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  • Eyes on Trade is a blog by the staff of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW) division. GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you! GTW director Lori Wallach's initial post explains it all.

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June 25, 2015

State Department Lambasts Human Rights Violations in TPP Nations Vietnam and Brunei, Further Complicating Push for Controversial Pact

New Report Cites Political Prisoners, Criminalization of Homosexuality, Mistreatment of Women, Child Labor Among Abuses of TPP Negotiating Parties

The U.S. Department of State’s revelations about grave human rights abuses in Vietnam and Brunei add new hurdles for the Obama administration’s push for the already controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Public Citizen said today. The revelations came in the department’s annual human rights report, released today.

The report details jailing of political dissidents and anti-union repression in Vietnam, as well as Brunei’s enactment of a sharia-based penal code that punishes homosexuals and single mothers, who could be stoned to death once the code is fully implemented later this year. Vietnam and Brunei are two of the 12 nations negotiating the TPP.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress have criticized the TPP’s inclusion of countries notorious for human rights violations. Recent congressional letters have spotlighted Vietnam and Brunei as inappropriate trade pact partners given the severe human rights issues in those nations spotlighted by past State Department reports.

“Having the State Department report grave human rights conditions in several TPP countries even when they are under the spotlight of ongoing negotiations fuels members of Congress’ ire about this already unpopular pact,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

In today’s report, the U.S. Department of State spotlights Brunei’s enactment in May 2014 of a new penal code that criminalizes homosexual and extramarital relations. When Brunei’s code is fully implemented, these and other “crimes” are slated to be punishable by flogging, dismemberment and death by stoning.

With respect to Vietnam, the report spotlights “arbitrary or unlawful killings,” “continued [efforts] to suppress political speech through arbitrary arrest, short-term detentions without charge, and politically motivated convictions,” and restrictions on press freedom due to government censorship and “pervasive self-censorship due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest.” It also focuses on Vietnam’s continuing repression of basic labor rights, including a ban on independent unions, use of forced labor and widespread child labor. The report notes that the Vietnamese government itself has estimated that there are 1.75 million child laborers in Vietnam.

Despite Congress’ passage of Fast Track this week, the push to gain congressional approval for the TPP becomes more politically fraught as 2016 draws nearer, with presidential contenders from both parties recently adding their voices to the widespread criticism of the pact. The human rights violations unveiled in today’s U.S. Department of State report will only fuel broader opposition to the pact among members of Congress, the public and presidential candidates. 

June 23, 2015

Despite Fast Track Vote, Americans Know Trade Deals Fail Miserably, Will Oppose Trans-Pacific Partnership

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Following elaborate legislative contortions and gimmicks designed to hand multinational corporations their top priority, today the U.S. Senate paved the way for Fast Track legislation that aims to advance the corporate wish list known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as well other trade deals.

Those contortions were necessary because the American people overwhelmingly oppose these deals, notwithstanding an endless barrage of propaganda.

They oppose these deals because they know from personal experience that the NAFTA model fails miserably.

They know that these deals will mean more export of jobs, more downward pressure on wages. They know that these deals will undermine our ability to maintain and adopt strong environmental and consumer protections. They know that these deals are designed to help giant corporations, and not communities.

Today’s action means that Congress will tie its hands to prevent it from exerting positive influence over negotiations of the TPP. It means that the final TPP agreement will very likely include provisions empowering foreign corporations to sue our own government for policies that they claim impinge on their expected future profits. It means that the final TPP will very likely include provisions that will extend Big Pharma monopolies, raising prices for consumers and health systems – and, even in the United States, and especially in the poorer TPP countries, denying people access to needed medical treatment. It means that the final TPP will very likely include provisions undermining our food safety.

What it doesn’t mean is that Congress must pass such a TPP. When the inexcusable and anti-democratic veil of secrecy surrounding the TPP is finally lifted, and the American people see what is actually in the agreement, they are going to force their representatives in Washington to vote that deal down. Members who fail to do so can expect their constituents to hold them accountable. 

June 19, 2015

Hillary Clinton Says No to Fast Track while Bill Clinton Tries to Defend Fast Tracked Deals

As Fast Track for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) moves to the Senate, where its path is fraught at best, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has just stated that if she were in the Senate today, she'd probably vote "no" on Fast Track. She adds that she "certainly would not vote for it" if she was not "absolutely confident" that a separate bill to assist workers who lose their jobs to trade (Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA) would be enacted.  

Today's Senators should have no such confidence.  Many of them say "no" outright to the notion that it's a fair deal to Fast Track trade pacts that would offshore the jobs of middle-class workers in exchange for a small amount of assistance for some of those laid off workers.  (Know what's better than handing someone some cash after you eliminate their job?  Letting them keep their job.)  

But even those Senators who might be willing to vote yes on Fast Track in exchange for TAA would have to take a huge gamble that TAA would actually become a reality.  If they would vote for Fast Track before TAA passes both houses of Congress, Republicans - many of whom deeply oppose TAA - would have little incentive to help Democrats pass TAA.  Greg Sargent of The Washington Post explains, "But there’s no way to be certain Republicans will deliver on TAA, because many of them don’t really care about worker assistance and they’d already have achieved the Fast Track they want." 

The lack of "absolute confidence" on TAA has already pushed some fence-riding Senate Democrats to make the same calculation as Hillary Clinton and declare that they do not intend to vote for Fast Track

Just the day before the presidential candidate stated her opposition to Fast Track, her husband attempted to defend the legacy of past Fast Tracked trade deals that he helped usher into existence.  In an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, Bill Clinton got his facts wrong in his defense of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and NAFTA expansion pacts - the unpopular status quo trade model that Fast Track would expand.  (At the same time, Clinton offered a few critiques of provisions in pending trade agreements that ironically came from the NAFTA-style pacts he was defending - see below.) 

Some correcting of the former president's misstatements is in order: 

Clinton implied that our huge NAFTA trade deficit is due primarily to oil: “They [Mexico] were one of our biggest oil suppliers before we were self-sufficient in oil. So we did have a trade deficit there.

The surge in the U.S. trade deficit with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada was not due to oil, according to U.S. government trade data. Even after removing oil, the U.S. non-oil goods trade deficit with Mexico and Canada went from an average of $2.3 billion in the five years before NAFTA to an average of $43.5 billion in the five years after NAFTA (adjusted for inflation). In 2014, the U.S. non-oil goods trade deficit with NAFTA partners topped $95.7 billion, more than 42 times the pre-NAFTA level.

Clinton stated: "And the analysis of all of our trade agreements with countries with lower per capita incomes than we have shows that on balance the countries that we have trade agreements with, we tend to have balanced trade."

Not according to the government data from the U.S. International Trade Commission. The United States actually had a $177.5 billion combined goods trade deficit with its 20 Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners in 2014. That FTA trade deficit has increased by about $144 billion, or 427 percent, since the FTAs were implemented. Using Clinton’s comparison to only those FTA partners “with lower per capita incomes than we have” would eliminate Australia and Singapore, making the FTA trade deficit even higher, at $201.3 billion.

Clinton also claimed: "What happened is that in general our trade deficits have been bigger with countries we don’t have trade agreements with.”

It’s unclear what Clinton means by this. If he means the aggregate U.S. trade deficit with our 20 FTA partners is smaller than our total trade deficit with all other countries in the world combined, then yes, that is obviously true, as our 20 FTA partners constitute just a fraction of the global economy. If he means that the United States has a larger trade deficit with individual non-FTA countries than with individual FTA countries, that is only true for China. After China, our two largest goods trade deficits are with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada.

Indeed, Clinton offered China - the outlier - as proof of his argument, saying, "we have no trade agreement" with China but "we have a humongous deficit" with China. Stewart interjected, "but some would say the larger problem was not NAFTA, but China joining the WTO.” Clinton responded, "Well the larger problem, whether they joined it or not, we had a huge trade deficit before they joined the WTO. And at least when they got into the WTO, they had to agree to rules and if we vigorously enforced the trade deals, we had a forum to resolve it…"

Stewart was right to point out to Clinton that we actually do have a different kind of trade agreement with China, thanks to China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, which precipitated a massive increase in the U.S. trade deficit with China.  Since China's WTO entry, the U.S. goods trade deficit with China has increased $237 billion or 211 percent. While the U.S. trade deficit with China grew 90 percent in the five years before China’s WTO entry, it expanded 146 percent in the five years thereafter, notwithstanding Clinton’s claim that the WTO offered a “forum” to force China to comply with certain rules. 

In addition, the former president repeated an Obama administration talking point by implying that the TPP would "not just let China write all the rules for Asia."  Never mind that the TPP rules were written to advance narrow special interests that would undermine the broader U.S. national interest.  Or that China appears to actually like the TPP's rules, as China has expressed interest in joining the pact.  Or that the track record of past U.S. FTAs defies the notion that the establishment of a trade deal would affect China's rising influence. 

Stewart also slipped up at one point in the interview in stating that "NAFTA has been very beneficial, I think, for Mexico." Actually, many economists agree that NAFTA has been a disappointment for Mexico. Mexico’s average annual growth per capita in NAFTA’s first two decades ranked 18th out of the 20 countries of Central and South America, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. And NAFTA's agricultural provisions contributed to the loss of livelihood of an estimated 2.5 million Mexican farmers and agricultural workers, which fueled a doubling of immigration from Mexico to the United States in NAFTA's first seven years. 

Despite Bill Clinton's errant defenses of the NAFTA model he helped birth, he also offered a few surprising critiques of provisions that were part and parcel of that model.  For example, he said "we shouldn't have a trade enforcement mechanism where a group we don't know picks the lawyers."  Is this a reference to the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system, included in NAFTA?  The TPP would dramatically expand this system by newly empowering thousands of foreign corporations to bypass domestic courts, go before tribunals of private lawyers that sit outside of any domestic legal system and challenge the laws we rely on for a clean environment, essential services, and healthy communities.  It's a little late for Bill Clinton, whose signature trade pact was the first major ISDS-enforced U.S. deal, to criticize ISDS.  But if he is indeed opposed to its expansion via the TPP, let's hear it.  

Clinton also acknowledged, implicitly, that status quo trade deals have led to the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs, stating, "But it’s also true that there have been a lot of independent studies which show that we have a net loss of manufacturing jobs at the low end."  Indeed, nearly 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs – one out of every four – have been lost on net since NAFTA took effect, and more than 57,000 U.S. manufacturing facilities have closed. Again, Clinton is about two decades late in raising this concern. Even so, it's timely, as the TPP would extend NAFTA’s special protections for firms that offshore U.S. jobs, while forcing U.S. workers to directly compete with workers in Vietnam making less than 60 cents an hour.

Clinton then emphasized the recent stagnation of middle class wages, but did not connect this to the status quo trade model that, according to an academic consensus, has contributed to downward pressure on median wages.  A recent National Bureau of Economic Research study confirmed this linkage, concluding that "offshoring to low wage countries and imports [are] both associated with wage declines for US workers."  

Clinton even implied that new trade deals should not be enacted until middle wage stagnation has been fixed, stating, "so we've got to first make sure that our people are going to be alright and that we have a sensible economic policy at home."  Ironically, the enactment of such deals contributed to the downward pressure on wages in the first place.  If the wage gap is actually to be bridged, it will require not only new domestic efforts, but a new trade model.  

Bill Clinton is an unlikely advocate for that model.  Hillary Clinton, if she continues to speak against Fast Track, has a chance to be a better one. 

June 18, 2015

House Punts Fast Track Problem Back to Senate; Path to Approval Unclear

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

Today, the House employed yet another procedural gimmick to punt the Fast Track problem back to the Senate, where its fate remains at best unclear as Americans’ concerns that more of the same trade policy would kill more jobs and push down our wages remain unaddressed.   

Because Republican House members would not support the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) part of the Senate-passed Fast Track package last week, the GOP leadership today had to resort to a Fast Track-only vote, but what exactly that achieves is unclear. Senate Democrats, including those needed to obtain cloture for a stand-alone Fast Track bill, are demanding that the TAA be reinserted into the Fast Track bill or be passed by both chambers before agreeing to support Fast Track.  In addition, key Democratic senators are insisting on the fulfilment by Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of a promised vote to reauthorize the Export-Import bank – which was the condition for the deciding bloc of Senate Democrats to support cloture on Fast Track in the first instance in May. Meanwhile, House GOP lawmakers remain strongly opposed to TAA and Ex-Im reauthorization. As House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi stated today, there is no clear path for enactment of TAA. Yet yesterday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that President Obama requires both Fast Track and TAA to come to his desk.

That two years of effort by a vast corporate coalition, the White House and GOP leaders – and weeks of procedural gimmicks and deals swapped for yes votes – has resulted in this continuing standoff and no Fast Track enacted spotlights the dim prospects not only for adoption of Fast Track but also for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

This weekend, the millions of Americans across the political spectrum actively campaigning against Fast Track will intensify their efforts to ensure the Senate permanently retires the Nixon-era scheme. America needs a new process for negotiating and approving trade agreements if we are to achieve deals that create American jobs and raise our wages.

June 16, 2015

Representative Who “Deeply Regrets” NAFTA Vote Warns Congress Not to Flip-Flop on Fast Track

Today the House of Representatives narrowly passed a procedural rule, inserted into an unrelated legislative package last night, that gives defenders of the unpopular status quo trade model six weeks to try to revive the Fast Track package that was put on life support last Friday. They will not succeed so long as they continue to face the wall of dogged, diverse grassroots pressure that delivered Friday’s landmark fair trade victory.  

Even so, the Obama administration and congressional proponents of more-of-the-same trade deals will try to badger the many members of Congress who voted down the Fast Track package into switching their votes. They will likely reiterate the tired litany of false promises that members of Congress and the U.S. public have heard time and again when being sold unpopular trade pacts.

In a poignant speech before today’s vote, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) warned against trusting such promises. In 1993, Rep. Hastings cast a controversial vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – the deal that spawned the status quo trade model that Fast Track would expand.  Today, Hastings stated:

In the 20 plus years that I’ve served in this body, I can think of only three votes which I deeply regret making and one of those was in support of NAFTA. In the years since, I’ve seen, after NAFTA, a decrease in American jobs, a rollback of critical environmental protections, here and in Mexico where I was promised that the environmental circumstances in the maquiladoras would be cleared up – and they were not – and a stagnation of wages that has prevented the financial upward mobility of working class and middle class Americans and has ground poor Americans into poverty beyond belief.

Rep. Hastings made clear that he has learned from NAFTA’s broken promises and urged his colleagues to stand firm by continuing to oppose Fast Track’s expansion of the trade status quo:

If we’re going to create trade policy that is worthy of future generations, then we must ensure that policy strengthens—not weakens—labor rights. It must strengthen—not weaken—environmental protections. It must ensure other countries responsibility to adhere to basic human rights. It must expand and strengthen our middle class, not squeeze hardworking Americans in favor of corporate interests. The legislation included in this rule today is part of a trade package that does nothing to bolster these important priorities.  

If past is precedent, the White House and congressional leadership will also try to make special deals with members of Congress who voted against the Fast Track package on Friday, offering promises of political cover or special goodies – from bridges to import safeguards – if they would be willing to face the wrath of their constituents and flip-flop on Fast Track.  But a review of the last two decades of trade-vote dealmaking reveals that such promises made to extract unpopular trade votes have also been consistently broken, leaving members of Congress exposed to voters’ anger over their decision to defy the opinion and interests of the majority.

Here again, Rep. Hastings’ experience offers a cautionary tale.  In deciding how to vote on NAFTA, Florida representatives like Hastings were concerned that the deal could lead to an influx of underpriced tomatoes from Mexico, displacing Florida’s tomato farmers and the state’s many tomato-related jobs. To extract their votes, the Clinton administration promised Florida representatives that the U.S. government would take measures to safeguard Florida tomato growers if NAFTA led to a surge in tomato imports.

The Clinton administration never fulfilled this promise. Before NAFTA, Florida had a $700 million tomato industry with 250 growers.  Within two years of NAFTA, tomato imports from Mexico soared, Florida’s tomato revenues dropped to $400 million and the state’s tomato industry shrank to just 100 growers.  No meaningful import safeguards were enacted by the Clinton administration, the George W. Bush administration or the Obama administration. Today, imports of tomatoes from Mexico are up 247 percent since NAFTA’s implementation.  Florida’s tomato growers have now filed a lawsuit to obtain the safeguards that they, and Florida’s representatives, were promised 22 years ago.

Rep. Hastings learned the hard way that promises used to extract “yes” votes on unpopular trade deals rarely materialize. His colleagues have the opportunity to learn the easy way – by heeding Rep. Hastings’ warning and maintaining opposition to Fast Track. 

June 15, 2015

Fast Track Down

Originally posted at The Huffington Post

By Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

The Fast Track trade authority package was rejected Friday because two years of effort by a vast corporate coalition, the White House and GOP leaders -- and weeks of deals swapped for yes votes -- could not assuage a majority in the House of Representatives facing constituents' concerns that more of the same trade policy would kill more jobs, push down wages and open a Pandora's box of other damaging consequences.

Proponents of Fast Tracking the almost-completed, controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) say they are coming back this week for another try. And the White House was on full tilt this weekend trying to pressure House Democrats to flip their votes.

But the path to enactment of Fast Track remains unclear, even as the corporate coalition, White House and GOP leaders remain hell bent on finding it.

To understand what comes next, it's worth unpacking what exactly happened on Friday and how we got there.

The sum of it was that Byzantine procedural gimmicks designed to overcome what polls show is broad opposition to Fast Track by GOP, Democratic and Independent voters backfired.

Since the Fast Tracked 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement revealed what really was at stake with the arcane Nixon-era procedure, getting any Congress to delegate years of blank-check Fast Track authority has been a very hard sell. Since 1988, only Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush persuaded Congress to grant the multi-year Fast Track delegation President Barack Obama seeks. In 1998, 171 House Democrats and 71 GOP rejected President Bill Clinton's request. As a result, Congress has only allowed Fast Track to go into effect for five of the past 21 years.

Given past trade pacts have resulted in significant American job loss, the small bloc of Democratic Senators willing to support Fast Track authority insisted the 2015 bill include an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). TAA is a program that provides retraining benefits for workers who lose their jobs to trade that was first enacted during the Kennedy administration. GOP leaders also had to make a promise, already broken, to win over the deciding bloc of Senate Democrats, that votes to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank would be scheduled before it expired at the end of June.

Many GOP Senators and Representatives oppose TAA, which provides glaring evidence of our current trade policy's damage in the form of a casualty list of the millions of Americans losing their jobs to bad trade policy. Major conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, decry it as a welfare program for unions. And both have waged a fierce effort to kill the Ex-Im Bank.

To top it off, the GOP congressional leadership added a $700 million cut to Medicare to offset the cost of the TAA program -- undoubtedly egged on by GOP campaign consultants eager to revive the deadly effective 2012 and 2014 campaign ads against Democrats attacking them for cutting Medicare in the context of an Obamacare pay-for provision. (They expected that the Democrats would vote for TAA and the GOP against, a perfect 2016 election set up.)

And the hard-fought Senate battle was the easy part.

In the face of the expected fewer than 30 Democratic House votes for Fast Track, the GOP leaders had to maximize House GOP votes for the Fast Track-TAA bill passed by the Senate in order to send it to the president's desk for signature. To do this, the GOP House leaders concocted a fantastical procedural gimmick. They used an arcane procedure called "dividing the question" and a "self-executing rule" (seriously, that what it's called).

Those moves temporarily cracked the Senate-passed bill into three pieces to set up separate votes on Fast Track and TAA. Thus, the GOP could vote no on TAA while voting yes on Fast Track. And the self-executing rule mean that if the House passed the rule for consideration of the Fast Track-TAA package, then the Medicare pay-for language in the package would be deemed passed. Then the rule also would put all of the pieces back together -- if both the TAA and Fast Track votes got majorities. And, Fast Track would be enacted.

Apparently, the House GOP leadership believed that Democrats' strong conceptual support for TAA meant that Democrats would deliver the votes to implement the Fast Track almost all oppose, allowing the GOP to vote for Fast Track and against TAA.

Except that only 40 Democrats agreed to play by the GOP's rules. The TAA half of the package went down with 302 no votes and only 126 yesses and headlines worldwide reported Fast Track's derailment. (Only 86 of the 245 House GOP voted for the TAA half of the package.)

No doubt House Democrats would have preferred to be able to support a multi-year extension of TAA, a program that would provide benefits for tens of thousands of American workers each year hurt by past trade deals. But the version of TAA that the GOP had on offer was woefully underfunded, even without taking into account the many additional workers who would lose jobs were the TPP to go into effect. And, it excluded government service workers, farmers, fishers and more. And, it still included a significant cut to Medicare dialysis funding.

But from a wider perspective, the GOP strategy required Democrats to vote for TAA knowing that this would result in the Fast Tracking of a TPP they recognize would result in hundreds of thousands of job losses and downward pressure on all Americans' wages and empower whomever is president for the next six years to Fast Track who knows what additional job-killing trade deals.

As she announced her opposition to TAA, Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi summed it up: "Its defeat, sad to say, is the only way that we would be able to slow down the fast track."

And that gets to what comes next. Under the House rules, if the GOP House leaders want to call for a revote on TAA, it must occur by Tuesday night. Or they must pass an extension to extend that option. For a TAA revote to succeed more than 90 Representatives would have to flip to supporting TAA. Passing the TAA half of the bill would then enact Fast Track.

But that seems improbable for the pro-Fast Track GOP, given their own views on TAA to say nothing of the political peril that would cause given the passionate opposition by conservative groups. Plus, there is plenty of ire about how the procedural gimmick imploded.

Because before the Fast Track bill was derailed, the rule enacting the Medicare cuts was narrowly passed on an almost party-line vote. So, instead of putting all of the Democrats on the record for Medicare cuts, the GOP leadership put all but 34 House GOP on the record voting for big Medicare cuts.

Will Democrats flip en masse? Their hard choice on TAA came last week. Painful though it was, even considering the meager TAA program on offer, they decided not to play into the GOP plan to pass Fast Track.

That then leaves Fast Track supporters with various other unappealing options. The House GOP could pass a new rule that allows for a vote just on Fast Track. But given the narrow margin on that part of the package, this approach would only work if all of the 27 Democrats who voted for Fast Track and TAA were willing to become responsible for passing Fast Track without TAA. And they must do so now that Democratic Leader Pelosi has made public her opposition to the Fast Track bill and concerns about the TPP it would railroad into place.

Plus, winning this strategy would require all of the GOP who voted for Fast Track after TAA failed and it was clear the second vote was only symbolic to vote for Fast Track when it counted.

If that approach succeeded, Fast Track still would not be passed. Rather, it would trigger a conference to try to reconcile the different House and Senate bills. And then a conference report would have to be passed by the Senate and House.

Friday's outcome was a testament to the strength and diversity of the remarkable coalition of thousands of organizations that overcame a money-soaked lobbying campaign by multinational corporations and intense arm-twisting by the GOP House leadership and the Obama administration. The movement now demanding a new American trade policy is larger and more diverse than in any preceding trade policy fight. It includes everyone from small business leaders and labor unions to Internet freedom advocates and faith groups to family farmers and environmentalists to consumer advocates and LGBT groups to retirees and civil rights groups to law professors and economists.

The final chapter for Fast Track, which will greatly affect the fate of the TPP, will be written in the coming weeks.

June 12, 2015

Defeat of Fast Track Package Highlights Americans’ Concerns About More of the Same Trade Policy – Senate-Passed Bill NOT Adopted

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

The Fast Track package sent over from the Senate was rejected today by the House because two years of effort by a vast corporate coalition, the White House and GOP leaders – and weeks of procedural gimmicks and deals swapped for yes votes –could not assuage Americans’ concerns that more of the same trade policy would kill more jobs and push down our wages.

Passing trade bills opposed by a majority of Americans does not get easier with delay because the more time people have to understand what’s at stake, the angrier they get and the more they demand that their congressional representatives represent their will.

Welcome to the weekend as the millions of Americans across the political spectrum actively campaigning against Fast Track will intensify their efforts to permanently retire the Nixon-era scheme and replace it with a more inclusive, transparent process that instead of more job-offshoring can deliver trade deals that create American jobs and raise our wages.

Today the allegedly unstoppable momentum of the White House, GOP leadership and corporate coalition pushing Fast Track to grease the path for adoption of the almost-completed, controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal just hit the immovable object called transpartisan grassroots democracy.

The crazy gimmicks employed to try to overcome what polls show is broad opposition to Fast Track actually backfired. Yesterday, the House GOP leadership put most GOP representatives on record in favor of cutting Medicare by $700 million with a vote on a procedural gimmick. Today, it was Democrats’ ire about a gutted version of a program to assist workers who will be hurt by the trade agreements Fast Track would enable that was the proximate cause of the meltdown. That program was included only to try to provide cover for the two dozen Democrats who would even consider supporting Fast Track at all.

Today’s outcome is a testament to the strength and diversity of the remarkable coalition of thousands of organizations that overcame a money-soaked lobbying campaign by multinational corporations and intense arm-twisting by the GOP House leadership and the Obama administration. The movement now demanding a new American trade policy is larger and more diverse than in any preceding trade policy fight. It includes everyone from small business leaders and labor unions to Internet freedom advocates and faith groups to family farmers and environmentalists to consumer advocates and LGBT groups to retirees and civil rights groups to law professors and economists. 

Liveblogging the Fast Track Fight

The historic fight over Fast Tracking the largest expansion to date of the status quo trade model is underway on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Here we are liveblogging the debate, with real-time evaluations of the veracity of our representatives' arguments for or against Fast Track.

BREAKING: The House has just voted down the Fast Track package, dealing a major blow to the push for more-of-the-same trade deals and a major victory to the diverse coalition pushing for a new trade model. But the fight is not yet over. See here for a statement from Global Trade Watch director Lori Wallach.

Rep. Pascrell: "We want fair deals that help our workers. That's what this is all about."  True: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) includes special protections for firms that offshore U.S. jobs and would pit U.S. workers against workers in Vietnam making less than 60 cents an hour. 

Rep. Beyer: "We have to do something different -- something smart, honest, brave, bold, and based on the almost unanimous consensus of American economists."  Bogus: Something "different" would suggest something other than expanding the status quo trade model by extending NAFTA's job offshoring incentivesthe labor and environmental standards model of Bush's last four FTAsthe parallel legal system for foreign corporations that has enabled a surge in attacks on environmental and health policies under existing pacts, etc.  And this notion of a "unanimous consensus of American economists" would be news to Paul KrugmanJoseph StiglitzRobert Reich, and other eminent economists who have supported past trade deals but have come out against the TPP. 

Rep. Sanchez: "There is nothing in this that requires other countries to bring their labor laws into compliance before this agreement takes effect."  Correct: We are supposed to take it on faith that Vietnam would halt its systematic labor rights violations before the TPP would grant preferential U.S. access to Vietnamese goods. Vietnam's labor leaders have bluntly rejected that notion, stating "Promises of future reforms by the Vietnamese government should not be trusted. If fast track were passed before the above abuses are actually stopped, the hope of any real reprieve for Vietnam’s oppressed workers would fade." Similar faith was requested for the Colombia FTA, for which a non-binding "Labor Action Plan" was signed. In the four years since, more than 100 Colombian unionists have been assassinated and more than 1,300 other unionists have endured death threats. 

Rep. Tiberi: "We have a trade surplus with the 20 countries that we have a trade agreement with." False: We have a $177.5 billion goods trade deficit with our 20 FTA partners, which has grown 427 percent since those deals took effect. The FTA trade deficit surge owes to soaring imports into the United States from FTA partners and lower growth in U.S. exports to those nations than to non-FTA nations. Rep. Tiberi's claim errantly counts foreign-made goods as “U.S. exports.” He includes in "U.S. exports" goods made elsewhere that pass through the United States without alteration before being re-exported abroad, despite that they support zero U.S. production jobs.

Rep. Kaptur: "It's a great deal for Wall Street. It's a great deal for transnational corporations. But for [the] Main Street shrinking middle class and millions more of our workers, it's another punch to the gut." Amen: The TPP includes deregulatory provisions that literally were written under the advisement of Wall Street banks before the financial crisis. It would empower foreign banks and transnational corporations to bypass domestic courts, go before extrajudicial tribunals of private attorneys and demand taxpayer compensation for commonsense health, environmental and financial protections. For the rest of us, the deal would put downward pressure on middle class wages, increasing income inequality and spelling a pay cut for all but the top 10 percent.

Rep. McClintock: "This is not some new power. It just restores the same negotiating process that has served us well since the 1930's."  Nope: Fast Track wasn't created in the 1930's.  It was crafted by Nixon in the 1970's.  And unlike 1970s-era trade agreements that were narrowly focused on cutting tariffs and quotas, today's deals impose binding rules on a sweeping range of non-trade policies, undermining Congress’ authority over patents, copyright, financial regulation, energy policy, food safety, procurement, Internet policy and more. That's why Fast Track for sweeping TPP-style agreements is so controversial and why Congress has only allowed it to go into effect for five of the last 21 years. 

Rep. Velazquez: "New York lost more than 374,000 manufacturing jobs since NAFTA and the World Trade Organization agreements." That's right: And New York is not alone. Across the 50 states, the record of the status quo trade model that the TPP would expand has been lost jobs, lagging exports, increasing trade deficits, and depressed wages. Click here to see how your state has fared under the status quo trade model

Rep. Dold: "Ninety-five percent of the world's consumers are outside of the United States" Irrelevant: Less than 2 percent of those consumers live in TPP countries with consequential tariffs, most of whom live in Vietnam, where wages are too low to afford most U.S. exports.

