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Will the U.S. and EU Revive the Damaging Pro-corporate, Anti-people TTIP Agenda?

EU-US-Deal-Notes

Trump promised a new approach on trade policy that would fix past damage to working people. But what his administration and European Union officials said this week in their joint statement after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s visit to the White House sure sounds like a revival of the status-quo, pro-corporate agenda that Trump railed against in his campaign.

It remains unclear what the joint statement ultimately will lead to. However, anyone who cares about the safety standards on which we rely for our food and medicine, the energy and climate policies needed to save our planet, or financial regulations designed to prevent banks from gambling with our money and creating another crisis should be extremely worried.

The statement’s overall tone and specific worrying buzz words reflect the agenda that had been pushed by the largest U.S. and European banks, agribusinesses and other powerful industry groups in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks undertaken during the previous administration. That TTIP agenda had been resoundingly rejected by civil society on both sides of the Atlantic because people in Europe and the United States refuse to allow our fundamental environmental and consumer safeguards to be rewritten behind closed doors.

The statement calls for “zero non-tariff barriers.” “Non-tariff barriers” is trade-speak for any domestic policy or regulation that can affect multinational corporations’ ability to move goods or services across borders. Many consumer, health, or environmental safeguards we rely on to protect people and the environment are considered “non-tariff barriers” by business interests. Given that, does inclusion of this clause mean that the goal of these negotiations will be zero domestic safeguards on either side of the Atlantic – such as European GMO standards or U.S. financial regulations post-crisis – that might inconvenience a multinational corporation? That would be an even more radical pro-corporate plan than what was tried (and failed) in the TTIP negotiations.

Worryingly, the statement calls for “reducing barriers” to “chemicals,” “pharmaceuticals,” and “medical products.” The U.S. chemical industry sought to use TTIP to undermine Europe’s superior Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) policy. This chemical safety regime  is much more robust in protecting the public from unsafe chemicals than the broken U.S. policy.

Meanwhile, European pharmaceutical manufacturers called for the U.S. FDA to relinquish its current responsibility to independently approve the safety of medicines sold in the United States, proposing that the U.S. government automatically accept a European determination that a drug produced in Europe is safe for U.S. consumers. This language suggests that this dangerous industry wish list may be revived.

References to “a dialogue on standards in order to increase trade, reduce bureaucratic obstacles and slash costs” also sound suspiciously like a revival of the problematic and highly undemocratic “regulatory cooperation” agenda from TTIP. While cooperation among regulators is not inherently a bad idea, it IS very dangerous for such cooperation to happen in the context of trade negotiations that have explicitly prioritized reducing costs for businesses over any protection of consumers or the environment. The biggest banks, agribusiness, chemicals and pharma corporations in Europe and the U.S. have made clear what consumer and environmental protections they intend to undermine in the name of such “regulatory cooperation.”

The statement also explicitly calls for increasing exports of liquefied national gas (LNG) from the United States to Europe. This would create more market incentives for LNG companies to increase the environmentally destructive practice of “fracking” across the United States, even when many U.S. states have already or are considering banning the controversial practice altogether. Pushing for the extraction and transatlantic transport of even more fossil fuels takes both the United States and European Union in the categorically opposite direction of what is needed to transition to a low-carbon economy to address climate change.

It may be unsurprising – if tragic – that the Trump administration would pursue this policy, given its shameful withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords. But that the EU would continue to pursue this is a stark abrogation of its commitment to combat climate change.

Finally, the statement’s call for the immediate creation of an Executive Working Group to move the agenda forward raises alarm bells. What is the scope of its mandate? Will there be any mechanisms to ensure that it is democratically accountable on both sides of the Atlantic? What is the nature of the “negotiations” it is undertaking?

A revival of the TTIP agenda might make some corporate cronies happy, but it would cause tremendous harm to the rest of us on both sides of the Atlantic. And it would be a clear betrayal of Trump’s promises to fix trade policy.


Today’s D.C. Visit by Top Mexican Trade Officials May Reveal Whether a Renegotiated NAFTA Deal Can Be Signed in 2018

Statement of Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

 Note: Today, the top Mexican trade officials of the current Peña Nieto and incoming López Obrador administrations will meet with U.S.  Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. At issue is whether deals can be reached between the United States and Mexico on the last outstanding issues in North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations in time for the pact to be signed before Mexico’s current president leaves office. The high-level meeting occurs five weeks before the August 31 date by which the U.S.  Congress must be formally notified of a deal under Fast Track procedures for Mexico’s current president to sign a new pact. Even if a deal is signed this year, a U.S. congressional vote would likely occur in 2019. Lori Wallach said:

 “What’s new is Mexico’s heightened motivation to finalize a deal now, given that both the outgoing and incoming administrations appear to have compelling reasons to want a deal done in time for the current Mexican president to sign it and they generally agree on what terms would be acceptable. 

