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Six Things to Know About the TPP

  1. The TPP is not mainly about trade at all: Only six of its 30 chapters cover trade matters while most provide specific new rights and powers for corporations.  The pact has become so controversial because – at a time when poll after poll shows that Republicans, Democrats and Independents are furious about growing corporate power over their lives and governments – the TPP provides a concrete example of how the rules get rigged against most Americans’ interests. As this New Yorker piece describes, 24 of the 30 chapters require limits on food, financial and other regulations and provide drug firms new monopoly rights. The TPP was negotiated in secret with hundreds of corporate advisors (see the Washington Post infographic of 500 corporate advisors), while the public and press were shut out – as was Congress until year six of seven of the closed-door talks. Recent opinion research shows that the more the American public hears about the TPP and its actual terms, the more they oppose it.
  1. There are few remaining tariffs left between TPP nations to cut, which is why pro-free trade economists say there are very limited economic gains to be had from the TPP. From Paul Krugman to Joseph Stiglitz to Robert Reich to Jeffrey Sachs to Simon Johnson and beyond, prominent economists who supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other past pacts say there would be few economic upsides from the TPP. Many are working to stop the TPP because they consider it as threatening to the U.S. economy and most Americans’ interests. The TPP includes protections that make it easier for corporations to send jobs overseas, removing the risks and costs that make corporations think twice about offshoring jobs to low-wage countries. The pro-free-trade Cato Institute calls these terms a subsidy on offshoring.
  1. The TPP’s key provision grants new rights to thousands of multinational corporations to sue the U.S. government before a panel of three corporate lawyers that would be empowered to award the corporations unlimited sums to be paid by America’s taxpayers, including for the loss of expected future profits. Were the TPP enacted, multinational corporations need only convince the tribunal of private sector lawyers that a U.S. law or safety regulation violates their TPP rights. The tribunals’ decisions are not subject to appeal and the amount awarded has no limit. To date, the United States has avoided losing such “investor-state dispute settlement” cases because past pacts did not include major capital-exporting nations except Canada. But the TPP would newly empower the U.S. subsidiaries of more than 9,500 Japanese and other TPP-nation firms to attack U.S. federal, state and local policies and government actions, as TransCanada recently did using similar terms in NAFTA.
  1. Even the official U.S. government assessment of the TPP, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) report released on May 18, projected few economic gains but estimated that 36 of 55 U.S. economic sectors would suffer declining trade balances under the TPP. The ITC projected that the TPP would increase the U.S. global trade deficit by $21.7 billion by 2032 and even worsen our services trade balance. The ITC projected a $24 billion dollar jump in the manufacturing trade deficit and job loss and manufacturing losses five times larger than gains for winning agricultural sectors, with corn and wheat losing. The projected upside: tiny economic growth gains (15/100 of one percent) by 2032 – meaning the United States would be as wealthy on January 1, 2032 with the TPP as it would be on February 15, 2032 without. 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.
  1. The “TPP covers 40 percent of the global economy” line is a misdirect: The six TPP nations with existing U.S. free trade pacts account for more than 80 percent of the trade counted in the 40 percent. Tariffs on U.S. goods going to Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Singapore already do not exist or are being eliminated. So while TPP countries may account for 40 percent of world trade, the TPP would cut tariffs on only 20 percent of that 40 percent share. Japan comprises fully 88 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the five TPP countries without an existing U.S. free trade agreement, but Japan’s average applied tariff weighted by product import shares is now only 1.2 percent. Indeed, tariff levels in the remaining five TPP countries are generally low.
  1. Environmental, consumer, faith, senior, family farm, LGBTQ, Internet freedom, small business, human rights, online activism, and other organizations have made stopping the TPP a major priority because it would undermine decades of their policy achievements and foreclose future progress by requiring signatory countries to conform domestic laws to hundreds of pages of non-trade rules promoted by the corporate interests involved in negotiations. Doctors Without Borders calls the TPP the worst trade agreement for access to medicines. The online groups that derailed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in Congress are fighting TPP terms that undermine Internet freedom and consumer privacy. Consumer groups are engaged because the TPP would require us to accept food imports that do not meet U.S. safety standards and limit commonsense financial regulation needed to avoid future crises. Climate and youth organizations are fighting the TPP because it would forbid many of the policies we need to combat climate change. Just one recent letter to Congress was signed by 1,500 organizations from NRDC and Sierra Club and 350.org to MoveOn and CREDO to the National Farmers Union and Public Citizen and Food & Water Watch to Common Cause and Action Aid to the AFL-CIO and SEIU to score of national unions to the Presbyterian, Unitarian and other faith groups with tens of millions of members combined.