Rep. Levin: "You put some language into this bill on currency. It's like every other negotiating objective. It's not even Swiss cheese, with lots of holes.  It's the weakest kind of cheese that has no real substance to it...Those negotiating objectives really are not meaningful, they're so vague. And it's the person who negotiates it who judges whether those vague negotiating objectives have been met." Indeed: Cheese metaphors aside, Congress' negotiating objectives in the 2015 Fast Track bill, as in past Fast Track bills, are not enforceable. The bill does not condition a president’s Fast Track privileges on trade negotiators actually meeting Congress’ negotiating objectives. Under past iterations of Fast Track, Democratic and Republican presidents alike have simply ignored Congress' negotiating objectives, including ones regarding currency manipulation. 

Rep. Meehan: "If we're not setting the rules on global trade, China will."  False dichotomy: “We” did not write these rules.  The draft TPP text was crafted in a closed-door process that granted privileged access to more than 500 official U.S. trade advisors, nine out of ten of them explicitly representing corporations.  It is little surprise then that leaked TPP terms include new monopoly patent rights for pharmaceutical companies that would increase healthcare costslimits on efforts to reregulate Wall Street, a deregulation of U.S. gas exports that could increase domestic energy prices, maximalist copyright terms that could thwart innovation and restrict Internet freedom, and new investor protections that incentivize offshoring.  Good luck selling that as advancing U.S. interests. Also, the notion that the establishment – or not – of any specific U.S. trade agreement would affect China’s rising influence is contradicted by the record

Rep. Lewis: "This Congress must be a headlight and not a taillight or history will not be kind to us." On point: History has already not been kind to members of Congress who vote against the majority U.S. public opposition to more-of-the-same trade deals. In recent elections, incumbents who voted for status quo trade deals have been unseated by fair trade candidates who attacked their votes against the majority. 

Rep. Cuellar: "Who are those companies [who are] exporting?  Ninety-three percent of those companies in Texas are small and medium size, so therefore this is how we create good jobs here in the United States."  Misleading: Most exporting firms are small and medium size simply because most firms overall are small and medium size. The more relevant question is what share of small and medium businesses depend on exports for success. In Texas, just one out of ten small and medium businesses export any good to any country, while more than half of the state's large corporations are exporters. Exporting is primarily the domain of large corporations, not small businesses.  Moreover, small businesses have actually seen their exports decline and their export shares shrink under the trade model that the TPP would expand.

Rep. DeLauro: "Fast Track denies public scrutiny. It denies debate in this House. And it relinquishes our congressional authority and does not allow us to amend a piece of legislation that will have such an effect on people's lives in this country...This trade agreement is only going to hurt [workers'] ability to have a job and to increase their wages. If we want to change that, then our job today is to vote down this bill, say no to Trade Adjustment Assistance, and say no to Fast Track."  Mic drop.

June 11, 2015

Why the Founding Fathers Would Oppose Fast Track

Tomorrow members of Congress plan to take a controversial, career-defining vote on Fast Tracking the largest expansion to date of the unpopular status quo trade model.  A majority of the U.S. public, most House Democrats and a sizeable bloc of House Republicans stand in opposition.

The coalition opposing Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is larger and more diverse than in any preceding trade policy fight, including Internet freedom advocates, family farmers, environmentalists, Main Street businesses, labor unions, feminists, faith groups, consumer advocates, development organizations, LGBT groups, and retirees. The breadth of the opposition reflects the wide scope of broadly-held goals that the sweeping TPP pact would undermine:  middle class jobsWall Street reformfood safetyInternet freedoma clean environment, and affordable healthcare, to name a few. 

But if that weren’t enough for members of Congress still on the fence, a new legal analysis reveals that the TPP may also undermine the U.S. Constitution. 

That’s the conclusion of Alan Morrison, a constitutional law professor and associate dean at George Washington University Law School who has practiced law for 45 years, taught at six law schools including Harvard, and argued 20 Supreme Court cases.

Morrison warns in a letter to Congress that the TPP’s proposed expansion of a controversial parallel legal system for foreign corporations, known as “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS), “improperly removes a core judicial function from the federal courts and therefore violates Article III of the Constitution.” 

TPP’s expansion of ISDS would newly empower thousands of foreign corporations to bypass the entire U.S. legal system and challenge U.S. laws before private international tribunals comprised of three attorneys.  

These three individuals would not be constitutionally appointed and salaried U.S. judges, but private lawyers who are paid by the hour.  As Morrison points out, "many of those who serve as arbitrators in one ISDS case represent investors challenging governments in another."  The three ISDS lawyers, though acting like a court, would not be bound by a system of legal precedent.  They would be authorized to rule against U.S. laws and order U.S. taxpayer compensation in decisions that could not be appealed on the merits or reviewed in U.S. courts.

If you think that the Founding Fathers might have frowned on this system, you’re not alone.  The U.S. Constitution states in Article III that U.S. courts, presided over by salaried U.S. judges, have judicial authority over challenges to U.S. laws.  Instead, the TPP would empower an ad-hoc group of three bill-by-the-hour private lawyers operating outside of the U.S. legal system to issue binding decisions on corporate challenges to U.S. laws. 

Morrison concludes, “The Administration owes it to Congress and the American people to explain how the Constitution allows the United States to agree to submit the validity of its federal, state, and local laws to three private arbitrators, with no possibility of review by any U.S. court.”

The TPP’s expansion of this constitutional aberration would threaten the policies that we rely on for a clean environment, stable economy and healthy communities.  Since ISDS tribunals, unlike U.S. judges, are not bound by legal precedent or substantive appeal, they are free to concoct broad governmental obligations to foreign investors and then rule against environmental, financial and health policies. 

Indeed, they are incentivized to do so, since some of the tribunalists, unlike U.S. judges, get paid and picked by those who launch the cases (i.e. foreign investors).  Imagine if the plaintiff (or defendant) in a U.S. court case got to select and pay the judge.  The more that ISDS tribunalists rule in favor of foreign investors and against government policies, the more they boost investors’ interest in launching further ISDS cases and picking them as the highly-paid tribunalists.

It is little surprise then that ISDS tribunalists have repeatedly used creative interpretations of foreign investors’ rights to rule against public interest policies under existing ISDS-enforced pacts.  This includes ISDS rulings against the Czech Republic’s decision not to bail out a bank, a Canadian province’s nondiscriminatory requirement for oil corporations to support local research and development, and a Mexican municipality’s decision not to authorize a waste facility near a nature reserve that is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to indigenous communities.  

Pending ISDS cases include a U.S. natural gas firm’s challenge of a Canadian moratorium on fracking, a Swedish energy company’s case against Germany’s phase-out of nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and Philip Morris’ ISDS attacks on anti-smoking policies from Uruguay to Australia.

While ISDS tribunals cannot directly require governments to overturn laws, their imposition of massive penalties on taxpayers can have that effect. Morrison explains: 

If a law is found to be inconsistent with an investor protection provision, it may remain in effect, but other investors could also bring claims seeking U.S. taxpayer compensation. Thus, an adverse arbitral decision under TPP may well result in repeal or amendment of the offending law…Indeed, the mere instigation of an ISDS proceeding has resulted in other governments, including Germany and Canada, reversing specific regulatory decisions as part of compensation packages for investors.

The TPP would dramatically expand the threat posed by this constitutionally-suspect system, as the deal would roughly double U.S. exposure to ISDS attacks against U.S. laws.  The TPP would newly empower more than 1,000 additional corporations in TPP countries, which own more than 9,200 additional subsidiaries in the United States, to launch ISDS cases against the U.S. government. No other U.S. pact has subjected the United States to such an increase in ISDS liability.

What kinds of U.S. laws and regulations would be vulnerable to corporate challenge under this unprecedented expansion of U.S. ISDS liability?  Morrison spells out some examples:

  • E-cigarette regulations: “If Congress decided to regulate [e-cigarettes] after enactment of the TPP, a non-U.S. investor from a TPP country that makes e-cigarettes here could ask an ISDS panel to rule that its investment-based expectations were improperly violated and thus that it is entitled to damages under the minimum standard of treatment provisions.”
  • Water rationing for drought-stricken California: “A similar challenge could be made by a TPP investor who owned farm land in California and objected to an intensification of mandatory water rationing for farms enacted after the TPP goes into effect, even if such rules also applied to U.S. owners of land that would be adversely affected by them.”
  • A $15 minimum wage: “Or the non-U.S. TPP-owner of restaurants in Los Angeles could demand arbitration over a post TPP-enactment of an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which, he claims, violates his investment-based expectations when he decided to purchase the restaurants.”

Such TPP threats are among the many that have spurred today’s widespread opposition to Fast Track.  After years of mounting evidence that the TPP would threaten middle class stability and commonsense consumer and environmental safeguards, members of Congress have plenty of reasons to vote “no” on Fast Track tomorrow.  But for those who need yet another reason, the TPP’s apparent violation of the U.S. Constitution should suffice.   

June 10, 2015

New Public Citizen Report Documents Systematic Bipartisan Betrayals on ‘Deals’ Made by Presidents, Congressional Leaders in Exchange for Trade Votes

Broken Promises, Lost Elections: Goodies Promised in Exchange for Trade Votes Don’t Materialize, Don’t Shield Representatives From Voters’ Wrath

As the Obama administration and GOP congressional leaders resort to promising special favors in attempt to entice members of Congress to buck majority opinion and support Fast Track, a report released today by Public Citizen reveals that such promises to extract controversial trade votes consistently have been broken, exposing representatives to angry constituents and electoral losses.

Facing bipartisan congressional opposition to Fast Track trade authority and polls showing majority U.S. public opposition, the Obama administration has moved beyond trying to sell Fast Track on its merits and is now offering rides on Air Force One, promises of infrastructure legislation and pledges to help representatives survive the political backlash of a “yes” vote on Fast Track. GOP congressional leaders are promising post-hoc policy fixes to trade laws and more. A comprehensive review of the past two decades of such trade vote deal-making shows that promises of policy changes, goodies for the district and political cover for unpopular trade votes rarely materialize, contributing to electoral upsets for representatives of both parties who trade their votes.

“Members of Congress should know better than to trust an exiting president’s promises of political cover or to rely on vote-yes-now-goodies-later deals for voting ‘yes’ on such a controversial, career-defining issue as Fast Track,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Our research of scores of deals over the past 20 years shows no matter who the president or congressional leadership is, almost all of the promises made in the heat of a trade vote go unfulfilled, and representatives who vote ‘yes’ are repeatedly left in political peril.”

Already the first promise of the 2015 Fast Track battle has been broken. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and colleagues cast deciding Senate votes after obtaining commitments that Congress would have votes to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank before its June 30, 2015, sunset. Now GOP leaders have made clear this will not occur. Whether Ex-Im will ever be reauthorized is in doubt.

Members of Congress repeatedly have endured such trade vote-swapping deals gone wrong as pledged import safeguards have not materialized, promised funds for community development or worker assistance have proven illusory, and dreams of new infrastructure projects have remained dreams. Among current members of Congress featured in the report who experienced deals for trade votes gone bad are:

  • U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) and the Empty Sock: Aderholt still awaits changes to the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) to protect his district’s now-devastated sock manufacturers.  President George W. Bush promised this in 2005 to obtain Aderholt’s “yes” vote for CAFTA. 
  • U.S. Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) Flower Deal Wilts: Farr voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) after the Clinton administration promised to safeguard the California cut flower sector from import surges. After four years of ballooning flower imports from Mexico displaced California producers, Farr voted against giving President Clinton Fast Track in 1998.
  • U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) Tomato Wipeout: Hastings and other Florida representatives voted for NAFTA on the basis of the Clinton administration’s promises to protect Florida’s tomato growers from destabilizing surges in tomato imports from Mexico. But the Clinton administration did not honor its pledge when, within two years of NAFTA, tomato imports multiplied, Florida’s tomato revenues dropped more than 40 percent, and the number of Florida tomato growers fell 60 percent.

“Even in the rare case where a promise to ‘fix’ a controversial trade deal has been upheld, the acclaimed tweak has failed to offset or outlast the damage wrought on local communities,” said Ben Beachy, research director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Voters do not tend to remember boasts of finite safeguards or worker assistance funds, while mass layoffs, farm foreclosures and news reports on inequality provide fresh, ongoing reminders of how their member of Congress voted on Fast Track and Fast Tracked deals.”

For some members of Congress, the decision to cast controversial trade votes in exchange for empty promises of political cover has exposed them to such constituent ire as to lead to electoral defeat:

  • Former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) provided the final votes to pass Fast Track in 2002 and CAFTA in 2005, after telling his constituents he would oppose both. He flip-flopped on the basis of promises that failed to prevent thousands of trade-related job losses in his district, many of them at textile factories. In the 2008 election, a former textile worker, Larry Kissel, decisively beat Hayes after hammering him for his trade vote swaps.
  • Former U.S. Rep. Matthew Martinez (D-Calif.) stated support for Fast Track in 1997 as an apparent quid-pro-quo for President Clinton’s promise to approve a highway extension project in his district. Martinez never got the highway, but he did lose his job. In 2000, Martinez, an 18-year incumbent, lost 29 to 62 percent to a primary challenge by Hilda Solis, who ran against his support for Fast Track.

“This report provides a somber warning to members of Congress who may be approached by the Obama administration or GOP congressional leader to vote for Fast Track in exchange for promised new programs or policies to ameliorate feared damage or in exchange for unrelated goodies for the district,” said Wallach. “The trade votes and the damage wrought by bad trade agreements last forever, with voter ire only escalating over time, while our research shows that few deals made for trade votes are met and the few that are often fail to remedy the feared problems.”

Today’s report includes an annex of 92 promises made for trade vote support. Only 17 percent of these promises were kept, even though many were memorialized in the text of trade agreements’ implementing legislation. The overall finding of the report is that if appropriated funds are not locked in an account and if the policy change or amendment to a trade pact is not made before the trade vote, funding and follow-through is not likely to be forthcoming after the vote. Promises to seek future renegotiations of trade agreement provisions or to take action in future negotiations were broken most of the time. Of the past 64 policy promises designed to put a gloss on a contested agreement and give political cover to members of Congress, just seven were kept and 57 broken. Public Citizen also documented 28 pork barrel deals made in exchange for “yes” votes on trade agreements, of which nine were kept and 19 broken. 

May 28, 2015

New Polls Spotlight Damage of Past Trade Deals, Reveal Opposition to TPP Content

You may have seen the headlines about today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll and yesterday’s Pew poll, touted as showing public support for trade deals.  A close look at the polls  reveals that they did not even ask about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Fast Track, the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), or any other element of the controversial current trade policy agenda.

The polls did confirm, however, what polling has consistently shown: the U.S. public likes the general notion of trade but opposes the documented results of past trade deals and the actual content of pending ones.   

Today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that a majority of the U.S. public “support[s] new trade deals to promote the sale of U.S. goods overseas.”  This is not surprising.  Who would be opposed to trade deals framed as simply boosting sales of U.S. goods?  (Never mind that exports of U.S. goods have actually grown slower, not faster, under existing U.S. trade deals.) 

The poll did not ask whether respondents “support new trade deals that could offshore U.S. manufacturing jobs.”  We do not need to rely on hypotheticals to guess how the U.S. public would respond to this question. Just three weeks ago, another Ipsos poll stated: “International trade agreements increase Americans’ access to foreign-made goods and products but at the risk of American jobs being lost. What would you say is more important...?” 

Eighty-four percent of the U.S. public said that “protecting American manufacturing jobs” is more important than “getting Americans access to more products.” Based on Ipsos' own polling, if today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll had presented not just the claimed upsides of trade deals, but the documented downsides, the results likely would have been quite different. 

The same Ipsos poll from earlier this month also asked, “If the Obama administration supports an international trade agreement that does not specifically prohibit currency manipulation, do you think the United States Congress should support or oppose that trade deal?” 

Seventy-three percent of the U.S. public said that Congress should oppose any trade agreement that does not prohibit currency manipulation.  The TPP, of course, fits that bill.  The Obama administration has repeatedly dismissed Congress' bipartisan, bicameral demand for the TPP to include binding disciplines against currency manipulation.  

Today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll did not address this fact about the TPP.  Indeed, it did not address the TPP at all.  Or Fast Track.  Or TAFTA.  Or anything other than the concept of “trade deals to promote the sale of U.S. goods overseas.”  According to Ipsos’ own polling results, had today’s poll mentioned the actual content of the TPP (e.g. the lack of binding currency manipulation disciplines), the result would have been broad opposition. 

Like the Reuters/Ipsos poll, yesterday’s Pew poll did not ask respondents specifically about the TPP, TAFTA, or Fast Track.  It did ask respondents about the impacts of free trade deals generally, which produced some damning, if paradoxical, results.  While the majority said they thought free trade agreements have been broadly good for the United States, the dominant opinion was also that free trade agreements have hurt the middle class and even the broader U.S. economy:

  • 46% said that free trade agreements “lead to job losses,” while only 17% said they “create jobs”
  • 46% said that free trade agreements “make the wages of American workers” lower, while only 11% said they make wages higher
  • 34% said that free trade agreements actually “slow the economy down” and 25% said they do “not make a difference” for economic growth, while only 31% said they “make the economy grow”
  • 30% said that free trade agreements actually “make the price of products sold in the U.S.” higher and 24% said they do not impact consumer prices, while only 36% said they lower prices
  • Among those earning less than $30,000 a year, 44% said free trade agreements have hurt their financial situation and that of their family, while only 38% said they have helped their financial situation
  • Among those who rated their personal financial situation as “poor,” 55% said free trade agreements have hurt their family’s finances, while only 27% said they have helped their family’s finances

Though Fast Track proponents will no doubt try, it's difficult to spin these results as a resounding endorsement of "free trade agreements" in general, much less the particularly expansive breed of "trade" agreement represented by the TPP and TAFTA.  If anything, the most recent polls show (once again) that the status quo trade model that Fast Track would expand has hurt the middle class. 

May 13, 2015

Why Warren Is Right and Obama Is Wrong on Fast Track’s Threat to Wall Street Reform

President Obama seems unaware that his controversial trade agenda could undermine the Wall Street reform agenda of his first administration. 

Fortunately, Senator Elizabeth Warren has been reminding him of this contradiction and the threat it poses to financial stability.  Last week, in a speech about the president's trade agenda, she stated, “Anyone who supports Dodd-Frank [the post-crisis Wall Street reform law] and who believes we need strong rules to prevent the next financial crisis should be very worried.”  

Unfortunately, Obama responded over the weekend by dismissing Senator Warren’s concerns and defending his controversial push to Fast Track through Congress the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA).

In an interview, Obama seemed unnerved by the notion that this agenda could “unravel” Wall Street reform.  Indeed, it is unnerving – because it’s true.

Just four days after Obama brushed away Sen. Warren’s concerns as “pure speculation,” Canada's Finance Minister Joe Oliver has declared that the Volcker Rule – a centerpiece of the Dodd Frank Wall Street reform law – violates the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  Not only would the TPP replicate many of NAFTA’s pre-crisis, deregulatory rules that threaten financial regulations – it would expand them further.  

“I believe, with strong legal basis, that this [Volcker] rule violates the terms of the NAFTA agreement,” states Oliver.  If our trading partners are already invoking existing U.S. trade pacts to issue clear threats against Wall Street reform, why would we undertake an unprecedented expansion of this trade model’s threat to financial stability via the TPP and TAFTA?   

For the first time, the TPP and TAFTA would empower the world's largest banks, including 19 of the 30 biggest non-U.S. banks, to “sue” the U.S. government before extrajudicial tribunals over U.S. financial regulations. And unlike any past U.S. trade pacts, the TPP would empower foreign banks to challenge new U.S. financial protections on the mere basis that they frustrated the banks' "expectations."

The deals are also slated to include deregulatory provisions that literally were written under the advisement of Wall Street banks before the financial crisis – provisions that would conflict with bans on risky derivatives or policies to prevent banks from becoming “too big to fail.”  Sen. Warren and other Senators warned the administration about these pre-crisis provisions in a letter last December, concluding that the TPP “could make it harder for Congress and regulatory agencies to prevent future financial crises.”

And Senator Warren isn’t the only canary in this mine.  Leading members of the House of Representatives, including House Financial Services Committee ranking member Rep. Maxine Waters, have issued similar warnings about TAFTA’s threats to U.S. financial stability measures. The Americans for Financial Reform – a coalition of more than 200 groups leading the push for Wall Street reform – has repeatedly detailed how TPP and TAFTA provisions conflict with commonsense financial protections.  

Prominent economists like Simon Johnson, former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, have explicitly backed Warren’s concerns.  And in a speech last year, Federal Reserve governor Daniel Tarullo plainly stated that proposals “to include limitations on prudential requirements in trade agreements would lead us farther away from the aforementioned goal of emphasizing shared financial stability interests, in favor of an approach to prudential matters informed principally by considerations of commercial advantage.”

But, you may be thinking, surely President Obama would not want to roll back Wall Street reform, right?  Fast Track’s threat, unfortunately, is larger than Obama, because Fast Track would outlast Obama.  Fast Track would also give blank-check powers to whoever is president after Obama to pursue additional binding agreements to which U.S. domestic laws, including financial regulations, would have to conform. Senator Warren spotlighted this threat in her response to Obama this week, stating, “If that [next] president wants to negotiate a trade deal that undercuts Dodd Frank, it will be very hard to stop it.” While an attempt to undermine Dodd Frank via normal legislation would require 60 votes in the Senate, a Fast-Tracked trade deal that undermines Dodd Frank could be implemented with a simple majority.

But even if no future trade agreements would be shoved through Fast Track’s back door, the existing trade pacts – TPP and TAFTA – present plenty of cause for concern.  Indeed, the two deals pose greater threats to U.S. financial regulations than any past U.S. trade or investment deals.  That’s largely because, for the first time, they would allow the world’s most powerful banks to use the notorious “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) system – a parallel legal system for multinational firms – to challenge U.S. financial regulations.

Under current U.S. pacts, none of the world’s 30 largest non-U.S. banks may bypass domestic courts, go before extrajudicial tribunals of three private lawyers, and demand taxpayer compensation for U.S. financial policies.  Were the TPP and TAFTA to be enacted, 19 of the world’s 30 largest non-U.S. banks would be so empowered - from the UK’s HSBC (notorious for enabling money laundering by drug cartels) to France’s BNP Paribas (notorious for evading U.S. sanctions). These global banks have many subsidiaries in the United States, any one of which could serve as the basis for an ISDS challenge against U.S. financial regulations if the TPP and TAFTA were to take effect.

One of the largest banks that that would be newly empowered to challenge U.S financial protections is Deutsche Bank, a German megabank that received hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. Federal Reserve in exchange for mortgage-backed securities in the aftermath of the financial crisis.  The Association of German Banks, led by Deutsche Bank’s CEO, has already made clear that it has “quite a number of…concerns regarding the on-going implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act (DFA) by relevant US authorities.”

The ISDS threat is not hypothetical – foreign firms have already used ISDS to attack financial measures, such as when a Netherlands investment company demanded hundreds of millions of dollars from the Czech Republic for choosing not to bail out a bank during the country’s banking crisis.  The foreign firm was irked that the bank in which it had a minority share did not receive a government bailout while other banks did.  An ISDS tribunal of three private lawyers ordered the government to pay the firm $236 million.

Fast Track’s threat to U.S. financial regulations is also unprecedented because the TPP, according to U.S. TPP negotiators, would be the first U.S. trade pact to empower foreign banks to launch ISDS cases against U.S. financial regulations on the basis that those regulations violated a special guarantee of a “minimum standard of treatment” for foreign investors.  ISDS tribunals have interpreted this ambiguous obligation as requiring governments to maintain a “stable and predictable regulatory environment” that does not frustrate foreign firms’ “expectations.”  That is, regulations should not significantly change once a foreign investor has invested – even if the government is trying to prevent or mitigate a financial crisis. 

Due to such sweeping interpretations, this vague government obligation has become the basis for three out of every four ISDS cases brought under U.S. pacts in which the government has lost.  Unlike past U.S. trade pacts, the TPP would newly subject U.S. financial regulations to this broad and oft-used obligation.

President Obama did not address these realities when dismissing Senator Warren’s warnings about the threat Fast Track poses to Wall Street reform.  Indeed, he seemed eager to simply call Sen. Warren “absolutely wrong” and move on.  The U.S. public deserves an honest debate, not defensive one-liners, when something as sensitive as financial stability is on the line.  Let’s hope Senator Warren keeps stoking that debate. 

May 07, 2015

Seven Corporations that Could Sponsor Obama’s Controversial Trade Deal (If His Nike Endorsement Falls Flat)

President Obama apparently has a flair for irony. He selected the headquarters of offshoring pioneer Nike as the place to pitch the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal in a major speech on Friday. As Obama tries to sell a pact that many believe would lead to more U.S. job offshoring and lower wages, why would he honor a firm that has grown and profited not by creating U.S. jobs, but by producing in offshore sweatshops with rock bottom wages and terrible labor conditions?

Less than 1 percent of the 1 million workers who made the products that earned Nike $27.8 billion in revenue in 2014 were U.S. workers. NikeLast year, one-third of Nike’s 13,922 U.S. production workers were cut. Most Nike goods, and all Nike shoes, are produced overseas, by more than 990,000 workers in low-wage countries whose abysmal conditions made Nike a global symbol of sweatshop abuses.

This includes more than 333,000 workers in Nike-supplying factories in TPP nation Vietnam, where the average minimum wage is less than 60 cents per hour and where workers have faced such abuses as supervisors gluing their hands together as a punishment. Instead of requiring Nike to pay its Vietnamese workers more or ending the abuse they endure, the TPP would allow Nike to make even higher profits by importing goods from low-wage Vietnam instead of hiring U.S. workers.

If using an offshoring pioneer to rally support for the beleaguered TPP does not succeed for some reason, here are seven other U.S. corporations that Obama might consider as equally fitting backup options

1.      Philip Morris

Sure, Philip Morris International – the world’s second-largest tobacco corporation – may not be the world’s most-loved corporation, but Obama would find an enthusiastic TPP corporate sponsor in the firm.  Philip Morris has explicitly lobbied for controversial TPP provisions that would Philip Morrisempower multinational corporations to bypass domestic courts, go before extrajudicial tribunals of three private lawyers, and challenge domestic laws that millions of people rely on for a clean environment, a stable economy, and healthy communities. Indeed, Philip Morris is already using this parallel corporate legal system, known as “investor-state dispute settlement,” to attack landmark anti-smoking policies from Australia to Uruguay. The TPP would newly empower thousands of multinational corporations to launch “investor-state” attacks against countries’ health, environmental and financial protections. In one fell swoop, the deal would roughly double U.S. exposure to “investor-state” attacks against U.S. policies.

2.      Goldman Sachs  (and other Wall Street firms)

If Obama’s Nike promo falls flat, maybe he should turn to a Wall Street bank as the next TPP corporate cheerleader. It’s no surprise that Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs love the TPP.  The deal includes
Wall Stbinding rules, written before the financial crisis under the advisement of the banks themselves, that would require domestic policies to conform to the now-rejected model of deregulation that led to financial ruin. And for the first time, the TPP would empower some of the world’s largest 20 banks to directly challenge new U.S. financial protections before extrajudicial tribunals on the basis that the regulations frustrated the banks' "expectations."

3.      Pfizer  (and other Big Pharma corporations)

Pharmaceutical corporations like Pfizer are likely candidates for further corporate TPP-peddling given that the pharmaceutical industry has lobbied for the TPP more than any other. Small wonder – the deal offers pharmaceutical corporations a buffet of handouts that would allow them to raise medicine prices Pfizerwhile restricting consumers’ access to cheaper generic drugs. One TPP chapter would give pharmaceutical firms expanded monopoly protections that would curb access to essential medicines in TPP countries like Vietnam, where it is projected that 45,000 HIV patients would no longer be able to afford life-saving treatment. Another TPP chapter would establish new restrictions on government efforts to cut medicine costs for taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and veterans' health programs. A third TPP chapter would empower foreign pharmaceutical corporations to directly attack domestic patent and drug-pricing laws in extrajudicial tribunals.

4.      ExxonMobil  (and other fracking corporations)

Maybe Obama’s next TPP photo op should be in front of a natural gas fracking drill owned by TPP-supporting ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly traded natural gas corporation. Natural gas firms are hopeful about TPP provisions likely to spur a surge in natural gas exports. For the rest of us, that would Frackingmean an expansion of dirty fracking and an increase in electricity costs. Implementing the TPP would require the U.S. Department of Energy to automatically approve natural gas exports to TPP countries, waiving its prerogative to determine whether those exports, and the resulting incentive for more fracking, would be in the public interest. As states like New York ban fracking to protect against health and environmental dangers, the TPP would move in the opposite direction. Indeed, the TPP would open the door to more “investor-state” attacks on anti-fracking protections, like the one Lone Pine Resources has launched against a Canadian fracking moratorium that prevents the firm from fracking under the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

5.      Time Warner  (and other Hollywood corporations)

Hollywood corporations like Time Warner Inc. already have been partnering closely with the Obama administration in stumping for the TPP – recent leaks reveal that the Motion Picture Association of HollywoodAmerica literally has asked the administration to vet the corporate alliance’s pro-TPP statements. The corporations are pining for stringent TPP copyright protections that could threaten Internet freedom by pushing Internet service providers to police everyday content sharing, resulting in blocked or censored websites. Leaked proposals for the deal would even make the common, non-commercial sharing of copyrighted content (e.g. remixed songs, reposted video clips) a prosecutable crime. 

