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December 19, 2014

Congressional Leaders Reject Wall Street’s Push for Deregulatory “Trade” Pacts

The Obama administration needs to stop negotiating so-called “trade” deals with deregulatory rules pushed by the likes of Citigroup that would undermine the re-regulation of Wall Street. 

That’s the message that Senator Elizabeth Warren – champion of financial reform and member of the Senate Banking Committee, Congresswoman Maxine Waters – Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, and other congressional leaders have delivered to the administration in recent letters.  

The members of Congress warn against expanding the deregulatory strictures of pre-financial-crisis trade pacts, crafted in the 1990s under the advisement of Wall Street firms, via two pacts currently under negotiation: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA, also known as TTIP). 

As proposed, both pacts would include controversial foreign investor privileges that would empower some of the world’s largest banks to demand U.S. taxpayer money for having to comply with U.S. financial stability policies.  

Yesterday, Sen. Warren and Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Edward Markey sent U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman a letter calling for such “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) provisions, which have sparked global controversy, to be excluded from the TPP.  The letter states:

Including such provisions in the TPP could expose American taxpayers to billions of dollars in losses and dissuade the government from establishing or enforcing financial rules that impact foreign banks. The consequence would be to strip our regulators of the tools they need to prevent the next crisis.

Earlier this month, Rep. Waters and Reps. Lacy Clay, Keith Ellison, and Raúl Grijalva sent a similar letter to Froman that called for ISDS to be excluded from TAFTA to safeguard financial stability, stating:

Private foreign investors should not be empowered to circumvent U.S. courts, go before extrajudicial tribunals and demand compensation from U.S. taxpayers because they do not like U.S. domestic financial regulatory policies with which all firms operating here must comply. 

TPP and TAFTA negotiators are also contemplating pre-crisis rules that would threaten commonsense prudential regulations such as restrictions on derivatives and other risky financial products, measures to keep banks from becoming “too big to fail,” firewalls to protect our savings accounts from hedge-fund-style bets, capital controls to prevent financial crises, and a Wall Street tax to counter speculative and destabilizing bubbles.  

Senators Warren, Baldwin, and Markey made clear in their letter that such anachronistic rules must not be inserted into a binding pact:

To protect consumers and to address sources of systemic financial risk, Congress must maintain the flexibility to impose restrictions on harmful financial products and on the conduct or structure of financial firms. We would oppose including provisions in the TPP that would limit that flexibility.

So did Representatives Waters, Clay, Ellison, and Grijalva:

TTIP should also not replicate rules from past trade agreements that restrict the use of capital controls, which the International Monetary Fund and leading economists have endorsed as legitimate policy tools for preventing and mitigating financial crises. Nor should TTIP include provisions that could limit Congress’ prerogative to enact a financial transaction tax to curb speculation while generating revenue.

Similar warnings were recently issued by more than 50 of the largest civil society organizations concerned with financial stability on both sides of the Atlantic – including Americans for Financial Reform, which itself represents 250 organizations.  In a letter to Froman and other TAFTA negotiators in October, the groups wrote:

We believe it is highly inappropriate to include terms implicating financial regulation in an industry-dominated, non-transparent “trade” negotiation. Financial regulations do not belong in a framework that targets regulations as potential “barriers to trade.” Such a framework could chill or roll back post-crisis efforts to re-regulate finance on both sides of the Atlantic whereas further regulation of the sector is much needed.

While governments across the world strive to rein in risk-taking by the financial firms that brought us the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, U.S. trade negotiators (advised by many of those same firms) appear to be moving in the opposite direction.  We cannot afford to insert into binding “trade” pacts more deregulatory constraints pushed by Wall Street.  We cannot afford the TPP or TAFTA. 

The recent letter from civil society organizations made this clear:

We are only now implementing the lessons of the last financial crisis. Let us not lay the groundwork for the next one.

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Comments

Kathryn Price

Thank you, each member of each group who wrote letters to the Administration and Trade Representative about this attempted re-deregulation of risky financial instruments and practices, for your diligent oversight.

teri

It is nice that these few Congressmen are asking that one provision or another not be included in the trade deals. I remain unconvinced, based on the evidence provided through all the other Congressional negotiations on major bills in recent years, however, that in the end the TTP and TTIP will be passed in Congress. There may be a few token "Nay" votes so that someone can play the role of "the people's hero", but that is all for after-the-fact show-and-tell.

One might note that despite the damage done to signatory countries by all the prior trade agreements we have engineered and despite the clear evidence that these two particular trade deals are spectacularly bad in their whole and in their parts, there is a dearth of Congressional members saying that the deals must be discarded altogether.

Our Congress will pass the deals and a few members will say that they "held their noses" while they did so. Progressives will laud those members as though they actually had some principles; in fact, they will have only voiced objections once they were sure the damn things would pass anyway.

Elizabeth Warren admitted as much in an NPR interview regarding her floor speech on the recent "Cromnibus" bill, when she pointed out that she already knew the bill was going to pass before she spoke up.

There is nothing about this Congress that suggests one should discard his cynicism.

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