“If a deal cannot be reached now and negotiations roll into 2019, the timeline for talks to be concluded, as well as NAFTA’s ultimate fate, become less certain.

“Achieving a deal that can get through the U.S. Congress and that satisfies Donald Trump’s high-profile campaign pledges to bring back manufacturing jobs and reduce the NAFTA trade deficit is extremely tricky, but ironically less so if current predictions of Democratic gains in the midterm elections hold true. For decades, congressional Democrats have advocated for the NAFTA changes that could deliver the outcomes Trump promised, including elimination of NAFTA’s investor protections that promote job outsourcing and the addition of strong, enforceable labor and environmental standards to raise wages in Mexico and level the playing field.”


Unpacking Disingenuous GOP Complaints About Presidential Trade Authority

At midnight on June 30, Fast Track, which delegates Congress’ constitutional trade authority to the president, extended for another three years.

The congressional Democrats, who fought this broad give-away of control over trade agreements even when it was President Barack Obama’s request in 2015, could not even obtain a vote because the procedure is so rigged it automatically extends unless a “non-extension resolution” is passed. But that vote can only occur if the congressional GOP leadership allows it.

And the congressional GOP, most of whom supported the extreme Fast Track procedure but now are cynically howling about undue presidential authority over trade, chose not to take action.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress is supposed to write the laws and set trade policy, while the executive branch represents the United States in negotiations with foreign governments. When it came to trade agreements, this arrangement required cooperation between the branches.

For 200 years, these key checks and balances helped ensure that no one branch of government had too much power over trade policy. But, starting with Nixon, presidents have tried to seize those congressional powers using Fast Track.

Fast Track, which supporters renamed Trade Promotion Authority as the procedure became increasingly controversial, empowers the executive branch to unilaterally select partner countries for “trade” pacts, decide the agreements’ contents, and then negotiate, sign and enter into the agreements — all before Congress has a vote on the matter. Normal congressional committee processes are forbidden, meaning that the executive branch is empowered to write lengthy legislation on its own with no review or amendments. And, then the president is guaranteed a vote on the done deal within a set amount of time with no amendments allowed and debate limited.

President Obama — despite his campaign promise to reject Fast Track — requested the authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A years-long battle ensued, with opposition coming from a majority of the U.S. public, most House Democrats and a sizeable bloc of Republicans, organized labor, environmental groups, public health organizations, family farmers, and many more. Despite the unprecedented strength and diversity of this coalition focused on a trade issue, Fast Track authority was passed by a one-vote margin in June 2015.

This delegation of Fast Track authority was for a three-year period with an automatic renewal for another three years after that. The only way to stop the automatic renewal of Fast Track would have been with a congressional resolution of disapproval.

The AFL-CIO sent a letter to Congress opposing Fast Track renewal in its current form because of its opacity and inadequate labor standards. But the broad coalition in Congress and outside that almost stopped Fast Track in 2015 did not organize a push to end the procedure because the disapproval mechanism is designed to only function if the congressional leadership allows it.

And, it was a telling spectacle to watch Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and other GOP senators going ballistic over President Donald Trump’s authority to do anything to stop trade cheating while revealing their disinterest in getting rid of the Fast Track legislative luge run. 

Fast Track has been the necessary swamp oil to grease the skids to pass pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and other job-killing deals packed with special corporate protections and rights. The corporate lobby opposes the president having trade authority to combat trade cheating that costs American jobs, but loves Fast-Tracked trade deals that make it easier to outsource additional jobs.

The GOP inaction on Fast Track disapproval made 100 percent clear what is really going on: Team Trade Status Quo is keen to eliminate presidential authority on trade matters that break with their pro-job-outsourcing trade agenda while remaining committed to the current iteration of Fast Track with a view to trying to use it to get more-of-the-same trade deals.

That dynamic makes the current NAFTA renegotiation a moment of truth. The U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, is using this delegation of Fast Track to negotiate a NAFTA replacement that actually has a chance of making things better for working people rather than expanding greater corporate control over our lives.

The renegotiated NAFTA just might eliminate the job outsourcing incentives at NAFTA’s heart, including the system that empowers multinational corporations to attack our laws for taxpayer money before a panel of three corporate lawyers. And the NAFTA replacement may even add labor and environmental standards that could actually help raise wages and improve conditions for people throughout North America.

In the face of this potential game-changer of a trade agreement, congressional Republicans’ inconsistency on Fast Track belies the truth, that for them criticism of presidential trade authority was never about constitutional checks and balances – it was all about making sure their corporate cronies can do whatever they want.

However, the revised NAFTA deal is not done yet. And the GOP’s decision not to act against Fast Track extension suggests that they still think they can get the terrible, TPP-style NAFTA deal that they want.

The diverse coalition that fought Fast Track and that defeated the TPP must remain vigilant and show that a revolutionary new model for NAFTA that puts working people first is the only type of deal that will pass in Congress.