6.      Red Lobster  (and other corporations using imported fish and seafood)

U.S. chain restaurants and agribusinesses that profit from imports of fish and seafood, at the expense of U.S. independent fishers and shrimpers, could also serve as willing backers of Obama’s TPP pitch. The deal would likely reduce or eliminate U.S. tariffs on imports of more than 80 types of fish and seafood Red Lobsterproducts, increasing further the already massive flow of fish and seafood imported into the United States. Even without the TPP, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only physically inspects less than 1 percent of imported fish and seafood for health risks, despite that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that imported fish are the number one cause of U.S. disease outbreaks from imported food. The TPP would exacerbate this public health threat by enabling more fish and seafood imports from major exporters like Malaysia and Vietnam, where widespread fish and seafood contamination has been documented. For example, the FDA has placed 193 Vietnamese fisheries on a “red list” due to risk of salmonella contamination.

7.      Chinese Corporations in Vietnam

If Obama is willing to use Nike to promote the controversial TPP despite its reliance on low-wage labor in Vietnam, maybe he’d be willing to also solicit TPP endorsements from the Chinese corporations that are setting up shop in Vietnam in hopes of using the TPP to undercut U.S. businesses. The Chinese and Vietnam factoryVietnamese press report that many Chinese textile and apparel firms are now building factories in Vietnam in hopes of taking advantage of the TPP’s planned phase-out of U.S. tariffs on apparel imported from Vietnam. This not only would place U.S. textile producers in direct competition with Chinese-owned firms using low-wage labor in Vietnam, but also would eliminate the jobs of workers in Mexico and Central America who now make the clothes that were made in the United States before the North American Free Trade Agreement and Central America Free Trade Agreement. In addition, the TPP’s gutting of Buy American policies would newly empower Chinese firms operating in Vietnam to undercut U.S. businesses to get contracts for goods bought by the U.S. government, paid for by U.S. taxpayers. For all firms operating in TPP countries like Vietnam, the United States would agree to waive "Buy American" procurement policies that require most federal government procurement contracts to go to U.S. firms, offshoring U.S. tax dollars to create jobs abroad. 

May 05, 2015

Third Year of Korea FTA Data Released, Show Failure of Obama’s ‘More Exports, More Jobs’ Trade Pact Promises, Further Burdening Fast Track Prospects

Trade Deficit With Korea Balloons 104 Percent as Exports Fall and Imports Surge Under Korea Pact Used as TPP Template

Today’s release of U.S. government trade data covering the full first three years of the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (FTA) reveals that the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has more than doubled. In addition, today’s U.S. Census Bureau data show Korea FTA outcomes that are the opposite of the Obama administration’s “more exports, more jobs” promise for that pact, which it is now repeating with respect to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as it tries to persuade Congress to delegate Fast Track authority for the TPP.

U.S. goods exports to Korea have dropped 6 percent, or $2.7 billion, under the Korea FTA’s first three years, while goods imports from Korea have surged 19 percent, or $11.3 billion (comparing the deal’s third year to the year before implementation). As a result, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has swelled 104 percent, or more than $14 billion. The trade deficit increase equates to the loss of more than 93,000 American jobs in the first three years of the Korea FTA, counting both exports and imports, according to the trade-jobs ratio that the Obama administration used to project gains from the deal.

“As if the odds for Fast Track were not already long enough, with most House Democrats and many GOP members stating opposition, today’s unveiling of a job-killing trade deficit surge under the Korea FTA puts a few more nails in Fast Track’s coffin,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Who’s going to buy the argument about Fast Track and the TPP creating ‘more exports, more jobs’ when Obama’s only major trade deal, used as the TPP template, was sold under that very slogan and yet has done the opposite?”

In contrast to the decline in U.S. goods exports to Korea in the FTA’s first three years, U.S. goods exports to the world have risen 2 percent during that time, despite the strengthening value of the dollar. And the 104 percent surge in the U.S.-Korea goods trade deficit under the FTA starkly contrasts with the 5 percent decrease in the global U.S. goods trade deficit during the same period.

Record-breaking U.S. trade deficits with Korea have become the new normal under the FTA – in 35 of the 36 months since the Korea FTA took effect, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has exceeded the average monthly trade deficit seen in the three years before the deal. In January 2015, the monthly U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea topped $3 billion – the highest level on record.

May 2015 Korea FTA deficit

The administration has tried to deflect attention from the failure of its Korea FTA by claiming that its poor performance has been caused by economic stagnation in Korea. However, Korea’s economy has grown during each year of the Korea FTA, while U.S. exports to Korea have not.

U.S. exports to Korea are actually even lower than today’s numbers indicate and the U.S.-Korea trade deficit is even higher, when properly counting only made-in-America exports. The exports data in today’s U.S. Census Bureau release include “foreign exports” – goods made abroad, imported into the United States and then re-exported without undergoing any alteration in the United States. Foreign exports support zero U.S. production jobs, and their inclusion artificially inflates U.S. export figures and deflates U.S. trade deficits with FTA partners.

Each month, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) reports the official U.S. government trade data with foreign exports removed, typically within two days after the U.S. Census Bureau releases the raw data. USITC likely will release the Korea trade data without the distortion of foreign exports by Thursday, May 7, at which point the more accurate – and even more negative – record of the Korea FTA will be made available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/Korea-FTA-3-years.pdf

April 29, 2015

Talking Point in Defense of TPP Is 95% Irrelevant

As the fight intensifies against Fast Track for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - with new members of Congress and more than 2,000 U.S. groups declaring their opposition - the Obama administration has decided not to switch its talking points, but to state the same ones more loudly. 

The administration seems particularly fond of flogging this one in recent TPP-defending speeches, press releases, and Internet memes: “Almost 95% of the world's consumers are outside America’s borders.”

No one is questioning the veracity of this demographic observation.  The question is what it has to do with the TPP.

Not much, as it turns out. Here's why the "95%" statistic is irrelevant for the TPP: 

  • U.S. products already enjoy tariff-free access to consumers in most TPP countries. The United States already has Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with six of the 11 TPP negotiating countries, meaning tariffs on U.S. products already have been zeroed out. And in Japan, which comprises 88 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the TPP countries that do not already have a U.S. FTA, the average applied tariff is just 1.2 percent. New Zealand’s average applied tariff is 1.4 percent. Such low barriers are why prominent economists like Paul Krugman have scoffed at the economic significance of the TPP, and why a U.S. government study projects 0.00 percent U.S. economic growth even if all TPP countries eliminated all existing tariffs on all products.
  • In the two TPP countries that actually have sizable populations and average tariffs above a mere 1.5 percent, most people do not earn enough money to purchase many U.S. exports. In Vietnam, the average person earns just $1,740 per year. In Malaysia, which has one third as many consumers as Vietnam, per capita annual income is $10,430. Neither country represents significant purchasing power for exports of U.S.-made products.  
  • Even if the TPP represented significant new market access, TPP-style "trade" deals have not succeeded in helping U.S. firms reach consumers outside our borders. The official U.S. government trade data reveal that U.S. goods exports to our existing FTA partners have grown 20 percent slower than U.S. exports to the rest of the world over the last decade. 

Where did the administration get such a weak talking point?  The Chamber of Commerce.  The corporate alliance has been trumpeting the same 95% statistic for at least the last three years.  It appears that rather than create its own sales pitch for the TPP, the administration decided to borrow one straight from the multinational corporations behind the deal.  

Given that this particular talking point is about 95% irrelevant for the TPP, maybe the administration should ask the deal's corporate backers for a new one. 

April 16, 2015

Hatch Bill Would Revive Controversial 2002 Fast Track Mechanism That Faces Broad Congressional, Public Opposition

Today’s Proposal Replicates Language of Failed 2014 Bill, Would Expand Same Broken Trade Model That Has Led to $912 Billion Trade Deficit, Loss of Millions of Manufacturing Jobs, Attacks on Public Interest Policies 

The trade authority bill introduced today would revive the controversial Fast Track procedures to which nearly all U.S. House of Representatives Democrats and a sizable bloc of House Republicans already have announced opposition.  Most of the text of this bill replicates word-for-word the text of the 2014 Fast Track bill, which itself replicated much of the 2002 Fast Track bill. Public Citizen calls on Congress to again oppose the outdated, anti-democratic Fast Track authority as a first step to replacing decades of “trade” policy that has led to the loss of millions of middle-class jobs and the rollback of critical public interest safeguards.

In the past 21 years, Fast Track authority has been authorized only once by Congress – from 2002 to 2007. In 1998, the U.S. House of Representatives voted down Fast Track for President Bill Clinton, with 71 GOP members joining 171 House Democrats.

Today’s bill explicitly grandfathers in Fast Track coverage for the almost-completed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and would extend Fast Track procedures for three to six years. The bill would delegate away Congress’ constitutional trade authority, even after the Obama administration dismissed bipartisan and bicameral demands that the TPP include enforceable currency manipulation disciplines. The trade authority proposal would not require negotiators to actually meet Congress’ negotiating objectives in order to obtain the Fast Track privileges, making the bill’s negotiating objectives entirely unenforceable.

“Congress is being asked to delegate away its constitutional trade authority over the TPP, even after the administration ignored bicameral, bipartisan demands about the agreement’s terms, and then also grant blank-check authority to whomever may be the next president for any agreements he or she may pursue,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Rather than putting Congress in the driver’s seat on trade, this bill is just the same old Fast Track that puts Congress in the trunk in handcuffs. I expect that Congress will say no to it.”

Instead of establishing a new “exit ramp,” the bill literally replicates the same impossible conditions from past Fast Track bills that make the “procedural disapproval” mechanism to remove an agreement from Fast Track unusable. A resolution to do so must be approved by both the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means committees and then be passed by both chambers within 60 days. The bill’s only new feature in this respect is a new “consultation and compliance” procedure that would only be usable after an agreement was already signed and entered into, at which point changes to the pact could be made only if all other negotiating parties agreed to reopen negotiations and then agreed to the changes (likely after extracting further concessions from the United States). That process would require approval by 60 Senators to take a pact off of Fast Track consideration, even though a simple majority “no” vote in the Senate would have the same effect on an agreement. In contrast, the 1988 Fast Track empowered either the House Ways and Means or the Senate Finance committees to vote by simple majority to remove a pact from Fast Track consideration, with no additional floor votes required. And, such a disapproval action was authorized before a president could sign and enter into a trade agreement.

“Chairman Hatch said he would never accept changes that make it possible for Congress to remove Fast Track from an agreement that does not measure up, and he got his way,” said Wallach. “What is being advertised as a new safeguard is not an exit from Fast Track’s confiscation of Congress’ policymaking prerogatives, but new curtains hung over the same brick wall.”

Today’s bill faces long odds for approval. Members of Congress who supported past trade initiatives have been angered by the extreme secrecy of TPP negotiations and the administration’s refusal to include currency disciplines in the pact.

The bill proposed today makes only minor adjustments to the Hatch-Camp-Baucus Fast Track bill that was dead on arrival in the House when it was introduced in 2014. At the time, only eight out of 201 House Democrats supported the bill and House GOP leaders could not count more than 100 members as “yes” votes. Since then, 14 of the 17 current freshman Democrats in the House have signed letters opposing Fast Track despite pressure from the administration. And, in contrast to past Congresses, a sizable bloc of freshmen GOP members has refused to declare support for Fast Track despite a corporate lobby push.

“This bill is a repeat of the Fast Track proposal that died a quick death one year ago,” said Wallach. “The only difference is that that congressional opposition to the very concept of Fast Track authority has grown.”

The bill comes despite broad and growing opposition to Fast Track and the TPP. A 2015 bipartisan poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News shows that 75 percent of Americans think that the TPP should be rejected or delayed. In recent weeks, voters in Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, Colorado and other states protested against Fast Track, citing the devastating impact past Fast Tracked pacts have had on local jobs, small businesses and farmers. Recent data show that similar trade deals have already pushed the United States to the precipice of a historic $1 trillion trade deficit, contributed to the loss of five million American manufacturing jobs and increased U.S. income inequality. 

Today’s bill, sponsored by U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), failed to attract a single House Democratic sponsor. Today’s bill would:

  • Empower the executive branch to unilaterally select partner countries for a trade pact, determine an agreement’s contents through the negotiating process, and then sign and enter into an agreement – all before Congress voted to approve a trade pact’s contents, regardless of whether a pact met Congress’ negotiating objectives;
  • Authorize the executive branch to write legislation containing any terms the White House decides are “necessary or appropriate” to implement the pact. Such legislation would not be subject to normal congressional committee review and markup, meaning this and future administrations could include in a Fast Tracked trade bill whatever terms it desired;
  • Require votes in both the House and Senate within 90 days, forbidding any amendments and limiting debate to 20 hours, whether or not Congress’ negotiating objectives were met. 

An analysis of today’s bill shows that

  • The Hatch bill includes several negotiating objectives not found in the 2002 Fast Track authority, most of which were also in the 2014 bill. However, the Fast Track process that the legislation would re-establish ensures that these negotiating objectives are entirely unenforceable. Whether or not Congress’ negotiating objectives are met, the president could sign a pact before Congress approves it and obtain a yes or no vote in 90 days. Democratic and GOP presidents alike have historically ignored negotiating objectives included in Fast Track. The 1988 Fast Track used for the North American Free Trade Agreement and the establishment of the World Trade Organization included a negotiating objective on labor standards, but neither pact included such terms. The 2002 Fast Track listed as a priority the establishment of mechanisms to counter currency manipulation, but none of the pacts established under that authority included such terms.
  • Some of the Hatch bill negotiating objectives advertised as “new” are in fact identical to what was in the 2014 bill and were referenced in the 2002 Fast Track. For example, the 2002 Fast Track included currency measures: “seek to establish consultative mechanisms among parties to trade agreements to examine the trade consequences of significant and unanticipated currency movements and to scrutinize whether a foreign government engaged in a pattern of manipulating its currency to promote a competitive advantage in international trade.” (19 USC 3802(c)(12)) The so-called “new” text in the Hatch bill repeats word-for-word what was in the 2014 Fast Track bill: “The principal negotiating objective of the United States with respect to currency practices is that parties to a trade agreement with the United States avoid manipulating exchange rates in order to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or to gain an unfair competitive advantage over other parties to the agreement, such as through cooperative mechanisms, enforceable rules, reporting, monitoring, transparency, or other means, as appropriate.” Even if Congress had the power to ensure that this negotiating objective was met, the language of this negotiating objective itself does not require enforceable disciplines on currency manipulation to be included in the TPP or other deals obtaining Fast Track treatment. Despite the requests from bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress that enforceable currency manipulation disciplines be included in the TPP, the Hatch negotiating objective lists “enforceable rules” as just one approach among several non-binding options for the TPP and other Fast Tracked deals. 
  • Provisions that are being touted as improving transparency, by empowering the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to develop standards for staff access to negotiating texts, would in fact provide a statutory basis for the unacceptable practice of requiring congressional staff to have security clearances to view any draft trade pact text and would fail to match even the level of transparency seen during the Bush administration’s trade negotiations. A close read of a new provision requiring USTR to post a trade agreement text on its website 60 days before signing reveals that this timing would be 30 days after the agreement was initialed and the text locked, meaning the text would only become public after it was too late for the public or Congress to demand changes.
  • Today’s bill includes a new negotiating objective related to human rights: “to promote respect for internationally recognized human rights.”  But since the bill does not alter the fundamental Fast Track process, the president still would be able to unilaterally pick countries with serious human rights abuses as trade negotiating partners, initiate negotiations with them, conclude negotiations, and sign and enter into the trade agreement with the governments committing the abuses, with no opportunity for Congress to require the president to do otherwise. 
  • The bill’s terms regarding labor and the environment replicate those of the 2014 Fast Track bill, which in turn memorialize the provisions of the “May 10, 2007” deal that, according to recent government reports, have proven ineffective. While the May 10 provisions went beyond the 2002 Fast Track objectives regarding labor, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released in November 2014 found broad labor rights violations across five surveyed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partner countries, regardless of whether or not the FTA included the labor provisions of the May 10 deal.
  • What the bill’s co-sponsors are touting as “strengthen[ing] congressional oversight” is actually the renaming of the 2002 Congressional Oversight Group as the “House Advisory Group on Negotiations” and the “Senate Advisory Group on Negotiations.”  This exact language was also in the 2014 bill.

For additional, in-depth analysis of the Hatch bill provisions, visit www.citizen.org/fast-track-2015.

April 15, 2015

Cato and Public Citizen: No parallel legal system for foreign corporations

Here's something you won't see every day: an op-ed jointly written by analysts at Public Citizen and the Cato Institute.  Often divided on issues of trade policy, we find common ground in opposing the proposed expansion, via the Trans-Pacific Partnership, of a shadow legal system for foreign corporations.  Read about it in today's The Hill.  Here's an excerpt:

Special courts for foreign investors

By Simon Lester and Ben Beachy

On the precipice of the biggest congressional trade debate in decades, a once-arcane investment provision has become a lightning rod of controversy in the intensifying battle over whether Congress should revive Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as “fast track,” for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) calls this provision a system of “rigged, pseudo-courts.” The Republican leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee defends it as “a vital part of any trade agreement.”

But this is not your standard partisan congressional battle. Inside Congress and out, criticism and support for this parallel legal system, known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), crosses the political spectrum. Analysts with the Cato Institute and Public Citizen usually stand on opposing sides of trade policy issues, but we find common ground in opposing this system of special privileges for foreign firms.

The TPP would extend this controversial system, found in some existing trade pacts and investment treaties, to new countries and tens of thousands of new companies. Under ISDS, “foreign investors” – mostly transnational corporations – have the ability to bypass U.S. courts and challenge U.S. government action and inaction before international tribunals authorized to order U.S. taxpayer compensation to the firms.

Pacts with ISDS are often promoted as simply prohibiting discrimination against foreign firms. In reality, they go well beyond non-discrimination, and create amorphous government obligations that have given rise to corporate lawsuits against a wide array of policies with relevance across the political spectrum. Foreign corporations have used this system to challenge policies ranging from the phase-out of nuclear power to the roll-back of renewable energy subsidies. Nearly all government actions and inactions are subject to challenge, covering local, state, and federal measures taken by courts, legislators and regulators.

Take, for example, the recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that companies cannot patent human genes or obtain abstract software patents favored by patent trolls. Foreign holders of those patents could use ISDS to claim that these decisions interfere with their patent rights and ask an international tribunal to order compensation from the U.S. government...

Click here for the full op-ed from The Hill

April 10, 2015

50 Reasons We Cannot Afford the TPP

How would your state be impacted by the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a controversial “free trade” agreement (FTA) being negotiated behind closed doors with 11 Pacific Rim countries? 

Click here for a state-by-state guide to the specific outcomes of the status quo “trade” model that the TPP would expand.  Get the latest government data on how many jobs have been lost in your state to unfair trade, how much inequality has risen, how many family farms have disappeared, and how large your state’s trade deficit with FTA countries has grown. 

The TPP would extend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) model that has contributed to massive U.S. trade deficits and job loss, downward pressure on middle class wages, unprecedented levels of inequality, lagging exports, new floods of agricultural imports, and the loss of family farms.

These impacts have been felt across all 50 U.S. states.  Here is a sampling of the outcomes:

  • North Carolina: North Carolina has lost more than 369,000 manufacturing jobs – nearly half – since NAFTA and NAFTA expansion pacts have taken effect.  More than 212,000 specific North Carolina jobs have been certified under just one narrow Department of Labor program as lost to offshoring or imports since NAFTA.
  • Delaware: Delaware’s total goods exports to all U.S. FTA partners have actually fallen 27 percent while its exports to non-FTA nations have grown 34 percent in the last five years. 
  • California: In the last five years, California’s $403 million NAFTA agricultural trade surplus became a $187 million trade deficit – a more than $590 million drop. In contrast, California’s agricultural trade surplus with the rest of the world increased by $3 billion, or 79 percent, during the same time period.  The disparity owes to the fact that California’s exports of agricultural products to NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada grew just 27 percent, or $693 million, in the last five years, while its agricultural exports to the rest of the world grew 70 percent, or $4.3 billion. Meanwhile, California’s agricultural imports from NAFTA partners during this period surged $1.3 billion – more than the increase in agricultural imports from all other countries combined.
  • Michigan: Michigan’s trade deficit with all U.S. FTA partners is nearly five times larger than its deficit with the rest of the world. Michigan’s FTA deficit has grown more than three times as much as its non-FTA deficit in the last five years. Today, Michigan’s trade deficit with FTA partners comprises 83 percent of the state’s total trade deficit.
  • Louisiana: Before the Korea FTA – the U.S. template for the TPP – the United States had balanced trade with Korea in the top 10 products that Louisiana exports to Korea – including everything from metal to agricultural products. Under two years of the FTA, that balance became a $9 billion annual trade deficit. 
  • New York: The TPP and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) would empower 3,067 foreign corporations doing business in New York to bypass domestic courts, go before extrajudicial tribunals, and challenge New York and U.S. health, environmental and other public interest policies that they claim undermine new foreign investor rights not available to domestic firms under U.S. law.
  • Texas: U.S. farmers were promised that the Korea FTA would boost U.S. agricultural exports to Korea. But U.S. exports to Korea fell in eight of Texas’ top 10 agricultural export products, from cotton to wheat to meat in the first two years of the Korea FTA.  Meanwhile, U.S. exports to Korea of beef, pork and poultry – all top agricultural exports for Texas – declined 18, 15, and 42 percent, respectively (measuring by volume).
  • Nevada: The richest 10 percent of Nevadans are now capturing more than half of all income in the state – a degree of inequality not seen in the 100 years for which records exist.  Study after study has produced an academic consensus that status quo trade has contributed to today’s unprecedented rise in income inequality.  
  • Minnesota: Small-scale U.S. family farms have been hardest hit by rising agricultural imports and declining agricultural trade balances under FTAs.  Since NAFTA took effect, 15,500 of Minnesota’s smaller-scale farms (24 percent) have disappeared.

April 07, 2015

Fact-Checking the Fact-Checker: Washington Post Gets It Wrong on Bogus Trade-Pact Jobs Claims

As the Obama administration seeks to Fast Track the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress over public and congressional opposition, it has resorted to a familiar tactic – promising job gains from the deal on the basis of unfounded assumptions. We have repeatedly warned against dubious TPP jobs claims by spotlighting the inaccuracy of the administration’s job claims for the last major trade pact – the 2012 Korea “free trade” agreement (FTA). The Korea FTA was used as the U.S. template for the TPP.

The White House promised that the Korea FTA would create 70,000 jobs based on a report issued by the U.S. International Trade Commission that projected an increase in U.S. goods exports and a decrease in the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea. In contrast, in the first three years of the Korea pact, U.S. goods exports to Korea have fallen while our goods trade deficit with Korea has surged.

We have shown that, plugging the actual U.S. government trade data into the ratio that the administration used to project job gains from the pact, the first three years of the Korea FTA’s outcomes defy the administration’s “more exports, more jobs” slogan for the deal, providing a cautionary tale for the job claims the administration is currently using to sell the TPP.

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker columnist Glenn Kessler has similarly taken on the administration’s TPP job claims, describing them as a baseless fabrication. But in today’s Post, Kessler takes issue with our fact-checking of the administration’s Korea FTA jobs promise.

Kessler seems to think that we are producing our own jobs projection for the Korea FTA, when we are actually fact-checking the administration’s jobs projection – a projection that Kessler acknowledges “would have earned Pinocchios if it had come to our attention at the time.” It is unclear why Kessler is now assigning Pinocchios to us for calling out the administration’s bogus Korea FTA jobs claim, rather than to those who actually made the claim.

In our recent press release on the third anniversary of the Korea FTA, we stated:

The U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has ballooned an estimated 84 percent, or $12.7 billion, in the first three years of the Korea FTA (comparing the year before the FTA took effect to the projected third full year of implementation)…The surge in the U.S. trade deficit with Korea under the FTA equates to the loss of nearly 85,000 American jobs, according to the trade-jobs ratio that the administration used to promise job gains from the deal.

Kessler’s primary critique of this statement appears to be that we did not replicate the administration’s flawed methodology of only counting exports and disregarding imports when debunking the administration’s jobs projection. Such a misleading approach – ignoring half of the trade equation – contradicts standard economics and empirical data showing the job-displacing impacts of imports, which Kessler even acknowledges in his column today.

As an example of the administration’s one-sided trade accounting, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) factsheet on the third anniversary of the Korea FTA touted that 21,255 additional vehicles were exported to Korea under the FTA. It made no mention of the 461,408 additional vehicles imported from Korea during the same time period (using the administration’s same cut of the automotive trade data). That is, for every additional vehicle the United States exported to Korea under the FTA, it imported more than 21 additional vehicles from Korea. The net effect has clearly been a loss for U.S. auto workers. It is not only contrary to mainstream economics, but common sense, to only look at exports and ignore imports when assessing trade’s impact on jobs.

Indeed, when Kessler did a Fact Checker column in January debunking the administration’s “concocted” claim that the TPP would create 650,000 U.S. jobs, he stated that the study used as the basis for that claim actually showed that “the net number of new jobs [projected for the TPP] is zero” because the study “found that imports would increase by virtually the same amount as exports.” That is, Kessler presumed that $1 in imports had a job-displacing effect equivalent to the job-supporting effect of $1 in exports, which matches the calculation used in our press release. (For what it’s worth, respected economists estimate the dollar-for-dollar job-displacing effect of imports may be even greater than the job-supporting effect of exports.)

But even if we were to abandon the common-sense approach that Kessler presumed in January, defy standard trade accounting, and only count exports, U.S. goods exports to Korea fell by more than $2 billion in the first three years of the FTA. Were we to replicate the administration’s exports-only approach, then our fact-check of the administration’s Korea FTA promises would need to say something to the effect of:

The estimated $2.6 billion decline in U.S. goods exports to Korea in the FTA’s first three years equates to the loss of 17,400 American jobs, according to the trade-jobs ratio and exports-only methodology that the administration used to promise job gains from the deal. That methodology ignores the impact of imports and the significant increase in the U.S. trade deficit with Korea since the FTA was implemented. Including imports, the surge in the U.S. trade deficit with Korea under the FTA equates to the loss of 85,000 American jobs, according to the trade-jobs ratio that the administration used to promise job gains from the deal. 

The takeaway is the same. Any (reasonable) way you slice it, the administration’s job gains promise for the Korea FTA is the opposite of the deal’s outcome thus far. Indeed, over the Korea FTA’s first three years, the actual results have been consistently the opposite of the specific export growth and job gain figures that the Obama administration used to sell the Korea FTA. And that gets back to our main point: rely on similar promises now being made for the TPP to your own peril.

Kessler also takes issue with our time frame, implying that we should have counted the trade data from January and February of 2012 as part of the results of the Korea FTA, despite the fact that the FTA actually took effect on March 15, 2012. Our measurement compares U.S. trade with Korea in the 12 months before the Korea FTA took effect (April 2011 to March 2012) with the third full year of the FTA’s implementation (April 2014 to March 2015).

Kessler dislikes this approach, which he criticizes as “trying to be very precise.” Instead, he states it would be more “appropriate” to compare calendar years. But the selective timeframe for which Kessler advocates would errantly count pre-FTA months as occurring since the FTA, while eliminating the most recent months of actual Korea FTA data.

The Fact Checker column also bizarrely faults us for adjusting for inflation. Typically, trade flow studies are criticized if they fail to perform the standard adjustment for inflation, since this would misleadingly count price increases as export or import increases. Nonetheless, Kessler considers the adjustment for inflation as “an effort to manipulate the data further.” Why?  Because “the price of goods could decrease.” It is precisely because the price of goods could decrease (or increase) that it is important to adjust for inflation. We do so by using a standard inflation adjustment from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, thereby eliminating the effect of shifts in goods prices. (And, for what it’s worth, if we were trying to “manipulate” the data rather than be scrupulous with it, we would not be the ones controlling for inflation. Failing to adjust for inflation would make the increase in the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea during the FTA’s first three years appear even larger than it is in real terms, not smaller.)

After deciding to replicate the administration’s usual data distortions of not counting imports, counting non-FTA months as occurring since the FTA, and not adjusting for inflation, Kessler then performs his own assessment of the Korea FTA outcome, claiming that U.S. exports increased by $2.3 billion in the FTA’s first three years.

This claim is in need of a fact check, as we have not been able to replicate it with any cut of the data. If you use the selective timeframe preferred by Kessler (comparing calendar years 2011 and 2014) and skip the inflation adjustment, you get a $750,000 increase in U.S. exports, not a $2.3 billion increase. (And that "increase" owes entirely to price increases - after a standard inflation adjustment, it becomes a real export decline of more than $1 billion.) Even if you misleadingly count foreign-produced goods as “U.S. exports,” as the administration often does, you get a $1 billion increase in exports – still less than half of Kessler’s claim (and still a real decline in U.S. exports merely by properly accounting for inflation).

The only way we see to get a $2.3 billion increase in U.S. exports to Korea is by mistakenly axing an entire year of the FTA and comparing 2014 with 2012 (as if the FTA did not take effect until 2013 – one year later than its actual implementation date). Even with this blunt error, you would still need to use the arbitrary calendar year timeframe, fail to adjust for inflation, count foreign-produced goods as “U.S. exports,” and ignore imports altogether.