For more info: Lori Wallach, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch at lwallach@citizen.org 

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Public Health Takes a Hit Even as Uruguay Prevails in Infamous Philip Morris Investor-State Attack

Thankfully, a years-long campaign to shame Philip Morris and the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system for the tobacco giant’s infamous ISDS attack on Uruguay ultimately prevailed, but not without leaving deep and damaging scars to global tobacco-control efforts. An ISDS tribunal ruled that Uruguay did not have to compensate Philip Morris after the firm attacked Uruguay’s public health law requiring that 80 percent of tobacco product packages feature graphic medical warning labels.  

But what happens when a government “wins” an ISDS attack should be a cautionary tale for the threats posed by the Trans-Pacific Partnerships (TPP). If enacted, the TPP would double U.S. ISDS liability overnight.

Uruguay only managed to dodge this bullet because billionaire Michael Bloomberg stepped in to cover its millions of dollars in costly legal defense during six years of litigation. When Philip Morris initiated the ISDS case in 2010, the Uruguayan government reportedly was prepared to immediately cave and change their anti-tobacco law, since defending the case was financially impossible for the tiny country. 

Late last year, another ISDS tribunal ruled that it did not have jurisdiction in the Philip Morris case against Australia for similar tobacco-control policies, but Australians saw more than $50 million of their tax dollars go to legal costs to defend against the attack, according to World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan. This includes having to pay the three corporate lawyers who served as “judges” during the four-year ordeal. They bill at least $375 per hour and, in a manner that would be unethical for real judges, often rotate between suing governments for corporations and “judging” cases.

And, just by launching these cases, Philip Morris managed to chill other nations from enacting similar legislation for years to avoid being the next target. One example: New Zealand held off on its own plain packaging proposal to see what happened with Australia. Canada’s efforts to enact plain-packaging legislation died after R.J. Reynolds sent a memorandum to the House of Commons arguing the policy would constitute an illegal expropriation under the North American Free Trade Agreement’s ISDS regime, exposing Canada to millions in liability.  

With six million people dying from tobacco-related deaths each year globally, it is not hyperbole to say that the years of litigation of these ISDS cases contributed to needless loss of life.

The Obama administration touts that the TPP will exclude tobacco companies from using ISDS to challenge public health policies. But as Senator Elizabeth Warren put it, the ISDS tobacco exclusion is “pretty much an admission that ISDS can be used to weaken other public health laws.”

And, the favorable ruling in the Uruguay case unfortunately does not assure governments of their policy space. Among the fatal flaws baked into the very structure of the ISDS system is how capricious and subjective ISDS tribunals are. When a particularly egregious case gets massive negative attention and becomes highly politicized, it is in the interest of the tribunal to “make it go away” in order to preserve the ISDS system as a whole. 

When Canadian companies Methanex and Glamis Gold launched some of the few ISDS cases against the United States — against California regulations of toxic substances and mining respectively — the public outrage by members of Congress and others likely affected the outcomes, and the United States dodged the ISDS bullet. Other, less high-profile cases with very similar fact patterns and based on the same claims ended with the taxpayers of other countries having to pay multi-million dollar awards to corporations. 

For now, we breathe a sigh of relief that these cases against Uruguay and Australia did not result in millions in taxpayer compensation to the tobacco giant and congratulate all the public health advocates that helped to spotlight the travesty of Philip Morris’ ISDS attack against the countries. 

But, at the same time, we must redouble our efforts to stop the TPP, which would dramatically expand this dangerous and capricious ISDS regime.

