egregious. Because we’re elected by the people; we have to represent our constituents and make sure that we defend that worker in our district, and if you take away Congress’s voice that’s wrong, whether it’s done by a Democrat or a Republican; we must have our say.
People will say that somehow we are anti-trade. We’re in fact very much pro-trade. We just want it to be fair trade. We want it to be drafted carefully and correctly. And I believe you can do that. But when you have an agreement like we’ve seen with past agreements and what we expect so far to see in the TPP, from some of the leaked texts, it looks again that the interests of global corporations will be ahead of the good of the American worker. There are situations where a foreign-owned business could have more power than our own sovereign courts on issues, and where Buy America policies could be undermined, and where corporations can be incentivized to move their production offshore, and it can engage us in a race to the bottom on worker protections, wages and rights. And the American worker gets left behind. And we simply can’t do that.
We need to make sure that Congress has every possible say in what a trade agreement, especially something as wide as the TransPacific Partnership can include. We need to know what’s in these laws, and if you think about it, we don’t know that.
Representative DeLauro and myself: we’ve been following this issue. We don’t even know exactly what is being negotiated in this agreement. So we have a lot of questions, and we have very few answers. Does the agreement do anything to tackle currency manipulations? We don’t know. Does it include enforceable environmental and labor standards? And how much does it deal with the blatantly nontrade items from food safety to financial regulations to Internet freedom? Once again the answer is, we don’t know. Yet despite all these unanswered questions and despite the fact that most members of Congress have barely gotten a chance to see leaked portions of the agreement and despite the fact that this deal would have lasting repercussions on our economy and our workers, once again, there is word that we’re hearing that they are going to try to fast track this through Congress. And that simply is not acceptable.
Given all the lingering questions that we have out there on the TransPacific Partnership, I firmly believe that rushing this bill through Congress is both dangerous and irresponsible.
Just earlier this year, I led a letter with 35 other freshman Democrats expressing similar concerns about transparency, and making sure that we have a trade deal that’s in the best interests of our constituents, our workers.
Mr. Speaker, our job in Congress is to represent the people who sent us here. It is not our job to represent the interests of foreign corporations or CEOs who want to find the cheapest labor they can to increase their profit margins. And it’s not our job to sit on the sidelines while more bad trade deals get passed through this body. We have a responsibility to the American worker to ensure that they can compete on an even playing field with workers across the world. If we compete on an even playing field, we will always win. We have the work ethic, we have the ability to do that. But unless we’re given that equal opportunity, the American workforce is not being treated in a fair and sustainable way. They can’t compete when their jobs are shipped overseas or their wages get driven down so low that they face almost unlivable conditions. And we can and must do better for our workforce….”
Representative Jared Polis (D-CO)
…One of the issues around [the TPP] has been the secrecy under which it’s been negotiated. I actually, some months ago, to show that these are not just partisan concerns, did a bipartisan letter with Darrell Issa, requesting that there’s more transparency about this process. I’ve had the opportunity on three occasions to review the text in my office; my own staff wasn’t allowed to even be there with me. The American people aren’t able to execute the proper oversight over something that is of great economic importance to our country, because of the secrecy under which it’s being negotiated...