Using the accurate FTA time period and excluding foreign-made goods, our total goods exports to Korea actually have fallen since the Korea FTA took effect (whether or not one properly controls for inflation). Rather than acknowledge this aggregate outcome, the Fact Checker column highlights a few specific products as having “shown real gains in the past three years” of the Korea FTA. This is another common  maneuver of USTR: while overall U.S. agricultural exports to Korea increased an estimated zero percent in the FTA’s first three years, for example, USTR focuses on a $78 million gain in cherry exports. The cherry-picking in today’s Fact Checker column, however, includes products, such as apparel, that have actually not seen export gains. U.S. apparel exports to Korea actually have fallen $43 million, or 37 percent, in the Korea FTA’s first three years.

Unfortunately, this exports decline has been more the rule than the exception under the Korea FTA, as overall U.S. goods exports to Korea have fallen. Meanwhile, imports from Korea have risen, and the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has surged. The point that we have repeatedly made stands: the outcome of the FTA thus far is a far cry from the administration’s promise of “more exports, more jobs.” We would do well to keep that failed promise in mind as we now hear its echoes in the administration’s sales pitch for the TPP. 

March 25, 2015

TPP Leak Reveals Extraordinary New Powers for Thousands of Foreign Firms to Challenge U.S. Policies and Demand Taxpayer Compensation

Unveiling of Parallel Legal System for Foreign Corporations Will Fuel TPP Controversy, Further Complicate Obama’s Push for Fast Track

The Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) Investment Chapter, leaked today, reveals how the pact would make it easier for U.S. firms to offshore American jobs to low-wage countries while newly empowering thousands of foreign firms to seek cash compensation from U.S. taxpayers by challenging U.S. government actions, laws and court rulings before unaccountable foreign tribunals. After five years of secretive TPP negotiations, the text – leaked by WikiLeaks –proves that growing concerns about the controversial “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) system that the TPP would extend are well justified.

Enactment of the leaked chapter would increase U.S. ISDS liability to an unprecedented degree by newly empowering about 9,000 foreign-owned firms from Japan and other TPP nations operating in the United States to launch cases against the government over policies that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms. To date, the United States has faced few ISDS attacks because past ISDS-enforced pacts have almost exclusively been with developing nations whose firms have few investments here.

The leak reveals that the TPP would replicate the ISDS language found in past U.S. agreements under which tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to foreign investors attacking land use rules; water, energy and timber policies; health, safety and environmental protections; financial stability policies and more. And while the Obama administration has sought to quell growing concerns about the ISDS threat with claims that past pacts’ problems would be remedied in the TPP, the leaked text does not include new safeguards relative to past U.S. ISDS-enforced pacts. Indeed, this version of the text, which shows very few remaining areas of disagreement, eliminates various safeguard proposals that were included in a 2012 leaked TPP Investment Chapter text.

“With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “This leak is a disaster for the corporate lobbyists and administration officials trying to persuade Congress to delegate Fast Track authority to railroad the TPP through Congress.”

Even before today’s leak, U.S. law professors and those in other TPP nations, the U.S. National Conference of State Legislatures, the Cato Institute and numerous members of Congress and civil society groups have announced opposition to the ISDS system, which would elevate individual foreign firms to the same status as sovereign governments and empower them to privately enforce a public treaty by skirting domestic courts and “suing” governments before extrajudicial tribunals. The tribunals are staffed by private lawyers who are not accountable to any electorate, system of legal precedent or meaningful conflict of interest rules. Their rulings cannot be appealed on the merits. Many ISDS lawyers rotate between roles – serving both as “judges” and suing governments for corporations, creating an inherent conflict of interest.

The TPP’s expansion of the ISDS system would come amid a surge in ISDS cases against public interest policies that has led other countries, such as South Africa and Indonesia, to begin to revoke their ISDS-enforced treaties. While ISDS agreements have existed since the 1960s, just 50 known ISDS cases were launched worldwide in the regime’s first three decades combined. In contrast, foreign investors launched at least 50 ISDS claims each year from 2011 through 2013. Recent cases include Eli Lilly’s attack on Canada’s cost-saving medicine patent system, Philip Morris’ attack on Australia’s public health policies regulating tobacco, Lone Pine’s attack on a fracking moratorium in Canada, Chevron’s attack on an Ecuadorian court ruling ordering payment for mass toxic contamination in the Amazon and Vattenfall’s attack on Germany’s phase-out of nuclear power.

“By definition, only multinational corporations could benefit from this parallel legal system, which empowers them to skirt domestic courts and laws, and go to tribunals staffed by highly paid corporate lawyers, where they grab unlimited payments of our tax dollars because they don’t want to comply with the same laws our domestic firms follow,” Wallach said.

Public Citizen’s analysis of the leaked text is available here

March 13, 2015

Unhappy Third Birthday for Korea FTA Drags Down Obama Push for Fast Track

U.S. Exports Down, Imports from Korea Up and Job-Killing Trade Deficit With Korea Balloons 84 Percent on Third Anniversary of Korea Pact, Which Is TPP Template

Three years after implementation of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), government data reveal that the administration’s promises that the pact would expand U.S. exports and create American jobs proved to be the opposite of the pact’s actual outcomes. The post-Korea FTA decline in U.S. exports to Korea and a new flood of imports from Korea have resulted in a major surge in the U.S. trade deficit with Korea that equates to nearly 85,000 lost U.S. jobs. The abysmal FTA record deals a fresh blow to the administration’s controversial bid to Fast Track the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), for which the Korea FTA served as the U.S. template.

“Three years ago we heard the same ‘more exports, more jobs’ sales pitch for the Korea FTA that the administration is making for the TPP, but the reality is that tens of thousands of U.S. jobs have been lost as exports have fallen and trade deficits have surged,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “The only silver lining of the Korea FTA debacle is that it further cripples the administration’s push to Fast Track the TPP, which was literally modeled on the Korea deal, perhaps saving us from more of the same pacts that offshore jobs and push down middle-class wages.”

Contrary to the administration’s promise that the Korea FTA would mean “more exports, more jobs,” U.S. International Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Agriculture data reveal that:

  • The U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has ballooned an estimated 84 percent, or $12.7 billion, in the first three years of the Korea FTA (comparing the year before the FTA took effect to the projected third full year of implementation). In January 2015, the monthly U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea topped $3 billion – the highest level on record.
  • The surge in the U.S. trade deficit with Korea under the FTA equates to the loss of nearly 85,000 American jobs, according to the trade-jobs ratio that the administration used to promise job gains from the deal.
  • U.S. goods exports to Korea have fallen an estimated 5 percent, or $2.2 billion, in the first three years of the Korea FTA. 
  • Had U.S. exports to Korea continued to grow at the rate seen in the decade prior to the Korea FTA’s implementation, U.S. exports to Korea in the FTA’s third year would have been 24 percent, or $9.8 billion, higher than they are actually projected to be.
  • Imports of goods from Korea have risen an estimated 18 percent, or $10.5 billion, in the Korea FTA’s first three years.
  • U.S. exports to Korea of manufactured goods have stagnated under the Korea FTA, growing an estimated zero percent in the first three years of the deal. U.S. manufactured imports from Korea, meanwhile, have grown an estimated 18 percent under the FTA. As a result, the U.S. manufacturing trade deficit with Korea has grown an estimated 44 percent, or $10.1 billion, since the FTA’s implementation.
  • U.S. exports to Korea of agricultural goods have stagnated under the Korea FTA, growing an estimated zero percent in the first three years of the deal – even as U.S. agricultural exports to the world increased 6 percent during the same period. U.S. agricultural imports from Korea, meanwhile, have grown an estimated 28 percent under the FTA. As a result, the U.S. agricultural trade balance with Korea has declined an estimated 1 percent, or $72 million, since the FTA’s implementation.

Given the bleak data, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) may repeat past efforts to try to obscure bad Korea FTA results. Congressional upset about the pacts is fueling opposition to the administration’s push to Fast Track the TPP through Congress. Typical USTR data omissions and distortions regarding the Korea FTA include:

  • The USTR likely will count foreign-produced goods as “U.S. exports,” falsely inflating the export figures that can be reported. It is by using this raw Census Department data versus the corrected official U.S International Trade Commission (USITC) trade data that USTR falsely claims that U.S. exports to Korea have grown and were at a record level in 2014.  Despite congressional demands to stop using the distorted data, USTR continues to report export figures that include “foreign exports,” also known as “re-exports.” These are goods made abroad that pass through the United States before being re-exported to other countries. By U.S. Census Bureau definition, foreign exports undergo zero alteration in the United States, and thus support no U.S. production jobs. Each month, the UCITC removes foreign exports from the raw data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau. But the USTR regularly uses the uncorrected data, inflating the actual U.S. export figures and deflating U.S. trade deficits with FTA partners like Korea. In the first three years of the Korea FTA, foreign exports to Korea have risen an estimated 13 percent, or $284 million, which the USTR may errantly count as an increase in “U.S. exports.”
  • The USTR might misrepresent the relatively small increase in U.S. exports to Korea of passenger vehicles under the FTA as a large percentage increase, while omitting both that the touted increase amounts to an estimated 23,000 more passenger vehicles exported from a base of fewer than 15,000 and that imports of passenger vehicles from Korea have surged by an estimated 450,000 vehicles – from about 863,000 to more than 1.3 million in the first three years of the FTA. This trick was included in the USTR’s press release on the FTA’s second anniversary. While U.S. automotive exports to Korea have increased an estimated $686 million in the FTA’s first three years, U.S. automotive imports from Korea have ballooned an estimated $6.4 billion. As a result, the U.S. automotive trade deficit with Korea has increased an estimated 36 percent, or $5.7 billion, in the FTA’s first three years.
  • The USTR also may claim, as it did in its press release on the Korea FTA’s second anniversary, that the decline in U.S. exports to Korea under the FTA is due to decreases in exports of fossil fuels and corn. But even after removing fossil fuels and corn products, U.S. exports to Korea still have declined by an estimated $1.4 billion, or 4 percent, in the first three years of the FTA. Product-specific anomalies cannot explain away the broad-based drop in U.S. goods exports to Korea under the FTA.
  • The USTR also may try to dismiss the decline in U.S. exports to Korea under the FTA as due to a weak economy in Korea – another claim made in the USTR’s press release on the FTA’s second anniversary. But the Korean economy has grown each year since the FTA passed, even as U.S. exports to Korea have shrunk. Korea’s gross domestic product in 2014 is projected to be 9 percent higher than in the year before the FTA took effect, suggesting that U.S. exports to Korea should have expanded, with or without the FTA, as a simple product of Korea’s economic growth. Instead, U.S. exports to Korea have fallen an estimated 5 percent in the first three years of the FTA. 

February 26, 2015

Forthcoming TPP Sales Pitch So Predictable, We Decided to Predict It

In the coming days, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) will release its annual report on the Obama administration’s trade policy agenda.  We know that you can’t wait to see what it will say. 

Good news.  You don’t have to.  Below we present the world’s first look at the report’s contents. 

How do we know in advance what the annual trade report will say?  No, we don’t have a mole at USTR (though if any of our USTR readers would like to volunteer…). 

We have a pretty good idea of the report’s contents, given that these reports tend to recycle the same old sales pitches that the administration has been disseminating ad nauseam (figuratively and, sometimes, literally). 

Since the status quo trade platitudes have become predictable, we thought we might as well predict them. 

So, you heard it here first – below are some of the administration's standard TPP-related talking points likely to be rehashed in USTR’s forthcoming report, followed by an explanation of why they do not bear repeating:

95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside our borders.

[But our trade pacts have not helped us reach them.]

Yes, this statistic shows a basic understanding of geography and population.  But it shows little else.  The official government trade data reveal that past trade deals have not been successful in helping U.S. firms reach consumers who live abroad.  In fact, U.S. goods exports to our “free trade” agreement (FTA) partners have grown 20 percent slower than U.S. exports to the rest of the world over the last decade.

The TPP would grant U.S. firms greater access to the world's fastest-growing region.

[But the relevant TPP countries have been growing one-fourth as fast as that region.]

The United States already has FTAs with six of the 11 TPP negotiating partners.  The combined GDP of the other five countries (the ones that could offer “greater access”) has been growing at a paltry 1 percent annually over the last decade – one fourth of the growth rate of the Asia-Pacific region overall.  Yes, the region has been growing quickly.  That just happens not to be relevant to the TPP. 

Exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages.

[But jobs displaced by imports pay even higher.]

What this talking point fails to mention is that jobs lost to imports under unfair trade deals tend to pay even higher wages than jobs in exporting industries, according to new data unveiled by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).  If a manufacturing worker making $1,020 per week loses her job to imports under a raw trade deal and gets re-hired in an exporting firm where she gets paid less than $870 per week (the actual numbers from EPI’s analysis), it’s probably small consolation that she could be making even less in a non-traded sector like restaurants.  But that is the very argument – that exporting industries pay more than non-traded industries – that the administration has been using to push for the TPP’s expansion of the trade status quo.

Their pitch omits the fact that far more jobs have been lost in the higher-paying import-competing industries than have been gained in exporting sectors under existing trade deals, judging by the burgeoning U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners, which has grown 427 percent since the deals took effect. It also does not mention that most trade-displaced workers do not actually get rehired in exporting industries, but in non-traded sectors, spelling an even bigger pay cut than the example given above.

China wants to write the rules for commerce in Asia. Instead, we should write the rules.

[We didn’t write the TPP’s rules – multinational corporations did. The TPP would hurt our national interests while failing, like past FTAs, to affect China’s influence.]

Ah yes, the boogeyman tactic.  When the economic sales pitch for a controversial new FTA falters on the existing FTA record of lost jobs, lower wages and increased trade deficits, FTA proponents frequently resort to raising the specter that without the controversial pact, the influence of a foreign opponent will rise further.  But the notion that the establishment – or not – of any specific U.S. trade agreement would affect China’s rising influence is contradicted by the record.  Proponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and NAFTA expansion pacts similarly warned that those deals were necessary to prevent rising foreign influence in Latin America.  But in the first 20 years of NAFTA, the share of Mexico’s imported goods coming from China increased from 1 to 16 percent, while the U.S. share dropped from 69 percent to 49 percent.  And from 2000 to 2011, a period in which U.S. FTAs with eight Latin American countries took effect, the share of Latin America’s imported goods coming from China increased from 1 percent to 7 percent, while the U.S. share fell from 25 percent to 16 percent.  Why should we believe the recycled pitch that another FTA would keep China’s economic influence in check?  

And the attempt to paint the TPP as a battle between “our rules” and China’s rules is absurd.  “We” did not write these rules.  The draft TPP text was crafted in a closed-door process that granted privileged access to more than 500 official U.S. trade advisors, nine out of ten of them explicitly representing corporations.  It is little surprise then that leaked TPP terms include new monopoly patent rights for pharmaceutical companies that would increase healthcare costs, limits on efforts to reregulate Wall Street, a deregulation of U.S. gas exports that could increase domestic energy prices, maximalist copyright terms that could thwart innovation and restrict Internet freedom, and new investor protections that incentivize offshoring.  Good luck selling that as advancing U.S. interests. 

The TPP is a 21st-century agreement with strong labor and environmental standards.

[Government reports show that those standards have proven ineffective.]

The vaunted inclusion in the TPP of labor and environmental provisions that were hatched in a May 10, 2007 deal is nothing new. These provisions have been included in existing FTAs, but have proven ineffective. The George W. Bush administration, for example, included "May 10" terms in the FTA with Colombia, where anti-union violence and repression remain rampant. Indeed, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released in November 2014 found broad labor rights violations across five surveyed FTA partner countries, regardless of whether or not the FTA included the “May 10” labor provisions. As for environmental standards, the TPP would empower foreign corporations (e.g. oil/gas companies) to demand taxpayer compensation before extrajudicial tribunals for new environmental protections in TPP countries (e.g. rejection of a proposed controversial pipeline). 

And despite recent claims to the contrary, the evidence shows no correlation between an FTA’s inclusion of the “May 10” standards and its trade balance impact. Though the Korea FTA, the U.S. template for the TPP, included the “May 10” standards, the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has grown more than 70 percent in the three years since the deal’s passage. According to the administration’s trade-jobs ratio, that equates to the loss of more than 70,000 U.S. jobs – the same number of jobs that the administration promised would be gained under the deal. 

98 percent of U.S. exporters are small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

[The few small businesses that export have endured slow and falling exports under FTAs.]

Only 3 percent of U.S. SMEs export any good to any country. In contrast, 38 percent of large U.S. firms are exporters. Even if FTAs actually succeeded in boosting exports, which government data show they do not, exporting is primarily the domain of large corporations, not small businesses.

The relatively few small businesses that do actually export have endured even more disappointing export performance under FTAs than large firms have experienced.  U.S. small businesses have watched their exports to Korea decline even more sharply than large firms under the Korea FTA (a 14 percent vs. 3 percent decrease).  And small firms’ exports to Mexico and Canada under NAFTA have grown less than half as much as large firms’ exports. Indeed, small firms’ exports to all non-NAFTA countries has exceeded by more than 50 percent the growth of their exports to NAFTA partners.

February 23, 2015

Exports Lag 20%, Trade Deficits Surge 427% under "Free Trade" Deals

A recent parade of reports from corporate lobbies and think tanks has played a familiar but discordant refrain, alleging that more of the same "free trade" agreements (FTAs) would boost U.S. exports and reduce the U.S. trade deficits that displace U.S. jobs.  It sounds nice.  But this tired promise is simply not supported by the data.  

According to the official government trade data from the U.S. International Trade Commission, the aggregate U.S. goods trade deficit with FTA partners is more than five times as high as before the deals went into effect, while the aggregate trade deficit with non-FTA countries has actually fallen. The key differences are soaring imports into the United States from FTA partners and lower growth in U.S. exports to those nations than to non-FTA nations.

Why do we keep hearing arguments that more of the same will produce different results?  Well, if you (or your corporate backers) wanted to Fast Track through Congress the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would expand the status quo FTA model, you might also find it convenient to parrot the standard FTA sales pitch of higher exports and lower trade deficits.  In doing so, you would need to ignore these facts:

  • Growth of U.S. goods exports to FTA partners has been 20% lower than U.S. export growth to the rest of the world over the last decade (annual average growth of 5.3 percent to non-FTA nations vs. 4.3 percent to FTA nations from 2004 to 2014). 
  • The aggregate U.S. goods trade deficit with FTA partners has increased by about $144 billion, or 427 percent, since the FTAs were implemented. In contrast, the aggregate trade deficit with all non-FTA countries has decreased by about $95 billion, or 11 percent, since 2006 (the median entry date of existing FTAs). See the chart below. Using the Obama administration’s net exports-to-jobs ratio, the FTA trade deficit surge implies the loss of about 780,000 U.S. jobs.
  • The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) contributed the most to the widening FTA deficit – under NAFTA, the U.S. trade deficit with Canada has ballooned and a U.S. trade surplus with Mexico has turned into a nearly $100 billion deficit.
  • More recent deals have produced similar results. Since the 2011 passage of the Korea FTA, the U.S. template for the TPP, the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has already surged 72 percent.

FTA deficits

“Higher Standards” Have Failed to Alter FTA Legacy of Ballooning Trade Deficits

Some proponents of status quo trade have claimed that post-NAFTA FTAs have included higher standards and thus have yielded trade balance improvements. But the Korea FTA included the higher labor and environmental standards of the May 10, 2007 deal, and still the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has grown over 70 percent in the three years since the deal’s passage. Meanwhile, most post-NAFTA FTAs that have resulted in (small) trade balance improvements did not contain the “May 10” standards. The evidence shows no correlation between an FTA’s inclusion of “May 10” standards and its trade balance impact. Reducing the massive U.S. trade deficit will require a more fundamental rethink of the core status quo trade pact model extending from NAFTA through the Korea FTA, not more of the same.

Corporate FTA Boosters Omit Imports, Use Errant Methods to Claim Higher Exports under FTAs

Members of Congress will invariably be shown data by defenders of our status quo trade policy that appear to indicate that FTAs have generated an export boom. Indeed, to promote congressional support for new NAFTA-style FTAs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) have funded an entire body of research designed to create the appearance that the existing pacts have both boosted exports and reversed trade deficits with FTA partner countries. This work relies on several methodological tricks that fail basic standards of accuracy:

  • Ignoring imports: U.S. Chamber of Commerce studies regularly omit mention of soaring imports under FTAs, instead focusing only on exports. But any study claiming to evaluate the net impact of trade deals must deal with both sides of the trade equation. In the same way that exports are associated with job opportunities, imports are associated with lost job opportunities when they outstrip exports, as dramatically seen under FTAs.
  • Counting “foreign exports”: NAM has errantly claimed that the United States has a manufacturing surplus with FTA nations by counting foreign-made goods as “U.S. exports.” NAM’s data include “foreign exports” – goods made elsewhere that pass through the United States without alteration before being re-exported abroad. Foreign exports support zero U.S. production jobs and their inclusion distorts FTAs’ impacts on workers.
  • Omitting major FTAs: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly claimed that U.S. export growth is higher to FTA nations that to non-FTA nations by simply omitting FTAs that do not support their claim. One U.S. Chamber of Commerce study omitted all FTAs implemented before 2003 to estimate export growth. This excluded major FTAs like NAFTA that comprised more than 83 percent of all U.S. FTA exports. Given NAFTA’s leading role in the 427 percent aggregate FTA deficit surge, its omission vastly skews the findings.
  • Failing to correct for inflation: U.S. Chamber of Commerce studies that have claimed high FTA export growth have not adjusted the data for inflation, thus errantly counting price increases as export gains.
  • Comparing apples and oranges: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has claimed higher U.S. exports under FTAs by using two completely different methods to calculate the growth of U.S. exports to FTA partners (an unweighted average) versus non-FTA partners (a weighted average). This inconsistency creates the false impression of higher export growth to FTA partners by giving equal weight to FTA countries that are vastly different in importance to U.S. exports (e.g. Canada, where U.S. exports exceed $260 billion, and Bahrain, where they do not reach $1 billion), despite accounting for such critical differences for non-FTA countries.

February 10, 2015

2014 Trade Data Deal Further Blows to the Push for Fast Track

2014 Trade Data Reveal Surging U.S. Trade Deficits Under Korea FTA and NAFTA, and a Dramatic Failure to Meet Obama’s Export-Doubling Goal

Today’s release of the corrected 2014 annual trade data from the U.S. International Trade Commission reveal that President Barack Obama’s goal of doubling exports has failed dramatically, with a growing trade deficit with Korea under the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and a burgeoning non-fossil fuel trade deficit with North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners. Even as overall U.S. exports increased slightly due to growing U.S. fuel exports, manufacturing exports stagnated, according to projections. The data show that continuing with more-of-the-same trade policies would kill more middle-class jobs, dampen wages and increase income inequality – outcomes contrary to Obama’s “middle-class economics” agenda. The abysmal trade data are likely to reinforce congressional opposition to Obama’s bid to expand the status quo trade model by Fast Tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 

  • Obama’s Five-Year Export-Doubling Plan Failed, in Part Thanks to His 2011 Korea FTA: The context for Obama’s 2015 State of the Union ask for Fast Track for the TPP is the abysmal failure
    of his 2010 State of the Union trade initiative – a plan to double U.S. exports in five years. The 2014exportgoal2014 data show U.S. goods exports over those five years have increased by just 36 percent, falling more than $660 billion short. U.S. goods exports grew by less than 1 percent in 2014 – the same average rate of the prior two years. (The first two years of stronger export growth represented recovery from the worldwide crash in trade flows after the global financial crisis.) At the paltry 2012-2014 annual export growth rate, which is a fraction of the 4 percent average annual export growth seen in the decade before the Obama administration, Obama’s export-doubling goal would not be reached until 2057 – 43 years behind schedule.
  • U.S. Exports Declined Under the Korea FTA, While Imports and the U.S. Trade Deficit with Korea Soared: Today’s data release also reveals a 14 percent increase in the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea in 2014, marking the third consecutive year of substantial growth in the U.S. 2014koreatrade deficit with Korea since the 2011 passage of the Korea FTA, which U.S. negotiators used as the template for the TPP. The 2014 U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea topped $26 billion, a 72 percent increase over the trade deficit in 2011 before the FTA took effect. U.S. exports remain lower than the level before the FTA went into effect, as imports have increased 17 percent. Had U.S. exports to Korea continued to grow at the rate seen in the decade before the FTA’s implementation, exports would be about 18 percent, or $7 billion, higher in 2014 than they actually were. The resulting trade deficit increase represents more than 70,000 lost American jobs, according to the ratio the Obama administration used to project gains from the deal. Ironically, 70,000 is the number of jobs the Obama administration promised would be gained from the Korea FTA.
  • Non-Fuel NAFTA Trade Deficit Grows: The 2014 trade data are also projected to show a more than 12 percent, or $10 billion, increase in the non-fossil fuel U.S. goods trade deficit with NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico. The overall U.S. goods trade deficit with NAFTA partners, which also increased in 2014, has ballooned $155 billion, or 565 percent, under 21 years of the pact, reaching $182 billion in 2014.
  • Contrary to the Administration’s TPP Sales Pitch That More FTAs Would Boost U.S. Exports, U.S. Exports to FTA Partners Have Grown More Slowly Than U.S. Exports to the Rest of the World Over the Past Decade. Taking into account the data for 2014, average annual U.S. export growth to all non-FTA partners in the past 10 years outpaced that to FTA partners by 24 percent.
  • The United States Has a Large Trade Deficit with FTA Partners: Overall, the aggregate U.S. trade deficit with all U.S. FTA partners topped $177 billion in 2014, marking a more than $143 billion, or 427 percent, increase in the aggregate U.S. FTA trade deficit since the pacts were implemented. In contrast, the aggregate deficit with all non-FTA countries has decreased by more than $95 billion, or 11 percent, since 2006 (the median entry date of existing FTAs). Despite this, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman testified to Congress last month that we have a trade surplus with the group of FTA nations.

Heads Up for Distorted Data…

Given that the record of lagging U.S. exports and surging trade deficits under U.S. FTAs jeopardizes Obama’s prospects for obtaining Fast Track, the administration may try to obscure the results with distorted data. The USTR has taken to lumping foreign-made products in with U.S.-produced exports, which artificially inflates U.S. export figures and deflates U.S. trade deficits with FTA partners.

“Foreign exports,” also known as “re-exports,” are goods made abroad, imported into the United States, and then re-exported without undergoing any alteration in the United States. Foreign exports support zero U.S. production jobs. Each month, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) reports trade data with foreign exports removed, providing the official government data on made-in-America exports. But the USTR likely will choose to use the uncorrected raw data, as it has in the past, that the U.S. Census Bureau released last Thursday, which counts foreign-made goods as U.S. exports. Our figures are based on the corrected data.

By using the distorted data, the USTR may errantly claim an aggregate trade surplus with all U.S. FTA partners, though the actual 2014 U.S. goods trade balance with FTA partners is a more than $177 billion trade deficit. By counting foreign exports as “U.S. exports,” the USTR can artificially eliminate more than two-thirds of this FTA deficit, shrinking it to less than $57 billion. The USTR may misleadingly claim an FTA trade surplus by then adding services trade surpluses with FTA partners, which pale in comparison to the massive FTA trade deficit in goods when properly counting only American-made exports.

The USTR also may repeat its bogus claim that the United States has a trade surplus with its NAFTA partners by errantly including foreign exports as “U.S. exports,” removing fossil fuels and adding services trade data. But even after removing fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and adding services 2014naftare-exporttrade surpluses, the United States still had a projected NAFTA trade deficit of $50 billion in 2014. Indeed, the fossil fuels share of the NAFTA trade deficit declined in 2014, and U.S. exports of services to NAFTA partners fell, according to projections. The USTR can make its errant claim of a “NAFTA surplus” only by including foreign exports, which artificially reduces the NAFTA goods trade deficit to less than half of its actual size.

The USTR also may boast about an increase in U.S. exports to Korea in 2014, while ignoring the much larger increase in imports from Korea. While U.S. goods exports to Korea in 2014 increased by $2.3 billion, imports from Korea have risen by $5.6 billion, spelling a $3.3 billion increase in the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea in the third calendar year of the Korea FTA.

Moreover, U.S. exports to Korea have declined since the FTA went into effect and did not return to the pre-FTA level in 2014. Monthly imports from Korea repeatedly broke records in 2014, such as in October when imports from Korea topped $6.3 billion – the highest level on record.

Expect the administration to repeat the same data trick it employed last year with respect to U.S. auto sector exports to Korea. Exports to Korea of U.S.-produced Fords, Chryslers and General Motors vehicles increased by fewer than 3,100 vehicles per year in the first two years of the Korea FTA. But given that exports of “Detroit 3” vehicles before the FTA were also tiny – fewer than 8,200 vehicles per year – the USTR expressed the small increase as a significant percentage gain in a press release. The USTR did not mention that more than 184,000 additional Korean-produced Hyundais and Kias were imported and sold in the United States in each of the Korea FTA’s first two years, in comparison to the two years before the FTA, when Hyundai and Kia imports already topped 1 million vehicles per year.

February 03, 2015

If Pinocchio Were Trying to Sell a Controversial Trade Deal

Four Pinocchios.  That’s the rating, reserved only for the biggest whoppers, that The Washington Post has given to the Obama administration’s most recent assertion of truthiness about the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - that the deal could boost income and “support 650,000 new jobs” in the U.S. 