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New ITC Report Finds Disturbing Trends in U.S. Economy After Implementation of Free Trade Agreements


On June 29, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) released a study on the economic impacts of trade agreements on the United States economy. This study was among those required by the 2015 Fast Track legislation. The report:

  • Estimates that U.S. trade agreements have increased the wage gap in America between higher- and lower-skilled workers (page 122).
  • Tried to cover up the reality that the United States has a large and growing trade deficit with its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners. The aggregate U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners has increased by about $141 billion, or 418 percent, since the FTAs were implemented while the aggregate trade deficit with all non-FTA countries has decreased by about $46 billion, or 6 percent, since 2005 (the year before the median entry date of existing FTAs). To avoid discussing this reality, the study’s representation of FTA trade flows focuses on percentage figures versus nominal figures, which would reveal the deficit. The report notes that U.S. exports to FTA countries represented 47 percent of total U.S. exports while imports from FTA countries only claimed 34 percent of total U.S. imports (page 29). A more honest portrayal of the relationship shows that U.S. exports to FTA partners were less than $593 billion in 2015, yet U.S. imports from FTA partners were more than $767 billion, a 2015 trade deficit of $175 billion.
  • Estimates all the U.S. bilateral and regional FTAs combined have led to an increase in real GDP and aggregate U.S. employment by less than 1 percent (page 122). In other words, the average U.S. monthly employment growth over the past year (i.e. 200,000 jobs) is larger than the ITC’s estimates for the increase in total employment that all U.S. FTAs have delivered since 1985 (i.e. 159,300 jobs) (page 17). But even this tiny estimated increase in employment is an odd conclusion given that the increase in the U.S. trade deficit under U.S. FTAs of $141.3 billion, if plugged into the Obama administration’s trade-to-jobs ratio, implies the loss of more than 745,000 U.S. jobs counting both imports and exports.
  • Fails to discuss or review the 2.9 million jobs certified by Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) as trade job losses since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – and it is known that TAA numbers significantly undercount trade-related job loss because until recently the program only covered a subset of manufacturing jobs lost to trade and only counts job losses that are voluntarily reported to the agency. Nor does the study explicitly discuss the nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs lost since NAFTA and the FTAs that followed, including many job losses resulting from multinational corporations moving their operations overseas to take advantage of cheap labor and undervalued currencies. Also missing from the report, is any coverage of the loss of nearly 200,000 U.S. small farms in America, which has devastated the traditional family farm in favor of large farm conglomerates. The ITC does admit that trade agreements have led to transitory unemployment and labor relocation – a reality it failed to account for in its study on the TPP’s impact on the U.S. economy (page 122).
  • Finds that certain trade agreements have lowered employment levels in many industries including autos as well as textiles and apparel. The report highlights that the tariff reductions the U.S. undertook as a result of the Uruguay Round and NAFTA led to U.S. steel imports increasing by 14.7 percent, or $1.2 billion in 2000 (page 149). The report also states that NAFTA and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) led to lower U.S. employment and production levels in the auto (page 173) and textile and apparel sectors (page 150).
  • Finds that all the U.S. FTAs since 1985 have increased real GDP by a minuscule 0.21 percent (page 127).

The ITC has traditionally overstated the benefits that FTAs have had on the U.S. economy by incorporating deceptive and downright false assumptions in its models. The aggregate U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners has increased by $141 billion, or 418 percent, since the FTAs were implemented. In contrast, the aggregate trade deficit with all non-FTA countries has decreased by about $46 billion, or 6 percent, since 2005 (the year before the median entry date of existing FTAs). Using the Obama administration’s trade-to-jobs ratio, counting both exports and imports, the FTA trade deficit surge implies the loss of over 745,000 U.S. jobs.


While the ITC report implies that more recent FTAs include higher standards on labor and environmental provisions and thus may yield trade balance improvements (Page 94), there is no correlation between an FTA’s inclusion of the higher standards of the May 10, 2007 deal and its trade balance. The Korea FTA included the “May 10” standards, and yet the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has grown over 80 percent in the four 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. 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.

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