How far off was the administration’s claim that the deal could create 650,000 jobs?  By about 650,000 jobs. 

As Glenn Kessler, Washington Post fact-checker, explained, “the correct number is zero (in the long run), not 650,000, according to the very study used to calculate this number.”

That’s right – the study itself, from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, did not produce an estimate of job growth from the TPP.  Indeed, the study used an assumption of full employment, under which projected job gains would be precisely zero. 

The Peterson Institute has been hesitant to project employment impacts of controversial trade pacts since inaccurately predicting that NAFTA would create jobs, on the basis that the U.S. trade surplus with Mexico would rise.  Just two years into NAFTA, the $3 billion trade surplus with Mexico turned into a $26 billion trade deficit.  At that point, one of the study’s authors told The Wall Street Journal, “the lesson for me is to stay away from job forecasting.”

The Obama administration has yet to learn that lesson, apparently.  But how did the administration get a jobs number from a study that did not produce one?  (If this sounds familiar, the Chamber of Commerce pulled this same trick last year.)

The administration took the study’s projection that the TPP might yield a 0.4% increase in aggregate income in 2025 and used a back-of-the-envelope calculation to determine how many jobs could be created if that income went to new jobs instead. But then they claimed that the TPP not only could create these jobs, but simultaneously could create the income gains that they had just exhausted to produce their jobs prediction. 

In short, they double-counted, taking the Peterson Institute’s projection for the TPP’s economic impact and multiplying by two.

It’s hard to blame them – the study’s projection for the deal’s economic impact amounts to less than 40 cents per person per day in 2025 (at present value).  If you were selling the TPP, you’d want to double that too.  (Not that “less than 80 cents per day” is a great motto for a deal likely to make medicines more expensive, offshore jobs, and undermine health, environmental and financial protections.) 

But, you may say, let’s set aside the administration’s fast-and-loose numbers – don’t the Peterson Institute results still mean income gains from the TPP, however meager?  

That depends – do you make more than $88,330 per year?  If not, you’d be more likely to see income losses from the deal - not gains. 

The Peterson study made no attempt to determine the impact that the TPP would have on inequality, despite an academic consensus that trade flows under such deals have exacerbated U.S. income inequality.  So, in a study in 2013, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) took the projected TPP gains from the Peterson Institute study and added an analysis of how the TPP would affect income inequality.  Taking the Peterson Institute's income projections as given, CEPR used the empirical evidence on the trade-inequality relationship to show that even with the most conservative estimate of trade's contribution to inequality (that trade is responsible for just 10 percent of the recent rise in inequality), the losses from projected TPP-produced inequality would wipe out the tiny projected gains for the median U.S. worker.  

If one assumes the still-conservative estimate that recent trade flows have been responsible for 15 percent of the rise in inequality, then CEPR calculates that the TPP would mean wage losses for all but the richest 10 percent of U.S. workers.  So if you're making less than $88,330 per year (the current 90th percentile wage), the TPP would mean a pay cut.  

And that’s probably still too kind to the TPP, given that it requires accepting the array of outsized assumptions that the Peterson Institute used to produce its small income gain projection.  Nearly half of the study’s projected income gains come from what the study presumes will be a surge in foreign investment resulting from the TPP. But a raft of studies has produced, at best, contradictory evidence as to whether or not TPP-like investment protections included in past trade and investment agreements have actually had any impact on foreign investment.  Indeed, the most recent studies have concluded that such terms have failed to boost foreign investment.  If the Peterson study reflected this reality, the projected aggregate income gain (which would only reach the pockets of the wealthiest) would be halved.

The study also assumes that the workers who the TPP would displace would be able to rapidly find new jobs and that these new jobs would be just as high-paying as the old jobs, meaning no negative impact on consumer demand.  This runs counter to U.S. government data.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, three out of every five displaced workers in the manufacturing sector (where we could expect significant TPP-induced displacement) were forced to take a lower paying job upon being rehired last year.  For one third, the pay cut was more than 20%.  Why should we assume that the same losses would not befall TPP-displaced manufacturing workers?   

The Peterson study itself projects that during the final years of TPP implementation, about 100,000 U.S. workers would be displaced each year, and that’s only counting those who take jobs in entirely new sectors.  It’s unreasonable to assume that job replacements for all these workers would be immediate, that pay cuts would be nonexistent, and that there would be zero resulting impact on demand.  Back in reality, the hit to consumer demand would depress further the tiny aggregate income gain projected from the deal, spelling even tinier gains for the richest and even steeper income losses for the rest of us. 

So yes, the administration’s claim of 650,000 jobs from the TPP definitely deserves its four Pinocchios.  Or, to borrow a card from the administration, let’s call it eight.  

January 28, 2015

10 Tall Tales on Trade: Fact-Checking Obama’s Top Trade Official

Yesterday was a difficult day for U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman.  He had to go before Congress and explain how the administration’s plan to expand a trade model that has offshored U.S. manufacturing jobs and exacerbated middle class wage stagnation fits with President Obama’s stated “middle class economics” agenda.

Inconveniently for Mr. Froman, it does not.

That did not stop Froman from trying to paint the last two decades of Fast-Tracked, pro-offshoring trade deals – and the administration’s plan for more of the same – as a gift to the middle class. 

The facts he cited to support this depiction actually sounded great.  They just didn’t have the added advantage of being true. 

Here’s a rundown of the top 10 fibs and half-truths that Froman uttered before the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee yesterday in his sales pitch for the administration’s bid to expand the NAFTA “trade” pact model by Fast-Tracking through Congress the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

1. Fast Track Puts Congress in the Driver’s Seat (of a Runaway Car, without Brakes or a Steering Wheel)

Froman: “[Fast Track] puts Congress in the driver’s seat to define U.S. negotiating objectives and priorities for trade agreements.”

Okay, let’s go with this analogy.  If reviving Fast Track puts Congress in the driver’s seat, it also removes the brakes and steering wheel.  Reviving Fast Track would empower the administration to negotiate and sign a sweeping “trade” pact like the TPP – implicating everything from the cost of medicines to the safety of food to the reform of Wall Street – before Congress had any enforceable say over the deal’s contents, even if they contradicted Congress’ stated negotiating objectives.  Goodbye steering wheel.  Congress’ role would be relegated to an expedited, no-amendments, limited-debate vote on the already-signed deal.  Goodbye brakes. 

Also, if we’re talking about Fast Tracking the TPP, the car is already going 60mph.  As a couple of members of Congress pointed out to Froman, the administration has been negotiating the TPP for more than five years, and Froman himself stated that TPP negotiations are in their endgame.  Even if Froman’s assertion were true that Fast Track allows Congress to define priorities for trade agreements (rather than ensuring that such priorities are not enforceable), it’s a little late for members of Congress to be naming priorities for a deal that has been under negotiation since 2009 and that Froman hopes to close in the coming months.

2. A Trade Surplus with Our FTA Partners (Does Not Appear in Official Government Data)

Froman: “You take all of our FTA partners as a whole, [and] we have a trade surplus. And that trade surplus has grown.”  Froman also claimed that the United States has a trade surplus in manufactured goods with its FTA partners.  And he tried to use red herrings to explain away the surging U.S. trade deficit with Korea under the Korea FTA.

These claims defy official U.S. government data.  Data from the U.S. International Trade Commission show that the United States has a $180 billion U.S. goods trade deficit with all free trade agreement (FTA) partners (in 2013, the latest year on record).  In manufactured goods, the United States has a $51 billion manufacturing trade deficit with all FTA partners.  Froman claimed otherwise, in part, by counting billions of dollars’ worth of "foreign exports" – goods produced abroad that simply pass through the United States without alteration before being “re-exported.”  These goods, by definition, do not support U.S. production jobs.

Contributing to our FTA deficit is the 50 percent surge in the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea in just the first two years of the Korea FTA, which literally was used as the U.S. template for the TPP. This deficit increase, owing to a drop in exports and rise in imports, spells the loss of more than 50,000 American jobs in the FTA's first two years, according to the ratio used by the administration to claim the pact would create jobs. Froman tried to explain away the ballooning U.S. trade deficit under the Korea FTA as due to decreases in corn and fossil fuel exports.  But even if discounting both corn and fossil fuels, U.S. annual exports to Korea still fell under the FTA, and the annual trade deficit with Korea still soared.  Product-specific anomalies cannot explain away the broad-based downfall of U.S. exports to Korea under the FTA, which afflicted nine of the top 15 U.S. sectors that export to Korea. The disappointing results also cannot be blamed on low growth in Korea since the FTA.  Though Korea's growth rates in the last several years have not been spectacular, the economy has still grown since the FTA (3 percent in 2013), as has consumption (2.2 percent, adjusted for inflation, in 2013). Koreans are buying more goods, just not U.S. goods. 

 

3.  We Wish to Ensure Access to Affordable Medicines in the TPP (but Big Pharma Won’t Let Us)

Froman: “In negotiations, like TPP, we are working to ensure access to affordable life-saving medicines, including in the developing world, and create incentives for the development of new treatment and cures that benefit the world and which create the pipeline for generic drugs.”

These words play politics with people’s lives. They cloak the tragic reality that if the TPP would take effect as USTR has proposed, with leaks showing even greater monopoly protections for pharmaceutical corporations than in prior pacts, people would needlessly die for lack of access to affordable medicines. A new study finds, for example, that the TPP would dramatically reduce the share of Vietnam’s HIV patients who have access to life-saving antiretroviral medicines.  The study reveals that while 68 percent of Vietnam’s eligible HIV patients currently receive treatment, U.S.-proposed monopoly protections for pharmaceutical corporations in the TPP would allow only 30 percent of Vietnam’s HIV patients to access antiretrovirals.  As a result, an estimated 45,000 people with HIV in Vietnam who currently receive antiretroviral treatment would no longer be able to afford the life-saving drugs.

Froman also indicated in the Senate hearing that USTR is pushing to include a special monopoly protection for pharmaceutical firms that contradicts the Obama administration’s own stated objectives for reducing the cost of medicines in the United States. President Obama’s budget proposes to reduce a special monopoly protection for pharmaceutical firms with regard to biologic medicines – drugs used to combat cancer and other diseases that cost approximately 22 times more than conventional medicines.  To lower the exorbitant prices and the resulting burden on programs like Medicare and Medicaid, the Obama administration’s 2015 budget would reduce the period of Big Pharma's monopoly protection for biologics from 12 to seven years. The administration estimates this would save taxpayers more than $4.2 billion over the next decade just for federal programs. However, Froman suggested yesterday that USTR continues to push for the 12 years of corporate protection in the TPP, which would lock into place pharmaceutical firms’ lengthy monopolies here at home while effectively scrapping the administration’s own proposal to save billions in unnecessary healthcare costs.

4. Most Exporters are Small Businesses (that Have Endured Slow and Falling Exports under FTAs)

Froman: “15,600 firms export from Pennsylvania. Almost 90 percent of them are small and medium sized businesses. And the question is whether with these trade agreements we can create more opportunities for these kinds of businesses.”

Implying that exporting is mainly the domain of small businesses because they make up most exporting firms is like implying that the NBA is a league of short people because most NBA players are shorter than 7 feet tall.  The reason small and medium enterprises (defined as 500 employees or less) comprise most U.S. exporting firms is simply because they constitute 99.7 percent of U.S. firms overall (in the same way that those of us below 7 feet constitute more than 99 percent of the U.S. population).  The more relevant question is what share of small and medium firms actually depend on exports for their success. Only 3 percent of U.S. small and medium enterprises export any good to any country. In contrast, 38 percent of large U.S. firms are exporters.  Even if FTAs actually succeeded in boosting exports (which they don’t, per the government data noted below), exporting is primarily the domain of large corporations, not small businesses.

As for whether “with these trade agreements we can create more opportunities” for small firms, the record of past FTAs suggests not. Under the Korea FTA, U.S. small businesses have seen their exports to Korea decline even more sharply than large firms (a 14 percent vs. 3 percent downfall in the first year of the FTA). And small firms’ exports to Mexico and Canada under NAFTA have grown more slowly than their exports to the rest of the world. Small businesses’ exports to all non-NAFTA countries grew over 50 percent more than their exports to Canada and Mexico (74 percent vs. 47 percent) during a 1996-2012 window of data availability. The sluggish export growth owes in part to the fact that small businesses’ exports grew less than half as much as large firms’ exports to NAFTA partners (47 percent vs. 97 percent from 1996-2012).

5. We Try to Be Transparent (with the Corporate Advisors Who Can Access Secret Texts)

Froman: “And to ensure these agreements are balanced, we seek a diversity of voices in America’s trade policy. The Administration has taken unprecedented steps to increase transparency… We have held public hearings soliciting the public’s input on the negotiations and suspended negotiating rounds to host first-of-a-kind stakeholder events so that the public can provide our negotiators with direct feedback on the negotiations.”

“A diversity of voices” is an odd way to describe the more than 500 official trade advisors with privileged access to secretive U.S. trade texts and U.S. trade negotiators.  About nine out of ten of these advisors explicitly represent industry interests. Just 10 of the more than 500 advisors (less than 2 percent) represent environmental, consumer, development, food safety, financial regulation, Internet freedom, or public health organizations.  It’s little wonder that so many of these groups, excluded from setting the content of the TPP, have denounced leaked TPP texts as presenting threats to the public interest.  And as for the claim of “unprecedented steps to increase transparency,” the reality is closer to the opposite. When the Bush administration negotiated the last similarly sweeping trade pact – the Free Trade Area of the Americas – USTR published the negotiating text online for anyone to see amid negotiations. In a step backwards from the degree of transparency exhibited by the Bush administration, the Obama administration has refused repeated calls from members of Congress and civil society organizations to release TPP texts. This secrecy limits the utility of the public hearings and stakeholder events that Froman touts, as it is difficult to opine on a text you are prohibited from seeing.

6. Supporting Manufacturing and Higher Wages (Is a Goal in Spite of Our Trade Policies)

Froman: “In 2015, the Obama Administration will continue to pursue trade policies aimed at supporting the growth of manufacturing and associated high-quality jobs here at home and maintaining American manufacturers’ competitive edge.”

The only objectionable word in this sentence is “continue.” Since NAFTA, we have endured a net loss of nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs – one out of every four – and more than 57,000 manufacturing facilities. While not all of those losses are due to NAFTA, the deal’s inclusion of special protections for firms that relocate abroad certainly contributed to the hemorrhaging of U.S. manufacturing. The U.S. manufactured goods trade balance with Canada and Mexico in NAFTA’s first 20 years changed from a $5 billion surplus in 1993 to a $64.9 billion deficit in 2013. The U.S. Department of Labor has certified (under one narrow program) more than 845,000 specific U.S. workers – many of them in manufacturing – as enduring “trade-related” job losses since NAFTA due to the offshoring of their factories to Mexico or Canada, or import competition from those countries. And under just two years of the Korea FTA, U.S. manufacturing exports to Korea have fallen. Overall, the United States has a $51 billion trade deficit in manufactured goods with its 20 FTA partners. Reviving manufacturing and reviving Fast Track for the NAFTA-expanding TPP are incompatible.

Froman: “At a time when too many workers haven't seen their paychecks grow in much too long, these jobs typically pay up to 18% more on average than non-export related jobs.” 

Froman neglects to mention a key reason that too many workers haven’t seen their paychecks grow: NAFTA-style deals have not only incentivized the offshoring of well-paying U.S. manufacturing jobs, but forced these workers to compete for lower-paid service sector jobs, which has contributed to downward pressure on wages even in non-offshoreable sectors.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about three out of every five displaced manufacturing workers who were rehired in 2014 experienced a wage reduction. About one out of every three displaced manufacturing workers took a pay cut of greater than 20 percent. As increasing numbers of American workers, displaced from better-paying jobs by current trade policies, have joined the glut of workers competing for non-offshoreable jobs in retail, hospitality and healthcare, real wages have actually been declining in these growing sectors. A litany of studies has produced an academic consensus that such trade dynamics have contributed to the historic increase in U.S. income inequality – the only debate is the degree to which trade is to blame. The TPP would not only replicate, but actually expand, NAFTA’s extraordinary privileges for firms that relocate abroad and eliminate many of the usual risks that make firms think twice about moving to low-wage countries like Vietnam – a TPP negotiating partner where minimum wages average less than 60 cents an hour, making the country a low-cost offshoring alternative to even China.

7. The TPP Supports an Internet that Is Open (to Lawsuits for Common Online Activity)

Froman: "We will continue to support a free and open Internet that encourages the flow of information across the digital world."

Repetition of this platitude has failed to assuage the concerns of Internet freedom groups that point out that leaked TPP texts do not support Froman’s assurances. In a July 2014 letter, an array of Internet service providers, tech companies, and Internet freedom groups wrote to Froman about leaked TPP copyright terms, some of which resemble provisions in the defeated Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which could “significantly constrain legitimate online activity and innovation.”  Noting the deal’s terms on Internet service provider liability, the groups stated, “We are worried about language that would force service providers throughout the region to monitor and policy their users’ actions on the internet, pass on automated takedown notices, block websites and disconnect Internet users.”

8. Our Exports Have Grown (More Quickly to Non-FTA Countries)

Froman: “Our total exports have grown by nearly 50 percent and contributed nearly one-third of our economic growth since the second quarter of 2009. In 2013, the most recent year on record, American exports reached a record high of $2.3 trillion...” “By opening rapidly expanding markets with millions of new middle-class consumers in parts of the globe like the Asia-Pacific, our trade agreements will help our businesses and workers access overseas markets...”

U.S. goods exports grew by a grand total of 0 percent in 2013.   The year before that, they grew by 2 percent.  As a result, the administration utterly failed to reach President Obama’s stated goal to double U.S. exports from 2009 to 2014. Most of the export growth Froman cites – which is less than half of the administration’s stated objective – came early in Obama’s tenure as a predictable rebound from the global recession that followed the 2007-2008 financial crisis.  At the abysmal export growth rate seen since then, we will not reach Obama’s stated goal to double 2009’s exports until 2054, 40 years behind schedule.  

Froman ironically uses this export growth drop-off to argue for more-of-the-same trade policy (e.g. the TPP).  The data simply does not support the oft-parroted pitch that we need TPP-style FTAs to boost exports.  In the first two years of the Korea FTA, U.S. exports to Korea have fallen 5 percent.  Overall, growth of U.S. exports to countries that are not FTA partners has exceeded U.S. export growth to countries that are FTA partners by 30 percent over the last decade.  That’s not a solid basis from which to argue, in the name of exports, for yet another FTA. 

And if we’re seeking to export to those countries that are growing the fastest, then the TPP is the wrong trade pact.  Of the TPP countries with which we do not already have an FTA, all but one are actually growing more slowly than the per capita growth rate of the East Asian and Pacific region overall.     

9. Increases in Food Exports (Have Been Swamped by a Surge in Food Imports)

Froman: “In 2013, U.S. farmers and ranchers exported a record $148.7 billion of food and agricultural goods to consumers around the world.”

Yes, U.S. food exports have increased, but not nearly as much as food imports. In 2013, the total volume of U.S. food exports stood just 0.5 percent higher than in 1995, while imports of food into the United States had more than doubled (growing 115 percent since 1995). Existing FTAs have contributed to the imbalanced food trade. The average annual U.S. agricultural deficit with Canada and Mexico under NAFTA’s first two decades reached $975 million, almost three times the pre-NAFTA level. And under the first two years of the Korea FTA, U.S. agricultural exports to Korea plummeted 34 percent. Smaller-scale U.S. family farms have been hardest hit. About 170,000 small U.S. family farms have gone under since NAFTA and NAFTA expansion pacts have taken effect, a 21 percent decrease in the total number.

10. The TPP Takes Heed of NAFTA’s Mistakes (and Builds on Them)

Froman: “I think the President has made clear that as we pursue a new trade policy, we need to learn from the experiences of the past and that’s certainly what we’re doing through TPP and the rest of our agenda. For example, when he was running for President, he said we ought to renegotiate NAFTA. What that meant was to make labor and environment not side issues that weren’t enforceable, but to bring labor and environment in the core of the agreement and make them enforceable just like any other provision of the trade agreement consistent with what Congress and the previous administration worked out in the so-called May 10th agreement.”

When candidate Obama said in 2008 that he would renegotiate NAFTA – a pact that had become broadly unpopular for incentivizing the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing jobs – most people probably didn’t imagine that he meant expanding those offshoring incentives further. But the TPP would extend further NAFTA’s extraordinary privileges for firms that relocate abroad to low-wage countries (like TPP negotiating partner Vietnam).  Most people also probably would not expect “learning from the experiences of the past” to lead to an expansion of the monopoly protections that NAFTA gave to pharmaceutical corporations, thereby reducing the availability of generics and increasing the cost of medicines. But Froman himself stated yesterday that such corporate protections – antithetical to textbook notions of “free trade” – are part of the TPP’s NAFTA-plus provisions.

And though Froman touts the May 10 deal as an improvement over NAFTA for labor rights, a recent government report has shown the May 10 provisions to be ineffective at curbing labor abuses in FTA partner countries. A November 2014 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found broad labor rights violations across all five surveyed FTA partner countries, regardless of whether or not the FTA included the labor provisions of the vaunted May 10 deal, including unionist murders in Colombia and impunity for union-busting in Peru.  Several of the TPP negotiating partners are notorious labor rights abusers – four of them were cited in a recent Department of Labor report for using child and/or forced labor. Vietnam, meanwhile, outright bans independent unions. Why would incorporation of the same terms that have failed to curb labor abuses in existing FTAs be expected to end the systematic labor rights abuses of TPP partners? 

And despite the May 10 deal’s environmental provisions, the TPP’s extraordinary investment provisions would empower thousands of foreign firms to bypass domestic courts, go before extrajudicial tribunals, and challenge new domestic environmental protections as "frustrating their expectations." Corporations have already used such foreign investor privileges under existing U.S. FTAs to attack a moratorium on fracking, renewable energy programs, and requirements to clean up oil pollution and industrial toxins.  Tribunals comprised of three private attorneys have already ordered taxpayers to pay hundreds of millions to foreign firms for such safeguards, arguing that they violate sweeping FTA-granted investor privileges that the TPP would expand.  Provisions, such as those in the May 10 deal, that call for countries to enforce their environmental laws sound hollow under a TPP that would simultaneously empower corporations to “sue” countries for said enforcement. 

January 20, 2015

Obama vs. Obama: The State of the Union's Self-Defeating Trade Pitch

In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama called for job creation, reduced income inequality, more affordable healthcare and better regulation of Wall Street. 

He also called for Fast Tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a controversial “trade” deal that would undermine all of the above.

Here's a side-by-side analysis of how Obama's push to Fast Track the TPP contradicts his own State of the Union agenda:

Obama’s Agenda

The TPP’s Counter-Agenda

Income Inequality: “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”

An “economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well” is actually the projected outcome of the TPP. A recent study finds that the TPP would spell a pay cut for all but the richest 10 percent of U.S. workers by exacerbating U.S. income inequality, just as past trade deals have done

Manufacturing revival: “More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.”

The TPP would give manufacturing firms a reason to offshore jobs to Vietnam, not bring them back from China. The TPP would expand NAFTA’s special protections for firms that offshore American manufacturing, including to Vietnam, where minimum wages are a fraction of those paid in China. Since NAFTA, we have endured a net loss of more than 57,000 U.S. manufacturing facilities and nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs.

American jobs: “So no one knows for certain which industries will generate the jobs of the future. But we do know we want them here in America.”

 

TPP rules would gut the popular Buy American preferences that require government-purchased goods to be made here in America, preventing us from recycling our tax dollars back into our economy to create U.S. jobs.

Exports: “Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages.”

Those who wish for more exports should wish for a different trade agenda. U.S. exports to countries that are part of TPP-like deals have actually grown slower than exports to the rest of the world, according to government data. Under the Korea deal that literally served as the template for the TPP, U.S. exports have actually fallen.

Small businesses: “21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas.”

Small businesses have endured declining exports and export shares under pacts serving as the model for the TPP. Small businesses suffered a steeper downfall in exports than large firms under the Korea trade pact, and small businesses’ export share has declined under NAFTA.

Economic growth: “Maintaining the conditions for growth and competitiveness. This is where America needs to go.”

An official U.S. government study finds that the economic growth we could expect from the TPP is precisely zero, while economists like Paul Krugman have scoffed at the deal’s economic significance.

Middle class wages: “Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages.”

The TPP would put downward pressure on middle class wages, just as NAFTA has, by offshoring the jobs of decently-paid American manufacturing workers and forcing them to compete for lower-paying, non-offshoreable jobs.

Legacy of past trade deals: “Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense.”

Past trade deals have resulted in massive trade deficits and job loss not because the pacts’ rules have been broken, but because of the rules themselves. The TPP would double down on NAFTA’s rules – the opposite of Obama’s promise to renegotiate the unpopular pact – by expanding NAFTA’s offshoring incentives, limits on food safety standards, restrictions on financial regulation and other threats to American workers and consumers.

Affordable medicines: “…middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change. That means helping folks afford …health care…”

The TPP would directly contradict Obama’s efforts to reduce U.S. healthcare costs by expanding monopoly patent protections that jack up medicine prices and by imposing restrictions on the U.S. government’s ability to negotiate or mandate lower drug prices for taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Wall Street regulation: “We believed that sensible regulations could prevent another crisis…Today, we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts, and a new consumer watchdog to protect us from predatory lending and abusive credit card practices…We can’t put the security of families at risk by…unraveling the new rules on Wall Street…”

Senator Warren has warned that the TPP could help banks unravel the new rules on Wall Street by prohibiting bans on risky financial products and “too big to fail” safeguards while empowering foreign banks to “sue” the U.S. government over new financial regulations.

Internet freedom: “I intend to protect a free and open internet…”

The TPP includes rules that implicate net neutrality and that would require Internet service providers to police our Internet activity – rules similar to those in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that was rejected as a threat to Internet freedom.

National interests: “But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen?”

With the TPP, multinational corporations want to write the rules that would put our workers at a disadvantage and undermine our national interests. TPP rules, written behind closed doors under the advisement of hundreds of official corporate advisers, would provide benefits for firms that offshore American jobs, help pharmaceutical corporations expand monopoly patent protections that drive up medicine prices, give banks new tools to roll back Wall Street regulations, and empower foreign firms to “sue” the U.S. government over health and environmental policies. Why would we let that happen? 

January 15, 2015

Obama’s Legacy: Middle-Class Jobs, Affordable Medicine and Financial Stability, or Fast-Tracked Trade Agreements – But Not Both

New Report ‘Prosperity Undermined’ Fact Checks Administration, Corporate Lobbyists and GOP Leadership With 20 Years of Data on Jobs, Economy

Fast Tracked trade deals have exacerbated the income inequality crisis, pushed good American jobs overseas, driven down U.S. wages, exploded the trade deficit and diminished small businesses’ share of U.S. exports, a new report from Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch shows. The report, “Prosperity Undermined,”compiles and analyzes 20 years of trade and economic data to show that the arguments again being made in favor of providing the Obama administration with Fast Track trade authority have repeatedly proved false.

President Barack Obama is expected to push Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The pact, initiated by George W. Bush, literally replicates most of the job-offshoring incentives and wage-crunching terms found in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and would roll back Obama administration achievements on health, financial regulation and more. 

“It’s not surprising that Democrats and Republicans alike are speaking out against Fast Track because it cuts Congress out of shaping trade pacts that most Americans believe cost jobs while empowering the president to sign and enter into secret deals before Congress approves them,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “In their speeches and commentary, the administration, corporate interests and GOP leadership disregard the real, detrimental impacts that previous fast tracked trade deals – which serve as the model for the Trans-Pacific Partnership – have had on America’s middle class over the past 20 years.”

With unprecedented unity among Democratic members of Congress, there will be a handful of Democratic House votes in favor of Fast Track. Last year, seven of 201 House Democrats  supported Fast Track legislation. Meanwhile, a sizable bloc of GOP House members oppose Fast Track, which would grant the president extensive new executive powers and delegate away core congressional constitutional authorities.

The new report shows a 20-year record of massive U.S. trade deficits, American job losses and wage suppression. More specifically, data show that:

  • Trade Deficits Have Exploded: U.S. trade deficits have grown more than 440 percent with Fast Tracked U.S. FTA countries since the pacts were implemented, but declined 16 percent with non-FTA countries during the relevant period. Since Fast Track was used to enact NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, the U.S. goods trade deficit has more than quadrupled, from $216 billion to $870 billion. Small businesses’ share of U.S. exports has declined, while U.S. export growth to countries that are not FTA partners has exceeded U.S. export growth to FTA partners by 30 percent over the past decade.  ‘
  • Good American Jobs Were Destroyed: Nearly 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs – one in four – were lost since the Fast Tracking of NAFTA and various NAFTA-expansion deals. Since NAFTA, more than 845,000 U.S. workers have been certified under just one narrow U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) program for Americans who have lost their jobs due to imports from Canada and Mexico and offshored factories to those countries.
  • U.S. Wages Have Stagnated, Inequality Soared: Three of every five manufacturing workers who lose jobs to trade and find reemployment take pay cuts, with one in three losing greater than 20 percent, according to DOL data. Overall, U.S. wages have barely increased in real terms since 1974 – the year that Fast Track was first enacted – while American worker productivity has doubled. Since Fast Track’s enactment, the share of national income captured by the richest 10 percent of Americans has shot up 51 percent, while that captured by the richest 1 percent has skyrocketed 146 percent. Study after study has revealed an academic consensus that status quo trade has contributed to today’s unprecedented rise in income inequality.
  • Food Exports Flat, Imports Soared: Under NAFTA and the WTO, U.S. food exports have stagnated while food imports have doubled. The average annual U.S. agricultural deficit with Canada and Mexico under NAFTA’s first two decades reached $975 million, almost three times the pre-NAFTA level. Approximately 170,000 small U.S. family farms have gone under since NAFTA and WTO took effect.
  • Damaging Results of Obama’s “New and Improved” Korea Trade Deal: Since the Obama administration used Fast Track to push a trade agreement with Korea, the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has grown 50 percent – which equates to 50,000 more American jobs lost. The U.S. had a $3 billion monthly trade deficit with Korea in October 2014 – the highest monthly U.S. goods trade deficit with the country on record. After the Korea FTA went into effect, U.S. small businesses’ exports to Korea declined more sharply than large firms’ exports, falling 14 percent.

“Big dollars for big corporations and special interests calling the shots – that’s what the American people hear when only the country’s top corporate lobbyists are shaping America’s trade agreements,” said Wallach. “With such high stakes, we cannot let the Fast Track process lock Congress and the public out of negotiations that will have lasting impacts on the livelihoods, rights and freedoms of American families, workers and businesses.”

Read the report.          

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.

December 11, 2014

At Export Council, Obama Expected to Urge Corporate Interests to Help Him Obtain New Fast Track Powers to Expand the Status Quo U.S. Free Trade Pact Model That Congressional Democrats, Obama’s Base Oppose

At today’s meeting of the President’s Export Council, President Barack Obama is expected to urge yet another audience dominated by the corporate interests that opposed his election to help him obtain broad new Fast Track trade powers. Obama’s Fast Track request faces opposition by most Democratic members of Congress and base organizations as well as a bloc of conservative Republicans.

Obama also is likely to tout the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact that would expand the status quo U.S. trade agreement model that has led to staggering U.S. trade deficits, job loss and downward pressure on wages. When Obama picked up TPP negotiations from former President George W. Bush in 2009, consumer and environmental organizations, unions and congressional Democrats urged him to use the process to implement his 2008 election campaign promises to replace the old U.S. trade model based on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Instead, the administration has sided with the corporate interests that represent the majority of the approximately 600 official U.S. trade advisors and has replicated many of NAFTA’s most damaging provisions in the TPP.

“With the TPP, Obama is doubling down on the old, failed NAFTA trade pact status quo and even expanding on some of the NAFTA provisions that promoted American job offshoring, flooded us with unsafe imported food and increased medicine prices,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Given the TPP terms that would newly empower thousands of foreign firms to attack American health and environmental laws in foreign tribunals, incentivize even more U.S. job offshoring and ban the use of Buy American and Buy Local preferences, most Americans would be better off with no deal than what is in store with the TPP.”

Obama’s efforts to obtain Fast Track in the 113th Congress were rebuffed, as almost all House Democrats and a bloc of House GOP members indicated opposition.

Obama’s efforts to push more-of-the-same trade policies have been sidelined by the dismal outcomes of his 2011 U.S.-Korea FTA: The trade deficit with Korea in the first two years of the pact. In fact, the record shows that U.S. export growth with U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners lags behind the rate of export growth with non-FTA nations. In addition, the aggregate U.S. trade deficit with the group of 20 countries with which the U.S. has FTAs has increased more than fivefold since the FTAs took effect, due in part to a massive NAFTA trade deficit.

December 09, 2014

Outside of TPP Negotiations, Protestors Declare "No Fast Track Ever!"

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As negotiators gather in Washington, D.C. this week for closed-door meetings on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), hundreds of activists from labor, environmental, consumer, human rights, public health, Internet freedom, faith and family farm activists joined concerned citizens to loudly make their voices heard outside of the secretive negotiations on Monday.  (Meanwhile, a select group of official trade “advisors,” largely representing corporations, enjoys unprecedented access to the TPP negotiators meeting behind closed doors).

The rallying cry from the activists, who gathered in front of the United States Trade Representative’s office, was loud and clear: "No Fast Track now, No Fast Track ever!  The TPP is a lost endeavor!"  

Fast Track was a controversial maneuver that allowed past presidents to railroad through Congress unpopular deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  Corporations have called for Fast Track to be revived to empower the Obama administration to unilaterally negotiate and sign the TPP before Congress gets an expedited vote, with no amendments allowed and debate strictly limited.

Fast Track faces widespread opposition in the U.S. Congress and among the U.S. public.  Though a Fast Track bill was tabled about one year ago, it has gone nowhere due to massive opposition from most Democrats and a sizeable bloc of Republicans.  This past September, nearly 600 organizations sent a letter opposing Fast Track to Chair Ron Wyden.  A poll earlier this year found that 62 percent of U.S. voters oppose Fast Tracking the TPP.  

Civil society and lawmakers have good reason to reject corporations' push to Fast Track the TPP. Although it’s impossible to know the full scope of the secret deal, leaks have confirmed some of the worst speculations: the TPP would empower corporations to offshore jobs, increase the price of medicines, weaken environmental standards, and chill domestic interest laws by "suing" the government for public interest policies that frustrate their "expectations." 

Given the stakes, the energy of the rally was high.  Protestors circled the building carrying signs and chanting the death knell of Fast Track and TPP: “Fast Track is a sneak attack -- we’re taking our democracy back! Good paying jobs are what we need, but TPP spells corporate greed!"

If you weren't able to make it to the rally, you can still make your voice heard by writing to your member of Congress to urge them to voice their opposition to Fast Tracking the TPP.

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December 04, 2014

Obama Laments Inequality, Calls for Another Inequality-Spurring Trade Deal

Yesterday President Obama, speaking to a room full of corporate executives, tried to downplay the contribution of corporate-pushed trade deals to the historic rise in U.S. income inequality.  

Obama knew his audience -- corporate representatives eager to expand the status quo trade model by Fast Tracking through Congress the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are probably keen to deny that this model has been exacerbating inequality.  

But such denial defies a consensus position among economists that recent trade flows have indeed contributed to today's yawning gap between rich and poor -- the only debate is how big of a role status quo trade has played.  

It also defies U.S. public opinion -- in a recent Pew poll, a mere 17 percent of the U.S. public thought that trade has boosted U.S. wages, while 45 percent, across the political spectrum, saw trade as contributing to falling wages for U.S. workers.

Obama acknowledged yesterday that TPP proponents will have a tough time arguing that this time is different -- that reviving Fast Track authority in attempt to push through Congress another more-of-the-same trade pact would not fuel further inequality growth. Fast Track was the Nixon-created maneuver that allowed the executive branch to railroad through Congress controversial, inequality-spurring pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by negotiating and signing the pacts before Congress got an expedited, no-amendments, limited-debate vote.  A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research finds that were the TPP to be Fast Tracked through Congress, all but the wealthiest among us would lose more to inequality increases than we would gain in cheaper goods, spelling a pay cut for 90 percent of U.S. workers.

Recognizing the unpopularity of Fast Track and the TPP, Obama told the business executives: “There are folks in my own party and in my own constituency that have legitimate complaints about some of the trend lines of inequality, but are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to opposing TPP, and I’m going to have to make that argument.”

Having to make that argument is not an enviable position -- it requires explaining away decades of evidence that Fast-Tracked deals have fostered greater U.S. income inequality.  Here's a sampling of that evidence:

U.S. Wages Stagnate, Despite Doubled Worker Productivity

  • Trade agreement investor privileges promote offshoring of production from the United States to low-wage nations. Today’s “trade” agreements contain various investor privileges that reduce many of the risks and costs previously associated with relocating production from developed countries to low-wage developing countries. Thus, many imports now entering the United States come from companies originally located in the United States and other wealthy countries that have moved production to low-wage countries. For instance, nearly half of China’s exports are now produced by foreign enterprises, not Chinese firms. Underlying this trend is what the Horizon Project called the “growing divergence between the national interests of the United States and the interests of many U.S. multinational corporations which, if given their druthers, seem tempted to offshore almost everything but consumption.” American workers effectively are now competing in a globalized labor market where some poor nations’ workers earn less than 10 cents per hour.
  • Manufacturing workers displaced by trade have taken significant pay cuts. The United States has lost millions of manufacturing jobs during the Fast Track era, but overall unemployment has been largely stable (excluding recessions) as new low-paying service sector jobs have been created. Proponents of status quo trade raise the quantity of jobs to claim that Fast Tracked deals have not hurt U.S. workers. But what they do not mention is that the quality of jobs available, and the wages most U.S. workers can earn, have been degraded. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about three out of every five displaced manufacturing workers who were rehired in 2014 experienced a wage reduction. About one out of every three displaced manufacturing workers took a pay cut of greater than 20 percent. For the average manufacturing worker earning more than $47,000 per year, this meant an annual loss of at least $10,000.
  • Trade policy holds back wages even of jobs that can’t be offshored. Economists have known for more than 70 years that all workers with similar skill levels – not just manufacturing workers – will face downward wage pressure when U.S. trade policy creates a selective form of “free trade” in goods that non-professional workers produce. When workers in manufacturing are displaced and seek new jobs, they add to the supply of U.S. workers available for non-offshorable, non-professional jobs in hospitality, retail, health care and more. As increasing numbers of American workers, displaced from better-paying jobs by current trade policies, have joined the glut of workers competing for these non-offshorable jobs, real wages have actually been declining in these growing sectors
  • The bargaining power of American workers has been eroded by threats of offshoring. In the past, American workers represented by unions were able to bargain for their fair share of economic gains generated by productivity increases. But the investor protections in today’s trade agreements, by facilitating the offshoring of production, alter the power dynamic between workers and their employers. For instance, a study for the North American Commission on Labor Cooperation – the body established in the labor side agreement of NAFTA – showed that after passage of NAFTA, as many as 62 percent of U.S. union drives faced employer threats to relocate abroad, and the factory shut-down rate following successful union certifications tripled.
  • Even accounting for Americans’ access to cheaper imported goods, the current trade model’s downward pressure on wages outweighs those gains, making most Americans net losers.  Trade theory states that while those specific workers who lose their jobs due to imports may suffer, the vast majority of us gain from trade “liberalization” because we can buy cheaper imported goods. But when the non-partisan Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) applied the actual data to the trade theory, they discovered that when you compare the lower prices of cheaper goods to the income lost from low-wage competition under current policies, the trade-related losses in wages hitting the vast majority of American workers outweigh the gains in cheaper goods from trade. U.S. workers without college degrees (63 percent of the workforce) have lost an amount equal to 12.2 percent of their wages, even after accounting for the benefits of cheaper goods. That means a net loss of more than $3,400 per year for a worker earning the median annual wage of $28,000.

Income Inequality Increases in America

  • The inequality between rich and poor in America has jumped to levels not seen since the robber baron era. The richest 10 percent of Americans are now taking more than half of the economic pie, while the top 1 percent is taking more than one fifth. Wealthy individuals’ share of national income was stable for the first several decades after World War II, but shot up 51 percent for the richest 10 percent and 146 percent for the richest 1 percent between 1974 and 2012 – the Fast Track era. Is there a connection to trade policy?
  • Longstanding economic theory states that trade will increase income inequality in developed countries. In the 1990s a spate of economic studies put the theory to the test, resulting in an academic consensus that trade flows had indeed contributed to rising U.S. income inequality. The pro-“free trade” Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), for example, found that nearly 40 percent of the increase in U.S. wage inequality was attributable to U.S. trade flows. In 2013, when the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) updated an oft-cited 1990s model estimate of trade’s impact on U.S. income inequality, it found that using the model’s own conservative assumptions, one third of the increase in U.S. income inequality from 1973 to 2011 – the Fast Track era – was due to trade with low-wage countries. The role of trade escalated rapidly from 1995 to 2011 – a period marked by a series of Fast-Tracked “free trade” deals – EPI found that 93 percent of the rise in income inequality during this period resulted from trade flows. Expressed in dollar terms, EPI estimates that trade’s inequality-exacerbating impact spelled a $1,761 loss in wages in 2011 for the average full-time U.S. worker without a college degree.
  • Changes in technology or education levels do not fully account for American wage pressures. Some have argued that advances in computer technology explain why less technologically-literate American workers have been left behind, asserting that more education – rather than a different trade policy – is how America will prosper in the future. While more education and skills are desirable for many reasons, these goals alone will not solve the problems of growing inequality. First, as documented in a Federal Reserve Bank paper, inequality started rising as systematic U.S. trade deficits emerged, in the early Fast Track period, far before most workers reported using computers on the job. Second, college-educated workers have seen their wage growth stagnate, even in technologically sophisticated fields like engineering. Thus, addressing trade policy, not only better educating American workers, will be an essential part of tackling rising income inequality.

December 01, 2014

U.S. Workers Should Not Be Pitted against Child Labor in Vietnam

by Global Trade Watch intern Allie Gardner

You’ve likely heard about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping deal under negotiation that would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) model of trade across the Pacific.  And you probably know of the damaging effects the TPP would have on American jobs, public health, food safety, and Internet freedom.  But have you heard what the TPP would mean for labor rights? 

Vietnam, one of the countries negotiating the TPP, is notorious for its labor rights abuses.  Today, the Department of Labor issued a report declaring Vietnam as one of just four countries in the world that uses both child labor and forced labor in the apparel sector.

Through the use of such unethical labor practices, in addition to union repression and abysmal wages, Vietnam has been able to keep its production costs low. Under the TPP, U.S. businesses and workers would be forced to directly compete with Vietnamese firms on this uneven playing field.

A report last year by the Worker Rights Consortium found the Vietnamese apparel industry guilty of “the trafficking of persons as young as twelve years old from rural areas to work in ‘slave labor factories’… in Ho Chi Minh City.”  In another recent report on Vietnam, the International Labour Organization revealed that more than nine out of ten Vietnamese factories it audited were violating the legal overtime limit for workers, who still did not earn a living wage. The average minimum wage in Vietnam is 52 cents per hour, half of the average minimum wage in China

Given Vietnam’s labor abuses, in addition to human rights violations such as an increased crackdown on political dissidents, voices ranging from the Washington Post editorial board to Human Rights Watch have lambasted the Obama administration’s plan to sign the TPP with Vietnam.  

You can add your voice to this chorus of support for labor and human rights: ask your congressional representatives to say no to Fast Tracking the TPP. Tell them that U.S. workers should not be pitted against workers in Vietnam whose basic rights are being violated.

While telling Congress to say no to unfair trade, you can also say yes to fair trade. Tomorrow is “Fair Tuesday,” an opportunity to support workers by buying fairly traded products that respect their rights.  Because the apparel and textile industries are part of buyer-driven commodity chains, consumers have the power to influence production practices by selectively buying from only those brands and companies that choose to treat their workers well. 

Just as consumer activism means telling companies we do not support unethical labor practices, political activism means telling Congress that we do not support trade deals with countries in which such labor abuses are rampant.  As this year’s holiday shopping season gets underway, say yes to workers’ rights by saying no to the TPP

November 21, 2014

Activists Worldwide Rally Against the TPP

While leaders from the 12 countries negotiating the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement met around the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in China to discuss the agreement, activists and civil society from across the globe decided to stage some events of their own.

Throughout the week, rallies, creative actions, meetings, and town halls were planned in a number of countries to draw attention to the secret deal that threatens to limit domestic policies that promote food safety, access to medicine, internet freedom, and environmental protection. The deal would also empower corporations to sue governments in extrajudicial foreign tribunals, challenging public interest laws that they claim frustrate their expectations. (And that’s just what we know based on leaked texts, because the negotiations are taking place entirely in secret).

 

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 Over 700,000 petitions against Fast Track are delivered to U.S. Congress

In the United States, a broad coalition of labor unions, environmental, consumer, faith, online, and other groups assembled on Capitol Hill to deliver 713,674 petition signatures opposing “Fast Track,” the Nixon-era procedure that would empower President Obama to sign the deal before Congress is able to vote on it. Corporations are trying to revive Fast Track to railroad the TPP through Congress, as it would greatly limit lawmakers’ oversight over the content of the agreement by only allowing 20 hours of debate and forcing an up or down vote (with no opportunity for amendments).

The groups also launched an online campaign resulting in thousands of calls and hundreds of thousands of e-mails to Members of Congress urging them to vote “No” on Fast Track. Across the country, 20 rallies and town halls brought the anti-Fast Track message to lawmakers’ home districts.

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  Thousands protest against the TPP in New Zealand

More than 10,000 New Zealanders took to the streets in 17 locations to protest the TPP, gaining national news attention and social media buzz, and pushing the #TPPANoWay hashtag to number 2 worldwide. Protesters were joined by lawmakers from a number of political parties, including leaders from the Green Party and Labour Party. Participants rallied against the secrecy of the negotiating process and TPP's inclusion of the controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, among other issues.

Meanwhile in Japan, 50 activists staged an action outside of Prime Minster Shinzō Abe’s official residence in opposition to the TPP. More than 100 individuals representing farmers, labor groups, consumer organizations, medical advocates, lawyers, and university professors met with Japanese lawmakers to discuss concerns related to the TPP.

A number of flash mobs were organized around Australia. Opposition to the TPP was heard in Sydney, Canberra, Perth, Hobart, Adelaide, and Melbourne. A few days later, concerns about the TPP were represented during G-20 educational forums and protests which attracted thousands.

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    Australian protestors rally against the TPP in Perth, Hobart, and Sydney

While negotiators and corporate advisors are hiding their agenda in confidential documents, activists worldwide are spreading their concerns on the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail blasts. While leaders and trade ministers are meeting behind closed doors in undisclosed locations, thousands of citizens are responding by gathering on the streets, in libraries, town halls, and their lawmakers’ offices.

The message of citizens across the globe is clear: we are not willing to accept a "trade" deal negotiated in secret in the interest of corporations and at the expense of our rights to safety, democracy, and health.  

November 18, 2014

A Letter to Fair Trade Activists: While They Play Poker, Let’s Play Chess

Is President Obama really going to sell us out on trade? Did Sen. McConnell have a full or half smile in the last press conference where he talked about Fast Track? Is Rep. Boehner really going to have a showdown with President Obama over immigration and how will that impact Fast Track? What about the news stories stating that TPP will be signed next month? Oh, and how do the XL pipeline and deal with China on carbon emissions factor in?

Comrades, don’t let the results of the elections, and the political posturing that’s happened since, drive you crazy, distract you, or cause you to lose hope. We have a path to victory! Democrats lost control of the Senate, but we did not lose control over our campaign to stop corporate-driven, job-offshoring, democracy-stifling “free trade” agreements by stopping President Obama from getting Fast Track trade authority. In fact, we have a chance to bury Fast Track once and for all.

Don’t mistake my resolve and optimism as a suggestion that our victory is inevitable. Nothing can be further from the truth. We’re going to have to dig deep and fight harder than we ever have. There’s a giant corporate lobby fighting for Fast Track because they want the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) more than they’ve wanted any other trade deal. All their hopes and dreams for a global race to the bottom are wrapped up in the TPP. I live in Washington, D.C. and see the lobbying firsthand. Our opponents are out in full force. But over the past two years I’ve seen a bigger force. I’ve seen the power of us.

Truth be told, President Obama could have had Fast Track a long time ago. But we’ve been on the case day in and day out and we’ve stopped Fast Track thus far. This past Saturday, November 15, marked the one year anniversary of the game-changing letter to President Obama that Reps. Rosa DeLauro and George Miller released in which 151 Democratic members of the House of Representatives stated that, “…we will oppose ‘Fast Track’ Trade Promotion Authority or any other mechanism delegating Congress’ constitutional authority over trade policy that continues to exclude us from having a meaningful role in the formative stages of trade agreements and throughout negotiating and approval processes.” And just three days prior, on November 12 a block of Republican members of the House of Representatives sent their own letters voicing their opposition to Fast Track to President Obama. Can you believe that it’s already been a year?! Our work together has been extraordinary, truly. We’ve been steady and consistent and we surely can’t stop and won’t stop now.

While the President and some congressional leaders sit in backrooms on Capitol Hill playing poker with the lives of over 800 million people across the world, let’s play chess. The fight to stop Fast Track has always been and will continue to be won or lost in the U.S. House of Representatives. Learning about the history of Fast Track will give you insightful perspective. Above all, don’t let the opposition distract us from our strategic path to victory. The corporate lobby is hard at work spinning a narrative of the inevitability of Fast Track because Republicans gained control of the Senate. That’s simply not reflective of reality. They’re trying to psych us out. In fact, here’s what Lori Wallach thinks:

“…a close look at the interplay of the actual politics and policy on Fast Track and the TPP show that the GOP election sweep may, counterintuitively, actually not promote the corporate trade agenda.”

Our strategy must remain sharp and vision focused on stopping Fast Track in this current Lame Duck session of Congress and in 2015 by demanding that our representatives vote NO on Fast Track. House, House, House!

Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure and honor of working with activists from all over the country. I’ve been lucky to reconnect with folks who were a part of the historic Battle in Seattle and Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests. Wow, we’ve been at this a long time! But back to my point, the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999 and the FTAA protests in Miami in 2003 remind us that we indeed do have the power to shut these “free trade” agreements down! But here’s the thing, we don’t need another Seattle to stop the TPP and Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). All we have to do is stop Fast Track. That’s our greatest contribution to the international campaign to stop the TPP and TAFTA. So, keep up the great work!

Gather your comrades, build your resources, stay focused on the House of Representatives and steel yourself for the fight of a lifetime. Stopping Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership is so much more than a victory for fair trade. Stopping Fast Track now is about putting business-as-usual to rest and building a space for us to shape the future and world we all want to live in. Almost every issue that we care about (good-paying jobs, food safety, access to affordable medicines, environmental protections, Internet freedom, democracy, workers’ rights and much more) will be significantly negatively impacted if Congress gives President Obama the authority to ram TPP through congress and down the throats of people across the world.

Ring the alarm, my friends! It’s time and this time is ours. Stay strong. Keep focused. Stop Fast Track!

In solidarity,

Alisa

P.S. Help spread the word! Share this great new video about the dangers of the TPP and tell everyone you know about www.ExposeTheTPP.org. It’s up to us!

November 12, 2014

176 Million Workers Call to Stop TPP Negotiations

Opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the controversial trade pact being secretly negotiated between 12 Pacific Rim nations, continues to balloon. This week 176 million workers from the world’s largest trade union added their voice to the growing list of organizations and individuals speaking out against the trade pact.

On Tuesday, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) released a statement calling on governments to halt TPP negotiations. The ITUC’s opposition to the TPP is significant not only because of the union's size, but also its breadth of representation: the ITUC has 325 affiliates in 161 countries and territories, including major labor unions in 9 of the 12 TPP countries.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, explained the confederation's declaration of TPP opposition: “This secretive trade deal is good for some multinational corporations, but deeply damaging to ordinary people and the very role of governments. Corporate interests are at the negotiating table, but national parliaments and other democratic actors are being kept in the dark. What we do know, much of it through leaks, is that this proposed deal is not about ensuring better livelihoods for people, but about giving multinational companies a big boost to profits. Governments should shut down the negotiations, and not re-open them unless they get genuine and transparent public mandates at home that put people’s interest in the centre.”

ITUC's concerns are widely shared: the pact is being negotiated in secret, excluding the input of civil society, experts, and lawmakers, while providing significant access to corporate interests. Also addressed in ITUC's statement is the TPP's inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement, a provision which empowers corporations to "sue" national governments before extrajudicial tribunals and demand compensation for "expected future profits" if they feel a country's domestic policies have undermined special rights for foreign firms. The statement also mentions that the TPP would likely increase the cost of life-saving medicines (a worry validated by the recent leak of the Intellectual Property chapter).

Despite these concerns, TPP negotiators are moving ahead quickly to try to finish the beleaguered deal. Earlier this week, TPP country leaders met around the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to discuss the TPP. U.S. President Obama urged leaders to work to "break some of the remaining logjams" of the agreement. Those "logjams" include environmental protections, policies ensuring affordable medicine, and safeguards on sovereignty and democracy.

While negotiators continue to miss deadlines to close the deal, opposition continues to grow among labor unions, activists, lawmakers, environmental advocates, consumer organizations, economists, and a wide-array of other individuals and groups. Negotiators and governments should heed ITUC's call, halt the TPP negotiations, and take a moment to reflect on exactly what why there is so much disapproval of the TPP.  

November 05, 2014

What the 2014 Election Results Mean for Trade Policy

Fast Track’s Chances Diminished by GOP Senate Sweep; Obama Flexibility on Japan Agriculture Market Access in TPP Reduced; Bipartisan Campaigning Against Status Quo Trade Policy Heightens Public Awareness

The GOP takeover of the U.S. Senate probably reduces the chances that President Barack Obama gets Fast Track at all before his presidency is over or that a deal is completed on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). There has been a major corporate PR campaign to push the opposite narrative. However, a close look at the interplay of the actual politics and policy on Fast Track and the TPP show that the GOP election sweep may, counterintuitively, actually not promote the corporate trade agenda.

Fast Track: The issue is not who is Senate Majority leader. The fight over trade authority is always won or lost in the U.S. House of Representatives. Recall that second-term Democratic President Bill Clinton lost a bid for Fast Track in 1998 in the GOP-controlled House with 171 Democrats and 71 GOP members voting “no.” (Clinton had Fast Track for only two of his eight years. Indeed, in the past two decades, the only president to obtain Fast Track was President George W. Bush, and winning that five-year grant required a two-year effort at the start of Bush’s first term and a lot of political capital, after which Fast Track passed by one vote in a GOP-controlled House in 2002.)

The reason that the GOP controlling the Senate could make Fast Track’s passage less likely is related to who will now be writing a trade authority bill. The old Fast Track trade authority mechanism faces a significant bloc of GOP House opposition and virtually no House Democratic support. Outgoing Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had undertaken an inclusive process to get input to write his own version of trade authority, which he dubbed Smart Track. That process and its outcome could have broken the bipartisan House opposition to the old Fast Track system.

But neither incoming Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) nor the likely GOP Ways and Means Committee leader supports major changes to the old Fast Track authority delegation process. Indeed, the Camp-Baucus-Hatch bill to establish trade authority was finally introduced in January 2014 only because GOP Finance and Ways and Means leaders opposed even modest changes to the actual authority delegation process from the 2002 bill. Changes to the actual terms delegating congressional authorities are also opposed by the business lobby. Nor do Hatch or the Ways and Means GOP leaders have the inclination or the relationships to widen the base of support for a bill.

But altering the way in which Congress’ authority is delegated, to provide Congress with a more fulsome role throughout the process and with more accountability over negotiators, is necessary to build bipartisan House support for a new delegation of trade authority. Updates to negotiating objectives or the level of transparency required cannot overcome the issues at the core of the House allergy to Fast Track.

A significant bloc of House GOP does not want to delegate more power to Obama, especially as the GOP has been attacking him as the “imperial president” who grabs legislative authority for his own. Tea party activists oppose Fast Track per se and anything that empowers Obama, which leaves GOP lawmakers who support Fast Track exposed to the dreaded tea party primary threat. To make political matter worse, House GOP lawmakers know that even if the GOP votes were available to pass Fast Track on a party line vote, almost no Democrats will vote to give their own president such authority, so any fallout from future trade pacts would be owned solely by the GOP.

As a policy matter, many GOP conservatives think the lump sum delegation of various authorities granted to Congress in the Constitution busts vital checks and balances. (It empowers a president to “diplomatically legislate” by negotiating binding non-trade terms to which U.S. law must be conformed; to sign and enter into a trade pact before Congress approves it; to write legislation not subject to committee mark-up and force a vote on it within 90 days of submission; and to pre-set the rules for floor consideration.)

That is why, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated no floor time would be provided for Fast Track this year, the Camp-Baucus-Hatch Fast Track bill (introduced Jan. 9, 2014) was already dead on arrival in the House:

  • There were literally only a handful of House Democrats who supported the bill: eight out of 201 members. And three of those eight conditioned their “yes” votes on the bill also extending Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which Hatch viscerally opposes.  
  • The House GOP leadership could not count more than 100 members as “yes” votes on the Camp-Baucus-Hatch bill. They had a bloc of members with solid “no” votes – some of whom signed letters against Fast Track in 2013 – and a large bloc who could not commit to vote “yes.” That is why the House GOP leadership never marked up the Camp-Baucus-Hatch bill or moved it toward a floor vote. And that is why House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in May he needed to see 50 firm Democrat votes before he would move the bill.

Reid’s announcement in January certainly made it more certain that the Camp-Baucus-Hatch Fast Track bill would not be moving. But even without Reid’s opposition, Boehner could never find the 50 Democrats he needed to make up for the GOP members he could not count as “yes” votes on the Camp-Baucus-Hatch bill.

And, the House election results do not appear to fix Boehner’s math problem. To fully assess what the new House makeup means for Fast Track, the dust will have to settle on the results to see whether it is a wash, slightly harder for Fast Track to pass (e.g., if a number of Fast Track-opposing tea party GOP candidates replaced GOP members who were for Fast Track) or slightly easier (e.g., if a lot of “Wall Street” GOP candidates replaced no-on-Fast-Track Democrats.)

One more way in which GOP control of the Senate complicates the path for trade authority: Hatch also hates TAA while Wyden supported expanding it. Adding TAA to the old Fast Track process does not add new Democratic support, but not having TAA could result in literally no House Democratic support. For instance, the House’s leading Democratic Fast Track boosters, U.S. Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) – among the eight House Democrats who supported the Camp-Baucus-Hatch Fast Track bill – said absent a TAA extension, they would not support it.

Thus, not having Wyden as Senate Finance Committee chairman actually decreases the chances that Obama will ever get a delegation of trade authority. But that would not be such a shocker anyway. Since Congress woke up to what Fast Track really means with the Fast-Tracked passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) almost 20 years ago, Congress has allowed Fast Track to be in effect for only five of the 20 years.

TPP: The election results may also complicate Obama’s goal of signing a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. As the TPP misses yet another do-or-die deadline – this time a November date announced by Obama in June that was related to the imminent Asia-Pacific Economic Partnership (APEC) meeting – to get a deal, any deal, the administration might be ready to step back from its position regarding Japan and agriculture market access in the TPP. Except, the demand that the TPP include the zeroing of all agricultural tariff comes mainly from the Republicans, as does the call to throw Japan out of the TPP talks unless Japan concedes to this demand.

Both Parties Competed to Highlight Rejection of Unfair Trade in Competitive Races, Heightening Public Awareness and Further Complicating Obama’s Bid for Fast Track: Analysis of the most-watched races of the 2014 elections reveals bipartisan competition to align campaign positions with the American public’s opposition to current U.S. trade policies and the job offshoring they cause. A raft of ads spotlighting the damage caused by status quo trade policies has heightened constituents’ anger about damaging trade deals and the expectation that their newly elected representatives will reject the administration’s attempt to Fast Track more of the same deals.

Some of 2014’s most high-profile races featured both candidates competing to portray themselves as the greater opponent of unfair trade. Republican challengers sought to outdo the fair-trade voting records of Democratic incumbents by proclaiming their own rejection of existing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), while the incumbents touted their votes against the FTAs and their opposition to Fast Track.

Incumbents who could not themselves claim a fair trade record still campaigned with the trade frame by attacking their opponents on offshoring, voicing opposition to tax policies that incentivize offshoring or citing instances of being “tough on China.” Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), with a 100 percent record of supporting unfair trade deals, was obliged to create and air an ad claiming he “fought against unfair foreign trade” after multiple ads attacked him for supporting damaging trade deals and costing American jobs.

Closely watched races in which both candidates vied to portray themselves as a stronger opponent of unfair trade included:

  • Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District – Nolan vs. Mills: In the closely fought race for Minnesota’s eighth district seat – one of the most competitive races in this election cycle – incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) turned around a likely GOP pick-up after vying with Republican Stewart Mills to declare greater opposition to status quo trade. This race spotlights the difficulty Obama’s quest for Fast Track authority will face in the next Congress, as conservative GOP members campaigned against the trade status quo and thus will be expected by their voters to stop more-of-the-same trade policies. In one ad, Mills tried to convert popular rejection of existing FTAs into rejection of incumbents, blaming “politicians like Rick” for “trade deals that reward outsourcers, while killing Minnesota jobs.” Nolan, who was not in office during the votes for any existing FTAs, touted his own opposition to unfair deals. Nolan’s campaign website stated that he “has fought against ‘fast-tracking’ the ongoing TPP trade negotiations, and will continue to stand up for fair trade.” Nolan was one of 151 House Democrats to sign a letter last year against Fast Tracking the TPP. Voters opted for Nolan, who trumped Mills.
  • U.S. Senate in Michigan – Peters vs. Land: In the competitive Michigan U.S. Senate race between U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Terri Lynn Land (R), both candidates competed to make known their opposition to unpopular trade deals. Competing against Peters’ 100 percent record of opposition to FTAs, Land sought to flaunt her own anti-FTA position, stating in an ad, “My plan will save Michigan jobs by ending unfair foreign trade deals and developing new agreements that open up markets for Michigan exports.” Michigan has lost more than 250,000 manufacturing jobs (about one out of every three) since NAFTA was enacted. Peters’ campaign website touted his own fair trade record, stating, “He has stood up for Michigan manufacturers and opposed any new trade deal that does not require our foreign trading partners play by the same rules as American companies.” In the end, Peters beat Land handily although the race had long been deemed a tossup.
  • U.S. Senate in Kentucky – McConnell vs. Grimes: Trade loomed large in this headline-grabbing race between McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. The Senate Majority PAC launched an ad that showed video footage of McConnell expressing support for NAFTA, and stated, “Mitch McConnell’s been tragically wrong about foreign trade deals. They’ve cost America over half a million jobs.” Another Senate Majority PAC ad criticized McConnell for “pushing foreign trade deals that send Kentucky jobs to new homes far away.” As his numbers plummeted in the early fall, McConnell’s campaign ultimately was forced to respond by adopting the same frame used against him, claiming in an ad that McConnell “fought against unfair foreign trade,” despite having cast 20 out of 20 votes in favor of unfair trade since 1991. McConnell beat Grimes after running against his own voting record. 

October 17, 2014

A Trade Storm Is Brewing

At the beginning of the year, we warned you about the upcoming trade tsunami. Well hold on to your hats everyone, because another “trade” storm is heading our way.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiators are meeting in Australia this month and are aiming to finish the massive 12-country “trade” agreement.

Despite mounting evidence that the TPP should not be completed — including the leak of another part of the top-secret text earlier this week — President Barack Obama wants the TPP done by November 11. That is when he will be meeting with other TPP-country heads of state in China at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference.

With the TPP’s threats to food safety, Internet freedom, affordable medicine prices, financial regulations, anti-fracking policies, and more, it’s hard to overstate the damage this deal would have on our everyday lives.

But the TPP isn’t the only threat we currently face. We are also up against the TPP’s equally ugly step-sisters: TAFTA and TISA. And Obama wants to revive the undemocratic, Nixon-era Fast Track trade authority that would railroad all three pacts through Congress.

The Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) is not yet as far along as the TPP, but TAFTA negotiations recently took place in Washington, D.C., and more are set for a few weeks from now in Brussels. The largest U.S. and EU corporations have been pushing for TAFTA since the 1990s. Their goal is to use the agreement to weaken the strongest food safety and GMO labeling rules, consumer privacy protections, hazardous chemicals restrictions and more on either side of the Atlantic. They call this “harmonizing” regulations across the Atlantic. But really it would mean imposing a lowest common denominator of consumer and environmental safeguards.

The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) is a proposed deal among the United States and more than 20 other countries that would limit countries’ regulation of the service sector. At stake is a roll back of the improved financial regulations created after the global financial crisis; limits on energy, transportation other policies needed to combat the climate crisis; and privatization of public services — from water utilities and government healthcare programs to aspects of public education.

TPP, TAFTA and TISA represent the next generation of corporate-driven “trade” deals. Ramming these dangerous deals through Congress is also Obama’s impetus to push for Fast Track. Fast Track gives Congress’ constitutional authority over trade to the president, allowing him to sign a trade deal before Congress votes on it and then railroad the deal through Congress in 90 days with limited debate and no amendments. Obama opposed Fast Track as a candidate. But now he is seeking to revive this dangerous procedural gimmick.

Because of your great work, we’ve managed to fend off Fast Track so far. This time last year, the U.S. House of Representatives released a flurry of letters showing opposition to Fast Track from most Democrats, and a wide swath of Republicans. This is something the other side was not expecting, and they were shocked. We won that round, but Obama and the corporate lobby are getting ready for the final push.

Because Fast Track is so unpopular in the House, Speaker John Boehner has a devious plan to force the bill through Congress in the “lame duck” session after the November elections. We need to make sure our “ducks” are in a row before that.

Some members of Congress are working on a replacement for Fast Track. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) says he will create what he calls “Smart Track.” It is not yet clear if this will be the real Fast Track replacement we so desperately need, or just another Fast Track in disguise.

Sen. Wyden will want to be ready to introduce his Smart Track bill right as the new Congress starts in January 2015. This means we have only a couple of months left to make sure his replacement guarantees Congress a steering wheel and an emergency brake for runaway “trade” deals.

With all these deadlines drawing near, it’s clear that a knock-down, drag-out fight is imminent. But we will be ready. The TPP missed deadlines for completion in 2011, 2012, and 2013 — if we keep up the pressure, we can add 2014 to that list as well. That’s why there will be a TPP/TAFTA/TISA international week of action Nov 8-14 — more details coming soon!

October 16, 2014

The TPP Would Enroll More Online Spies

By Alberto Cerda, founding member of the Chilean organization Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights)

This article was published this morning (in Spanish) on the Derechos Digitales website here: https://www.derechosdigitales.org/7990/el-tpp-recluta-mas-espionaje-electronico/.


As if we don’t have enough spying on Internet users, the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) includes draft rules that would increase significantly the role of online service providers in keeping an eye on their users, under the pretext of combatting copyright piracy. Even if you are not an infringer, your Internet service provider (ISP) will be watching you, just in case.

The TPP is a so-called trade agreement being negotiated by the U.S. and eleven countries around the Pacific Rim. The TPP would establish binding rules for domestic policies in several fields, from agricultural goods and services to investment and public procurement. The agreement also includes new rules for enforcing intellectual property on the Internet, modeled to some extent on current U.S. law, but in an unbalanced way that fails to incorporate crucial safeguards or allow for policy evolution in the digital environment.

Draft rules under negotiation would impose on Internet service providers a legal obligation to fight against online copyright infringement. This obligation is embodied in several provisions, which would require, for example, ISPs to communicate to their users any supposed infringement committed through their accounts, take down from the Internet information that supposedly infringes on copyright, and collect information that allows identification of users that supposedly have infringed the law.[1]

For most non-American users, these rules are new and raise a number of significant concerns about their potential abuse and misuse by the government, corporations and the big content industry.

For American users, these rules may look similar to the heavily criticized Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). But the difference is that these rules may go beyond current U.S. law – and as part of a trade agreement they would be much more difficult to overturn, because of being enforceable under international trade law – if U.S. citizens opposed the new rules, Congress wouldn’t be able to repeal them without exposing the country to possible trade sanctions.

Under current U.S. law, companies that provide Internet services are required to participate in enforcing copyright law or risk being held liable for their users’ infringement. This means that companies like AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon are required to help enforce the copyrights of the recording and motion picture industries, for example, against their own users who are purported to have infringed upon a copyright. The TPP would take this a step further by enrolling new groups to spy on us by collecting online data about their users.

First, the TPP includes provisions that would extend spying obligations not only to entities that provide Internet services, but to “any person,” thus, not only Internet-related companies would be required to enforce the law, but “any person,” whether human or otherwise.[2] Rights holders would likely interpret this obligation as applying to the manager of a free-wifi zone at Starbucks or your favorite neighborhood cafe, to public libraries and schools, as well as to that neighbor of yours who shares her wifi by keeping it accessible and open.

Second, TPP provisions do not seem to limit this spying to the Internet. Instead they refer to online providers,[3] which may extend the scope of the law to other digital networks, such as intranets and private networks. What does this mean? It means that not only ISPs would be spying on you by collecting user data to protect Hollywood’s copyrights, but also other providers of online services, like the private network you use at your workplace, at your university, or even at your kid’s school, even if those networks do not provide actual access to or from the Internet.

Although the TPP states that Internet service providers would not be required by law to “monitor” users, it encourages this practice.[4] Therefore, the TPP would leave open the door for private agreements between copyright holders (such as the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America) and Internet companies for enforcing the law against Internet users (for example, see the Center for Copyright Information).[5] This raises concerns about powerful content industry players working together to promote abusive practices to enforce their interests against supposed infringers, since, in order to prevent any liability, online service providers may collaborate with rights holders to enforce copyrights beyond what is required by the law.[6]

In sum, the TPP would impose new obligations for spying on Internet users under the guise of enforcing copyright. This should raise concerns not only among countries that currently lack such regulations, but also among U.S. citizens, because the TPP would expand the online spy network at home.

 


[1] TPP, Intellectual Property [Rights] Chapter, Addendum III, number  4.

[2] TPP, Intellectual Property [Rights] Chapter, Addendum III, footnote 237.

[3] TPP, Intellectual Property [Rights] Chapter, Addendum III, footnote 237.

[4] TPP, Intellectual Property [Rights] Chapter, Addendum III, number 5.

[6] TPP, Intellectual Property [Rights] Chapter, Addendum III, number 1.

September 18, 2014

Chamber of Commerce Uses “Weird Facts” to Claim a $106 Billion Trade Deficit Isn’t There

The Chamber of Commerce is a place of magic.  For its latest trick, the corporate alliance tried to make a $106 billion trade deficit disappear.

The Chamber took to its blog last week to highlight for readers “One Weird Fact About the Trade Deficit No One Has Noticed.”  Here’s the claimed “fact”: “in 2012 — for the 20 countries with which the United States has entered into a free-trade agreement (FTA) — the trade deficit vanished.”

A disappearing U.S. trade deficit with our FTA partners?  That’s not just weird – it’s incredible.  As in, not credible. 

Want to know why “no one has noticed” this oddity?  Because it didn’t happen. 

In 2012 the U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners topped $106 billion.  That includes trade in goods and services.  (If you just count goods, the deficit was $178 billion.) 

And that mammoth FTA trade deficit is not “vanishing.”  The estimated U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners in 2013 is exactly the same: $106 billion. 

Indeed, the aggregate U.S. goods trade deficit with FTA partners has actually increased by more than $147 billion since the FTAs were implemented. In contrast, the aggregate deficit with all non-FTA countries has decreased by more than $130 billion since 2006 (the median entry date of existing FTAs).

The Chamber goes on to claim, “The United States has recorded a trade surplus in manufactured goods with its FTA partner countries for each of the past five years.”  The opposite is true.  The U.S. has run a major trade deficit in manufactured goods with its FTA partners in each of the last five years.  The average FTA manufacturing trade deficit during this period exceeded $48 billion. Last year, it topped $51 billion.

How does the Chamber claim to not see glaring FTA trade deficits?  By using some “weird facts” of its own. 

The Chamber distorts the data by counting “foreign exports” as “U.S. exports.”  Foreign exports are foreign-made goods that pass through the United States without alteration before being re-exported abroad.  Along the way, they support zero U.S. production jobs.  And yet, the Chamber includes foreign-made exports alongside U.S.-made exports as if they had the same value for U.S. workers.

Doing so dramatically deflates the size of the actual U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners.  By errantly including foreign exports, the 2012 goods trade deficit with FTA partners can be made to look less than 40 percent of its actual size ($71 billion vs. the true deficit of $178 billion).  The distortion was even worse in 2013, when the actual FTA goods trade deficit was nearly three times as large as the distorted deficit with foreign exports included ($67 billion vs. the true deficit of $180 billion). 

The graph below shows how this single data trick allows the Chamber to claim that a $106 billion FTA trade deficit has disappeared.  As the administration contemplates expanding the old deficit-ridden FTA model via the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, it seems that we should be looking at the actual evidence from past FTAs, not illusions. 

Chamber Weird Fact
A footnote on data availability: services data are not available for some FTA countries, particularly the smaller economies.  The missing data were not included in either the Chamber’s figures or those reported above.  Also, while the Chamber did not report figures for 2013 due to a claimed lack of available services data for that year, 2013 services data is actually available for all but two of the FTA partners for which 2012 data were available.  For those two countries, services data for 2013 has been extrapolated based on observed growth trends.

September 12, 2014

Sachs on TPP: "This is a NAFTA Treaty Writ Large"

"These are largely industry- and lobby-driven activities. They are not yet in any way proved to be in the interest of American people, and this is a matter of significant concern.  I don’t understand how something of such vast significance for billions of people could even presume to be treated in this manner." 

That's the take on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) from Jeffrey Sachs -- prominent economist, Columbia University professor, and Earth Institute director.

Prof. Sachs lambasted the proposed deals on Wednesday at a Forum on Free Trade Agreements, hosted by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. Other speakers who criticized the pacts and called for a new trade agreement model included Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, K.J. Hertz of AARP, Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Thea Lee of the AFL-CIO, and Debbie Barker of the Center for Food Safety.  

Check out this video of their incisive critiques of hte TPP and TAFTA.  Excerpts from Prof. Sachs' remarks follow. 

  

 Excerpts from Prof. Jeffrey Sachs on the TPP and TAFTA (also known as TTIP)

TRANSPARENCY: The fact that the public is not engaged means that we should worry because we do know that when things are managed in secret, as these negotiations have been, it’s the organized and powerful interests that by far dominate the proceedings. These are largely industry- and lobby-driven activities. They are not yet in any way proved to be in the interest of American people, and this is a matter of significant concern.  I don’t understand how something of such vast significance for billions of people could even presume to be treated in this manner. One could imagine that negotiations over very specific tariff rates or very specific numerical clauses in some of these chapters could be held privately. But the idea that the main text around issues as broad as investor protection, dispute settlement, taxation, financial flows, intellectual property, would be done secretly, is shocking actually to me. But we’re talking about the basic rules of the international economy for the three major regions of the world. There is no reason in the world I can see for this text not to be public, not to be publically vetted, and not to be updated over time.

WRONG TRADE AGREEMENT MODEL: [W]hen President Obama talks about TPP and TTIP being 21st century trade agreements, the starting point should be that the phenomena of globalization more generally, the extent of financial crises, the growing environmental catastrophe worldwide of climate change and loss of biodiversity, the crises of international disease (such as we now have with Ebola in West Africa) need to be not only considered as footnotes. And they’re not even that in any way. They need to be in the forefront of our international economic relations…And in that sense I can’t support either of these negotiations with what I see now. I think that they would distract us from the more important global issues. I don’t think they rise close to the standard of being 21st century trade and investment agreements, not even close. They are very much 20th century agreements which were already out of date by the time they were negotiated. This is a NAFTA treaty writ large, or this is the same negotiation that we’ve had in many other cases.

TPP AND TTIP AS INVESTEMT PROTECTION AGREEMENTS, NOT TRADE PACTS: [T]these proposed agreements are mostly investor protection agreements, rather than trade agreements. There are trade elements in them, but this is mostly about investor protection: investor protection of property rights of investors, of prerogatives of investors, of IP of investors, of the regulatory environment of investors, and so forth. Recognizing that, we have some reasons to support some of these issues, but a lot of reasons for worry, because it’s not true that everything that is in the investor’s interest is in the worker’s interest. Its’ not true that everything that’s in the investor’s interest is in the broad interest of the American people or the people in host countries where the American investment may be going, or in the same way, investment that could be coming into this country. So we’re talking about mainly investment rules. And trade, which is already quite liberalized in the straightforward trade manner, doesn’t change all that much from what we know of these treaties. These are basically not trade agreements. They are investment agreements.

INVESTOR-STATE: [T]he whole issue of investor-state dispute settlement:  to my mind, it is quite alarming that the administration seems until this day to be pushing something which more and more observers, participants, legal scholars view as out of control…And the problem with this is that it creates an extra-legal venue for arbitration that has proven in many investment treaties in recent years to be highly deleterious for basic government regulatory processes and especially around issues of health, safety, environment, and other issues. The mechanism proposed here which is already part of many bilateral treaties and some multilateral investment treaties — is giving more and more power to investors to challenge general government regulatory actions. Not breach of specific investment contracts, but general regulatory and legislative actions on the claim that those general regulatory or legislative actions are against the interests of the investors and somehow therefore violate the implicit standards or guarantees that these investors have vis-à-vis the host countries. In other words, standards of general applicability against smoking or for environmental protection, or for taxation of natural resources and so forth are now coming under challenge in these investor-state dispute arbitration panels and forcing governments — the host governments — to back down or rescind or, in the face of a lost arbitration, to cancel laws of general applicability, and therefore to lose the sovereign right to pursue national interest at the face of investor interest. …As far as I know the United States government continues to press this clause today.  I regard that alone as reason to oppose both of these treaties. If this remains in place, it is absolutely in the wrong direction. And, these clauses have proven to be increasingly dangerous and I’ve seen publicly no response to this at all. 

August 28, 2014

TPP: Limiting the U.S. Government’s Ability to Control Rising Drug Costs

This is the third post in a three-part series on how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could increase medicine prices in the United States.  Click here for the first post's introduction to the problem, and here for the second post's outline of new rights that the TPP would give to Big Pharma. 

A leaked draft TPP annex with the Orwellian title “Transparency and Procedural Fairness for Healthcare Technologies” would set broad limits on governments’ prerogatives to negotiate or mandate lower drug prices, including for taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ and military health programs. Pushed by U.S. negotiators, these proposed TPP rules would conflict with existing and proposed policies to reduce healthcare costs for seniors, military families and the poor.

Rolling back medicine cost savings for U.S. veterans:

The U.S. government uses automatic price reductions to secure lower drug costs for U.S. veterans who benefit from health programs administered by VA. U.S. law allows VA to access drug prices at 24 percent below average market prices, and requires drug companies to offer these reduced prices for VA-administered programs as a condition for their medicines being included in other government health programs.

However, this cost-saving mechanism could run afoul of the proposed TPP annex, which requires government drug reimbursements to be based on “competitive, market-derived prices,” or on a system that “appropriately recognizes[] the value” of the drugs. The government-mandated price-setting system for VA programs would be subject to challenge as not being “competitive” and “market-derived.” VA-secured prices that fall significantly below the prices of patented drugs also could be challenged under the TPP as not “appropriately recognizing” drugs’ value. These TPP provisions, if enacted, could expose the U.S. government to challenges before international tribunals for not rolling back policies that cut healthcare costs for veterans and taxpayers.

Threatening policies that make medicines more affordable for the poor:

U.S. federal and state governments currently use several methods to tamp down the prices of drugs provided to low-income families through Medicaid. For example, the U.S. federal government requires drug corporations, as a condition for having their drugs covered by Medicaid, to sign discount agreements that oblige the firms to provide the state and federal governments with rebates to lower the cost of the drugs. These rebates have resulted in a 45 percent reduction in Medicaid spending for brand-name drugs.

State governments can further cut costs by, for example, negotiating lower prices with drug companies in return for placing their medicines on a Preferred Drug List (PDL) – a list of medicines that the state’s Medicaid program will cover without requiring prior authorization from a doctor. States have calculated substantial cost savings from usage of PDLs: New York saved an estimated $381 million in one recent year, while Texas saved an estimated $115 million and Utah saved an estimated $434 million.

Such Medicaid cost containment measures could be challenged under the TPP. Leveraging the government’s buying power to set prices could be attacked as not being “market-derived” or as “appropriately recognizing” the value of patented drugs. Some argue that the TPP provisions would primarily target federal policies, while Medicaid is administered by state governments. But even if limited to federal policies, the pact’s proposed terms directly contradict Medicaid’s federal cost control efforts, such as requiring drug firms to sign discount agreements. And state-level tools like PDLs could still be challenged under the TPP as part of a program created and controlled by the federal government.

Challenging Obamacare cost reductions for seniors:

Before implementation of the landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, seniors faced a gap in Medicare drug coverage. After passing a given threshold of drug costs, Medicare beneficiaries went from having to pay 25 percent of a drug’s cost to having to pay 100 percent out of pocket, until reaching a second threshold at which Medicare again covered most costs. Closing this “doughnut hole” was a key objective of the Affordable Care Act, which required drug manufacturers to offer a 50 percent drug price discount to Medicare beneficiaries within the coverage gap if they wanted their drugs to continue being covered under Medicare. As a result of this discount and a gradual increase in Medicare coverage, Medicare beneficiaries within the coverage gap were only responsible for 47.5 percent of brand-name drug costs in 2013 and will be responsible for only 25 percent by 2020.

But under the TPP, the requirement for drug companies to halve the price of their drugs within the coverage gap could be challenged for neither reflecting “competitive market-derived” prices nor “appropriately recognizing[] the value” of patented drugs. The Obama administration’s TPP healthcare annex thus threatens the cost savings that the administration’s own signature health law has provided to seniors.

Chilling future reforms that could further reduce healthcare costs for retirees:

Governments in countries ranging from New Zealand to Japan have kept healthcare costs in check by leveraging the government’s large purchasing power for taxpayer-funded public health programs to negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceutical corporations. In contrast, for Medicare, which covers more than 50 million Americans, the U.S. government is barred by law from directly negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical corporations.

Many policymakers, healthcare professionals and even President Obama have called for changes to this law so that the government could ask drug companies to provide lower prices in exchange for getting subsidized access to millions of Medicare recipients. Other reform proposals, including legislation now pending, would have the federal government set maximum prices for drugs covered by Medicare (as it does for health programs provided to veterans) or require that drug companies provide drug rebates (similar to the rebates required under Medicaid). Indeed, the White House itself has proposed requiring drug companies to pay Medicaid-like rebates to providers for treating low-income Medicare beneficiaries. The administration estimates this would deliver $117 billion in savings over 10 years.

However, the TPP presents an obstacle to these proposals to control soaring Medicare costs. All of the above-mentioned policies involve direct government intervention in price setting, conflicting with the TPP requirement for market-derived prices, and inviting challenges for failing to “appropriately recognize” the value of patented drugs. 

Undermining drug discounts for underserved communities:

Under a program known as 340B, the U.S. federal government enables nongovernmental health centers – including migrant health centers, homeless health centers, children’s hospitals and family planning centers – to offer their diverse constituencies more affordable drugs. The federal government requires pharmaceutical firms to offer discounted drug prices to 340B-covered health centers via rebates, as a condition for having their drugs covered by Medicaid.

As a federally-run program that mandates below-market prices, the program could be challenged as a violation of the proposed TPP rules requiring drug prices to be market-derived or to reflect the value of patented drugs. In addition, the leaked TPP annex would require the U.S. government to allow pharmaceutical corporations to appeal drug pricing decisions such as the rebate amounts set under the 340B program, though they have very limited appeal rights for such decisions under U.S. domestic law. The TPP would thus give pharmaceutical corporations a new means of challenging 340B policies that reduce drug prices for underserved populations. 

August 26, 2014

TPP: Expansive Rights for Big Pharma, Expensive Medicines for U.S. Consumers

This is the second in a three-part series on how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could increase medicine prices in the United States.  Click here for the first post's introduction to the problem. 

Leaked draft intellectual property texts for the TPP reveal broad monopoly protections for pharmaceutical corporations, which elevate the costs of medicines and medical procedures. Inserting these sweeping corporate privileges into the pact would undermine U.S. efforts to make healthcare more affordable.

Some of the leaked TPP monopoly protections for Big Pharma could require scrapping the Obama administration proposal to save more than $4 billion on biologic medicines. Biologics – the latest generation of drugs to combat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases – are exceptionally expensive, costing approximately 22 times more than conventional medicines.

Under U.S. law, pharmaceutical corporations enjoy monopoly protections for biologic drugs, even in the absence of a patent, for a 12-year period of “exclusivity.” During these 12 years, the Food and Drug Administration is prohibited from approving more affordable versions of the drugs, inflating the cost of these life-saving medicines as pharmaceutical firms accrue monopoly profits.

To lower the exorbitant prices and the resulting burden on programs like Medicare and Medicaid, the Obama administration’s 2015 budget would reduce the exclusivity period for biologics from 12 to seven years. The administration estimates this would save taxpayers more than $4.2 billion over the next decade just for federal programs.

However, at the request of Big Pharma, U.S. trade negotiators are demanding the 12-year exclusivity requirement for biologics in the TPP. This would lock into place pharmaceutical firms’ lengthy monopolies here at home. That is, Obama administration negotiators would effectively scrap the administration’s own proposal to save billions in unnecessary healthcare costs and lock in rules that would forbid future presidents or Congresses from doing so.

Investor Privileges: Empowering Big Pharma to Directly Attack U.S. Health Policies

Another TPP text - the leaked draft investment chapter - reveals that the deal would grant foreign firms the power to skirt domestic courts, drag the U.S. government before extrajudicial tribunals, and directly challenge patent laws and medicine cost containment policies as violations of their new TPP foreign investor “rights.”

The tribunals, comprised of three private attorneys, would be authorized to order unlimited taxpayer compensation for domestic policies perceived as undermining pharmaceutical corporations’ “expected future profits.” Effectively, this system would elevate individual pharmaceutical firms to the same status as the countries that may sign the TPP, empowering such firms to privately enforce the public agreement.

Such extreme “investor-state” rules have been included in past U.S. “free trade” agreements, forcing taxpayers to pay firms more than $430 million for toxics bans, land-use rules, water and timber policies and more. Just under U.S. pacts, more than $38 billion is pending in corporate claims against patent policies, pollution cleanup requirements, climate and energy laws, and other public interest polices.

This includes a $500 million claim that U.S. pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly launched in 2013 against Canada’s legal standard for granting patents. The firm is demanding compensation because Canadian courts enforcing Canadian patent law ruled that two of Eli Lilly’s medicines failed to meet the Canadian standard to obtain a patent, which requires demonstrating a drug’s promised utility. This is the first attempt by a patent-holding pharmaceutical firm to use the extraordinary investor privileges provided by U.S. “trade” agreements as a tool to push for greater monopoly patent protections.

The TPP would vastly expand the investor-state threat to U.S. public health policies, given the thousands of corporations based in TPP countries that would be newly empowered to launch cases against U.S. laws on behalf of any of their more than 14,000 U.S. subsidiaries

Stay tuned for post #3 on yet another way that the TPP could limit the U.S. government's ability to control rising drug costs. 

August 21, 2014

TPP: The “Trade” Deal that Could Inflate Your Healthcare Bill

Much has been said about how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) threatens to raise medicine prices in TPP developing countries, thanks to the deal's proposed expansion of monopoly protections for pharmaceutical corporations.  

Less has been said about the proposed TPP rules that could increase medicine prices in the United States.  

Americans pay far more for healthcare than people in any other developed country, even though U.S. life expectancy falls below the average for developed countries. A major contributor to our bloated healthcare costs is the high prices for medicines in the United States. According to the Government Accountability Office, U.S. drug prices increased more than 70 percent faster than prices for other healthcare goods and services over 2006-2010. As a result, millions of Americans cannot afford the medicines they need to live healthy lives.

Soaring drug prices also drive up the amount that taxpayers must pay to fund public health programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and programs covering the U.S. military and veterans. Indeed, rising healthcare costs are the number one contributor to the U.S. government’s projected long-term budget deficits.

To try to combat the twin problems of unaffordable healthcare and unsustainable deficits, U.S. federal and state governments already use several tools to tamp down the cost of drugs – for Medicare, Medicaid and for military healthcare under TRICARE and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Many more such cost containment policies have been proposed.

Yet, the TPP threatens to chill such proposals and even roll back existing policies to rein in exorbitant medicine prices. Leaked draft TPP texts – an intellectual property chapter, investment chapter and healthcare annex – contain expansive rules that would constrain the ability of the U.S. government to reduce medicine prices. Getting these terms into the TPP was a key objective of large U.S. pharmaceutical corporations that stand to reap monopoly profits from expansive patent terms and restrictions on government cost containment efforts. This incentive may explain why pharmaceutical corporations have lobbied Congress for the TPP more than any other industry.

The TPP’s threats to the affordability of U.S. healthcare have spurred major groups that have not traditionally taken part in trade policy debates to warn against the TPP’s provisions. For example, AARP – representing more than 37 million Americans over the age of 50 – joined unions and consumer groups in a November 2013 letter to President Obama to express “deep concern” that texts proposed for the TPP would “limit[] the ability of states and the federal government to moderate escalating prescription drug, biologic drug and medical device costs in public programs.” The groups concluded that the TPP could “undermine[] access to affordable health care for millions in the United States and around the world.”

Stay tuned for post #2 on specific TPP threats to affordable U.S. healthcare: Expansive Rights for Big Pharma, Expensive Medicines for Consumers.

June 25, 2014

Corporate America’s Mysterious Affinity for the Number 700,000

The Chamber is at it again.  As negotiations drag and support flags for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come up with a new number to sell the controversial deal to a skeptical Congress and U.S. public: 700,000. 

That’s the number of U.S. jobs that the corporate alliance claims could be created by the sweeping pact opposed by a diverse array of members of Congress, small businesses, and labor organizations for its threats to, well, U.S. jobs. 

How did the Chamber get this number?  They don’t say. 

The Chamber blog post proclaiming the six-digit figure simply says it is “based on the methodology and outcomes” of a Peterson Institute study that used outsized assumptions to produce miniscule projections for the TPP’s economic impact.  Under the most optimistic scenario the authors could envision, the study projected a 0.13 percent increase in U.S. GDP under the deal –- a fraction of the estimated GDP contribution of the latest version of the iPhone. 

But the Peterson Institute study did not project what this tiny economic impact would mean for jobs.  It is unclear how the Chamber pulled a jobs number from a study that did not produce a jobs number. 

We called them to ask.  We were told that no one was there who could answer our question.  Multiple calls and emails later, and we still have no response from the Chamber to solve the mystery of the unsubstantiated statistic.

Here’s one theory on the steps the Chamber took to derive its estimate of the TPP’s prospective impact:

  1. Copy
  2. Paste

This is not the first time the Chamber has used the number 700,000. Indeed, the Chamber appears to have an uncanny affinity for the number when pushing a retrograde, anti-worker agenda. 

When some states raised their minimum wage laws and increased workers’ benefits after the Great Recession, the Chamber commissioned a study finding that such labor laws had cost U.S. jobs.  How many?  700,000

When the Obama administration proposed a tax increase on the wealthy in 2012, the Chamber commissioned a study finding that the proposal would eliminate U.S. jobs…700,000 jobs, to be precise. 

Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that the Chamber is using its lucky number once again to push a regressive deal like the TPP. 

But hey, if the copy/paste method works…

Maybe we should take a cue from the Chamber and start using whatever numbers we have lying around.  Let’s see…how many U.S. jobs have been lost under NAFTA to Mexico alone?  Well I’ll be -– the answer is 700,000

Borrowing a card from the Chamber, we hereby project that the TPP will cost U.S. workers 700,000 jobs. 

Okay, obviously it would be ridiculous to pull such projections out of thin air.  And let’s hope that’s not what the Chamber is doing to arrive at its unsubstantiated claim. 

But without an explanation from the Chamber, we are left to speculate.  Maybe they somehow converted Peterson’s miniscule projected GDP gain projection into a much larger jobs gain, errantly ignoring the impact of TPP-spurred inequality.  (The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the likely increase in inequality resulting from the TPP would swamp the small gains projected by the Peterson Institute, spelling a pay cut for 90 percent of U.S. workers.)  

Or maybe the Chamber extrapolated a jobs figure from the study’s export calculations, errantly ignoring the impact of TPP-spurred imports.  (Any study claiming to evaluate the net impact of trade deals must deal with both sides of the trade equation –- in the same way that exports are associated with job opportunities, imports are associated with lost job opportunities when they outstrip exports, as dramatically seen under existing U.S. pacts.) 

In the end, we don’t know how the corporate alliance generated the mystery number behind its TPP cheerleading.  Until we see some evidence, we’re going to take the Chamber’s statistic with about 700,000 grains of salt.  

May 30, 2014

Chamber Resorts to Cartoonish Analogies to Defend Corporations’ ‘Right’ to Attack Policies

What do you do when you lose an argument on the basis of, you know, facts?  

You use fantastical analogies to substantiate your battered claims.  At least, that appears to be the game plan of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

In a blog post yesterday, the corporate conglomerate tried once again to defend a system that empowers foreign corporations to bypass our courts, go before three private lawyers unaccountable to any electorate, and demand that the U.S. Treasury hand over our tax dollars for policies ranging from Wall Street reforms to climate change initiatives.  “Trade” deals currently under negotiation, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), would vastly expand this extraordinary “investor-state” system. 

How did the Chamber address widespread concerns over the proposed empowerment of tens of thousands of foreign corporations to have a go at our domestic laws?  By comparing them to childhood fears of a monster in the closet. 

(See, there are no monsters in your closet.  By the rule of analogies, there is therefore no problem with enabling corporations to more easily attack our health and environmental protections.  Got it?)  

The Chamber’s post concludes with this kicker: “The next time someone comes peddling fear of ISDS [investor-state dispute settlement], ask this simple question: ‘Can you cite an ISDS case where the investor won but didn’t deserve compensation?’ Expect to hear silence in return.” 

“Silence” is a creative way to characterize academics’ and advocates’ years of detailed analysis of case after case in which corporations have extracted taxpayer compensation for public interest policies.  On the basis of such cases, voices ranging from former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg to the National Council of State Legislatures to the CATO Institute to thousands of concerned citizens have warned of the threats that expansion of the extreme investor-state regime via the TPP and TAFTA would pose to public health, a clean environment, rule of law, and taxpayers’ wallets.  (Oh, and the nation’s largest labor, environmental, health, privacy, Internet freedom, financial, development, family farmer, faith and consumer groups have also spotlighted the record of investor-state damage.)  Chamber’s claim of “silence” is deaf to these warnings from across the political spectrum.

To answer Chamber’s question –- whether we can cite an “investor-state” case where a three-person tribunal unjustly ordered a government to pay a foreign corporation for a policy enacted in the public’s interest –- indeed, we can.  The main difficulty is choosing from the panoply of available cases

What about the case where a tribunal ordered Canadian taxpayers to pay millions to a waste treatment corporation for preventing the firm from exporting to Ohio a hazardous waste that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found to be harmful to humans and toxic to the environment?

Or the one where an investor-state tribunal ordered Mexico to pay a corporation more than $16 million for not allowing the firm to build a toxic waste facility until it cleaned up existing toxic waste problems?

Or take the case that Occidental Petroleum won against Ecuador in 2012. The tribunal in that case acknowledged that the oil corporation had broken an Ecuadorian law governing oil exploration in the Amazon.  But then the tribunal concocted a new governmental obligation to Occidental, decided the government had violated this unwritten obligation despite adhering to Ecuadorian law, and ordered Ecuador’s taxpayers to hand $2.3 billion to the oil company.  One of the three lawyers in the tribunal dissented, describing the decision as “egregious.”  That didn’t remove the penalty imposed on Ecuador by her two colleagues. 

The Chamber tries to downplay the amounts that taxpayers have to shell out to foreign firms when governments lose investor-state cases, arguing that the corporations often get “a fraction” of what they ask for.  But when corporations ask for billions, a “fraction” is no chump change.  In the Occidental case, the $2.3 billion penalty imposed on Ecuador’s taxpayers is equivalent to the amount the government spends on health care each year for half the population. 

The Chamber’s post also tried to minimize the investor-state system’s costly legacy by wrongly stating that “governments comfortably win in the vast majority of [investor-state] cases.”  The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reports that in 57 percent of all public, concluded investor-state cases, the government has either lost the case to the investor or has been pushed to settle with the investor, typically resulting in the extraction of millions of taxpayer dollars and/or the overturning of the policy that the corporation challenged.  In recent cases, governments have been outright losing most of the time.  In seven out of eight public decisions handed down by investor-state tribunals last year, the government lost.  That’s hardly a “comfortable” record.

And those are only the cases that have already been decided.  Investor-state claims have surged in recent years, resulting in pending cases that target everything from Australia’s anti-smoking policies to Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  While the Chamber tries to claim that “relatively few” cases have been launched in the “nearly half a century” of the investor-state regime, that argument requires closing one’s eyes to the recent wave of cases.  While no more than 15 cases were launched in any given year in the first four decades of the “nearly half a century” of investor-state treaties, more than 50 cases have been launched in each of the last three years.  Pending cases include:

  • Chevron v. Ecuador: in response to Chevron’s attempt to evade a $9.5 billion domestic ruling for Amazon pollution, an investor-state tribunal has directed Ecuador’s government to violate its Constitution, has cast aside two decades of court rulings, and has declared that rights granted to Ecuadorians no longer exist.
  • Eli Lilly v. Canada: a U.S. pharmaceutical corporation has challenged Canada’s legal standard for patents and pushed for greater monopoly patent protections, which increase the cost of medicines for consumers and governments. 
  • Renco v. Peru: a U.S. corporation has tried to evade its contractual commitment to clean up its metal smelter contamination in one of the world’s most polluted towns.

The flood of recent investor-state attacks on domestic safeguards owes largely to the fact that tribunals are interpreting ever more broadly the vague investor-state “rights” granted to foreign corporations.  Contrary to the Chamber’s assertions, these rights extend beyond those afforded to domestic firms.  Under U.S. law, a coal corporation, for example, could not invoke a right to government compensation for new carbon emissions controls –- such as those the administration plans to roll out on Monday –- on the basis that the new policy frustrated the firm’s “expectations.”  But investor-state tribunals have repeatedly decided that foreign firms, under investor-state pacts, indeed enjoy a “right” to a static regulatory framework that does not thwart their expectations.  

And of course, if a U.S. firm takes issue with a new U.S. environmental or financial or health regulation, the corporation cannot skirt the entire U.S. domestic legal system and take its case to a private three-person extrajudicial tribunal empowered to order the U.S. Treasury to compensate the firm, with limited option for appeal.  But that is precisely the privilege granted to foreign corporations under the investor-state system’s extraordinary terms. 

Comparing this system to fictitious beasts inhabiting one’s closet will not make it go away.  To highlight the dangers posed by this regime and its proposed expansion via the TPP and TAFTA, we need not resort to far-fetched analogies.  The damage already wrought will suffice. 

May 22, 2014

WTO Final Ruling: European Ban on Products from Inhumane Seal Harvest Violates WTO Rules

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

The WTO today added fuzzy white baby seals clubbed to death on bloody ice flows to dolphins and sea turtles as animals that the WTO has declared cannot be protected by domestic laws because they  violate “trade” rules, which will just fuel public and policymaker skepticism about these so-called trade deals. 

As a technical matter, today’s ruling confirms the uselessness of the WTO exceptions, allegedly designed to protect countries’ domestic public interest laws, that are now being touted as the way to safeguard environmental, health and safety policies in proposed pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is the 39th time out of 40 attempted uses that the exception has been rejected by WTO tribunals when raised to safeguard a domestic public interest law.

BACKGROUND: In this final ruling, the WTO Appellate Body acknowledged that the European Union’s ban on the importation and sale of seal products resulted from concerns about “inhumane” hunts with “inherent animal welfare risks,” but concluded the EU failed to satisfy the litany of conditions required to defend public interest policies under the WTO’s “general exception” provisions. Specifically, the Appellate Body ruled against use of the WTO exception for policies “necessary” to protect public morals. Only one out of 40 government attempts to use the the WTO General Exceptionse, found in Article XX of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and Article XIV of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), has ever succeeded.

In its ruling today, the Appellate Body also rebuffed arguments made by the U.S. government as a third party observer to the case demanding that the WTO evaluate whether policies that appear to have a discriminatory effect stem from a “legitimate regulatory distinction.” The Appellate Body ruled against this U.S. government position, concluding that WTO panels do not need to consider under GATT whether a challenged domestic policy stems from a legitimate policy objective.

Today’s ruling follows a string of WTO rulings against popular U.S. environmental and consumer policies. In May 2012, for example, the WTO ruled against voluntary “dolphin-safe” tuna labels that, by allowing consumers to choose to buy tuna caught without dolphin-killing fishing practices, have helped to dramatically reduce dolphin deaths. Today’s decision will again spur public ire over WTO rules that extend beyond “trade” to target domestic environmental and consumer safeguards.

May 19, 2014

On Eve of ‘Check In’ Ministerial, Top 10 Signs That Obama Administration Should Call It Quits on TPP Negotiations

Twenty-one Multilateral TPP Meetings Since ‘Final’ August 2013 Brunei Negotiating Round, All Without Even a Facade of Stakeholder Input Process 

The office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) worked to spin down expectations for a May 19-20 ministerial-level meeting on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) even before last week’s TPP chief negotiators meeting in Vietnam that failed to resolve deadlocks on the myriad outstanding TPP issues.

While 600 official U.S. trade advisors, mainly comprised of corporate representatives, have continued to obtain information and give input on TPP negotiations, the last opportunity for official “stakeholder” input into the TPP took place August 24–31, 2013, during the 19th round of negotiations in Brunei. However, heads of state, negotiators and ministers have continued to meet in an attempt to finalize a TPP. Without even the pretense of providing opportunities for civil society to engage in the process, in the past nine months, TPP countries have had at least one heads-of-state summit, two ministerials, four meetings of chief negotiators, 14 so-called “intersessionals,” four Obama bilateral heads of state meetings and endless U.S.-Japan bilateral negotiations and ministerials. And these are only the meetings that have been reported.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to use large sums of taxpayer money to push negotiations to obtain a TPP agenda favored by corporate interests that remains stalled in the face of growing opposition in the United States and throughout TPP countries. The U.S. government was the official host of the Vietnam meeting this week and will be the official host of the upcoming ministerial meeting in Singapore.

Following are the top 10 indicators of why the USTR has decided to tamp down expectations once again for a negotiation that has supposedly been in an “end game” since last year:

1)     U.S. and Japanese officials have offered conflicting versions of the outcomes of their bilateral “breakthrough”-but-not-a-deal non-deal from Obama’s Japan visit when briefing their TPP colleagues. Indeed, Japan was among the countries arguing that the state of U.S.-Japan market access negotiations was not sufficiently advanced to merit another TPP ministerial meeting.

2)     An LDP bloc in Japan’s Diet adopted another resolution last week, while TPP chief negotiators met in Vietnam, reiterating the ruling party’s requirement that the TPP must protect a list of “sacred” agricultural commodities. The Japanese parliamentary action by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s own political party, making clear it will not support a TPP that zeroes out agricultural tariffs, is seen as a direct response to U.S. congressional and agribusiness statements that only a TPP that does so is politically acceptable.

3)     Vietnam’s former trade minister, who is a current senior advisor on TPP negotiations, recently declared that Vietnam would not accept a TPP requirement that workers be allowed to establish independent labor unions.Former MinisterTruong Dinh Tuyen said Vietnam instead would accept a compromise that devolved some power to local unions.

4)     U.S. trade officials announced that Japan would advance market access talks with other TPP nations at the Vietnam lead negotiators meeting and that this was a sign of a new stage in negotiations – except that is not what Japan intended or did. Other countries are unlikely to even consider high-stakes tradeoffs relating to U.S. demands that could raise drug prices, extend the scope of investor-state dispute liability, limit financial regulation, discipline state-owned enterprises, and enforce labor and environmental standards without knowing what prospective market access opportunities might be forthcoming.

5)     On May 1, the Sultan of Brunei implemented a new Sharia-law-based penal code that calls for jail terms for the wearing of immodest clothing, pregnancies outside marriage and abortion, with death by stoning for adulterers, gays and lesbians to be phased in later. The move prompted new U.S. constituencies to join the anti-TPP effort.

6)     The USTR’s concern that the optics of not having a TPP ministerial when all of the countries’ trade ministers are together for a pre-scheduled APEC meeting overcomes opposition by other TPP nations to meeting when there is nothing ready for ministers to decide. Thus, the announcement of a “check-in” ministerial, which ministers from at least three TPP nations do not plan to attend.

7)     Japanese officials or press are creating a series of red herring stories. Reports of near-deals on intellectual property, new U.S. proposals and more do not relate to what happened on the ground in Vietnam. Indeed, the Japanese press has run a series of follow-up stories speculating about who is generating the misdirects and why. There is no indication that key areas of controversy that existed in previous ministerials in the areas of intellectual property, investment, environment, labor, state-owned enterprises and more are much closer to resolution, even after the expense of the past months of negotiations. The U.S. ambassador to Malaysia recently expressed hope that the deal might be concluded by 2017.

8)     The USTR continues to avoid raising currency issues at chiefs or ministerial levels, even though it is increasingly clear that a TPP without enforceable currency rules is dead on arrival in the U.S. Congress. If negotiations were nearing a final deal, this issue would have to be raised; Congress’ outspoken position has made clear to the other TPP nations that either this issue will be raised in negotiations or it will be raised later as an additional demand after ‘final’ concessions have been made, as was seen in the Korea Free Trade Agreement renegotiation four years after signing.

9)     The prospect of passage of any form of trade authority in 2014 is dimming. Indeed, some congressional Fast Track proponents are already talking about the prospect that President Barack Obama may never obtain trade authority, so they are setting their sights on 2017.As the other TPP countries recognize the lack of congressional support for Fast Track and TPP, their willingness to make U.S.-negotiator-demanded concessions on issues with high political costs at home also dims.

10)  In April, Chile’s Trade Ministry under recently elected President Michelle Bachelet confirmed that it is conducting a comprehensive review of the scope of the TPP and what its impact could be for Chile, noting that it is initiating a process of transparency and openness in the negotiations to include civil society input into their review. The website states, “We consider that there are many issues that are still open, the negotiation still has a ways to go.”

For more information about the TPP, please visit http://citizen.org/tpp

May 15, 2014

Second Anniversary of Colombia Pact Spotlights Administration's Failed Promise of Labor Rights Improvements, Now Recycled to Defend TPP Negotiations with Vietnam amid Worker Riots

Today, as foreign-owned factories in Vietnam lie smoldering after protesting Vietnamese workers burnt them to the ground, Obama administration officials are in Vietnam negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact that would place U.S. workers in direct competition with their Vietnamese counterparts. 

While politics provided the spark for Vietnam’s recent worker riots, the country’s notorious working conditions fanned the flames.  According to the U.S. government, the International Labour Organization, and workers' rights groups, those conditions include “children working nine to 12 hours per day for low pay in hazardous working conditions,” forced labor, discrimination against pregnant women, blocked fire exits, prohibition of independent unions, and minimum wages dwarfed by those paid in China.

Members of Congress, U.S. labor unions and human rights groups have made clear that the U.S. government should not be contemplating a pact with a country where workers’ rights are systematically violated. 

That same argument motivated widespread opposition to the U.S.- Colombia “free trade” agreement (FTA), which took effect two years ago today. 

The Colombia pact was implemented despite warnings from Congress and labor groups that U.S. workers should not be pitted against workers in a country consistently listed as the world’s most dangerous place to be a unionist.  The Obama administration helped push the FTA through the U.S. Congress over record Democratic opposition with promises that the gross workers’ rights violations in Colombia would wane under the FTA.  The administration declared that a Labor Action Plan (LAP) signed with Colombia in 2011 as a fig leaf for the FTA would “lead to greatly enhanced labor rights in Colombia.”

After two years of FTA implementation, that promise rings hollow as Colombia’s unionists face persistent murders, death threats, and repression. 

Now, in response to growing opposition to the notion of a TPP pact with Vietnam, the Obama administration is conjuring up the same failed promise, asserting that working conditions in Vietnam will improve under the pact. 

Members of Congress are not likely to buy the recycled pitch, as the two-year anniversary of the Colombia FTA spotlights the harrowing violence still faced by Colombia’s union workers. Colombia’s National Union School, recognized by the LAP as an authoritative source of monitoring data, reports that:

  • In the three years since the LAP was unveiled, 73 Colombian unionists have been murdered.  There were four more unionist murders in 2013 than in 2012.
  • Colombia’s union workers have endured 31 murder attempts and 953 death threats since the LAP was announced.  These crimes have not resulted in any captures, trials, or convictions.
  • More than 3,000 unionists have been murdered in Colombia since 1977. The overall impunity rate for these murders is 87%.
  • Since 1977, Colombian unionists have received 6,262 recorded death threats.  Only 4 of these threats have been punished, meaning that impunity for anti-union death threats stands at 99.9%.

Undeterred by the ongoing repression of Colombian workers, U.S. trade negotiators are in Vietnam at this very moment in attempt to negotiate via the TPP an expansion of the FTA model to Vietnam, despite the country’s widespread labor abuses.  Under the TPP, U.S. workers would be placed into direct competition with Vietnamese workers facing these on-the-ground realities:

  • Child labor:  According to the Vietnam government’s own estimates, more than 25,000 Vietnamese children work in hazardous conditions.  The U.S. State Department reports that Vietnam government inspectors have found “children working nine to 12 hours per day for low pay in hazardous working conditions (including poor lighting, dusty environments, and the operation of heavy machinery)…”
  • Forced labor:  Individuals detained, but not convicted, for drug offenses are required to work for little to no pay in government detention centers as part of their “treatment,” according Human Rights Watch and the State Department.  Vietnam is one of just four countries in the world cited by the U.S. Department of Labor for using both forced labor and child labor in apparel production.
  • Low wages:  Vietnam’s average minimum wage is 52 cents per hour.  That’s a fraction of minimum wages even in China.  And it’s one-fourteenth of the earnings of U.S. minimum wage workers who would be pitted against their Vietnamese counterparts. 
  • Unsafe working conditions:  The International Labour Organization reports that even after inspecting Vietnamese garment factories on three occasions for fire hazards, 41% of the inspected factories still had inaccessible or blocked fire exits. 
  • Violations of women’s rights:  Vietnamese factories have employed several discriminatory methods to try to avoid the legal obligation to provide paid maternity leave to pregnant workers. Last year the Vietnamese press revealed that one factory required female workers to sign a contract vowing not to get pregnant for their first three years of employment. 
  • Union repression:  Vietnam bans independent unions.  Workers wishing to organize for their rights must affiliate their union with the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, a self-described “member of the political system under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam.”  The Worker Rights Consortium reports that Vietnamese workers attempting to form independent unions have been “subjected to sustained campaigns of prosecution and imprisonment.” 

In the face of such entrenched labor abuses, it is incredible that the administration is trotting out the same message used for the Colombia FTA: “Don’t worry –- workers’ conditions will improve once the FTA is in place.”  After two years of the Colombia deal, Colombia’s workers sadly beg to differ.  

May 09, 2014

Release of Two Years of Korea FTA Data Throws More Cold Water on Obama TPP and Fast Track Efforts After Asia Trip Fails to Change Dynamic

U.S. Exports to Korea Down 5 Percent, Imports from Korea Up and Trade Deficit With Korea Swells 50 Percent, Contradicting Obama Claims of U.S. Export and Job Growth

The just-released official  U.S. government trade data covering the first two years of the U.S.-Korea “free trade” agreement (FTA) further chills the prospects for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Fast Track trade authority. Today’s release of the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) data likely will intensify congressional antipathy toward Fast Track and concerns about the TPP. The USITC data, corrected to remove re-exports not produced in the United States, show falling U.S. exports to Korea and a ballooning U.S. trade deficit under the Korea FTA, which served as the U.S. template for the TPP.

U.S. goods exports to Korea have dropped 5 percent  under the Korea FTA’s first two years, compared to the two years before FTA implementation, in contrast to the Obama administration’s promise that the Korea FTA would mean “more exports, more jobs” and recent claims that the agreement has shown “strong results.” Imports into the United States from Korea have climbed 8 percent under the FTA (an increase of $4.7 billion per year).

From the year before the FTA took effect to its second year of implementation, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea swelled 50 percent (a $7.6 billion increase). In 23 out of 24 months since the Korea FTA took effect, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has exceeded the average monthly level seen in the two years before the deal. The trade deficit increase under the FTA indicates the loss of more than 50,000 U.S. jobs, according the trade-jobs ratio that the Obama administration used to project gains from the deal. 

“The fact that the Korea deal has resulted in a worse trade deficit and more lost jobs has had a very chilling effect on public and congressional support for the TPP and Fast Track, and the Obama administration’s dishonest claims that the pact has expanded exports has only hardened that opposition,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “While most Democrats and a sizeable bloc of Republicans in Congress have already voiced opposition to Fast Tracking the TPP, both the negative outcomes of the Korea FTA and the administration’s dishonest claim that the pact is a success are adding more converts daily.” 

Rather than acknowledge that the Korea pact has resulted in declining U.S. exports and a larger trade deficit, the administration’s Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has relied on data omissions and distortions in press materials that attempt to paint failure as success. For a full response to the USTR’s litany of data errors, visit http://www.citizen.org/documents/Korea-FTA-USTR-data-debunk.pdf

The USTR’s biggest distortion is counting foreign-made products that are simply shipped through the United States en route to Korea as “U.S. exports” to Korea. Rather than use the official U.S. government trade data provided by the USITC that counts only U.S.-made exports, USTR cites data that treat the 14 percent rise in foreign-made exports to Korea under the FTA as a boost to U.S. exports, artificially diminishing the dramatic U.S. export downfall.

The USTR relies on a series of other data errors in attempt to hide the dismal Korea FTA record, including:

  • Failing to account for inflation: By treating a rise in prices as a rise in exports, the USTR mistakenly claims that the observed decrease in U.S. exports to Korea in manufactured goods under the FTA is an increase.
  • Ignoring aggregate losses to cherry-pick tiny winning sectors: TheUSTR does not mention the overall 34 percent downfall in U.S. agricultural exports to Korea under the FTA’s first two years. Instead, the USTR boasts export increases in products like fruit and wine. The combined annual export gains in fruit and wine amount to $69 million, less than 6 percent of the more than $1.2 billion aggregate annual export loss in agricultural products.
  • Using a selective timeframe: The USTR’s assessment of the Korea FTA record ignores 12 months of available data under the FTA and fails to include in the pre-FTA baseline of comparison the three months of data immediately prior to the deal’s implementation. This selective timeframe, combined with the decision to incorporate foreign-made exports, allows the USTR to claim that the U.S. export downfall under the FTA is entirely because of diminished exports in corn and fossil fuels. But even after discounting both corn and fossil fuels, the full set of data shows that U.S. exports to Korea have still fallen under the FTA, and the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has still ballooned.

“The USTR’s resort to major data deceptions to try to play down the debacle of the Korea FTA indicates just how desperate the administration is to shake the mounting evidence that the FTA model it now seeks to expand with the TPP costs U.S. jobs,” said Wallach. “But using data tricks to try to cover up the failure of the largest Obama trade deal, like treating foreign-made products as U.S. exports, is likely to backfire, and members of Congress do not take kindly to deception.”

The decline in U.S. exports to Korea under the FTA’s first two years was broad-based; of the 15 U.S. sectors that export the most to Korea, nine of them have experienced export declines under the FTA. Export shifts under the FTA have been larger for losing sectors than for winning sectors. Of the 15 top export sectors, eight have seen declines in exports to Korea of greater than 5 percent while only three have seen growth of exports to Korea of greater than 5 percent.

Many of the sectors that the administration promised would be the biggest beneficiaries of the FTA have been among the largest losers, including U.S. meat producers. U.S. poultry exports to Korea have plummeted 31 percent under the FTA, while U.S. beef and pork exports have fallen 10 and 19 percent respectively. 

The U.S. automotive industry, another promised winner under the deal, has endured a surge in automotive imports from Korea that has swamped a marginal increase in U.S. automotive exports to Korea since the FTA took effect. While U.S. average annual automotive exports to Korea under the pact have been $294 million higher than before the deal, average annual automotive imports from Korea have soared by $4.9 billion under the deal, spurring a 32 percent increase in the U.S. automotive trade deficit with Korea.

Overall, U.S. export growth to countries with pacts like the Korea FTA has been particularly lackluster. Growth of U.S. exports to countries that are not FTA partners has exceeded U.S. export growth to FTA partners by 30 percent over the past decade.

For further analysis of the outcomes of the Korea FTA’s first two years, visit http://www.citizen.org/documents/Korea-FTA-USTR-data-debunk.pdf.  

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