Broad Coalition Campaigns to Prevent U.S. Approval of Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement

Posted Feb. 10, 2016

MP3 Interview with Jessa Boehner, international program associate with Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, conducted by Scott Harris


Trade representatives of the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations gathered in New Zealand on Feb. 4, to formally sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement that's designed to integrate 40 percent of the world's economy. Over the next two years, the controversial trade pact, known as the TPP, must still be ratified by at least six original signatories representing 85 percent of the total GDP of the 12 nations that signed the agreement.

While supporters like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and President Obama say the TPP will boost American exports and create jobs, some economic studies warn that the trade agreement will lead to employment losses and increased inequality. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, an opponent said recently that the TPP "is about letting multinational corporations rig the rules – on everything from patent protection to food safety standards ... to benefit themselves."

The contentious Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision of the TPP allows multinational corporations to challenge local, state and federal public health, environmental, consumer and labor laws, as well as court rulings if a claim is made that they impinge on business profits. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Jessa Boehner, international program associate with Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, who explains why a broad coalition of labor, environmental and consumer groups are now engaged in a campaign to defeat the TPP when the trade agreement comes up for a vote in the U.S. Congress.

JESSA BOEHNER: The Transpacific Partnership, which we refer to as the TPP, is a so-called "free trade" agreement – and we put "free trade" in quotes – between 12 countries, and it's been in negotiation for about seven years. And the reason that we put the "free trade" in quotes is because, really, the TPP has to do with a lot more than what we think of as typical trade issues. So, of the TPP's 30 chapters, actually only 6 of them have to do with these traditional trade issues in terms of lowering or getting rid of tariffs, etc. But instead, what we've seen in the TPP is that are many provisions that actually benefit multinational corporations over workers, the environment, consumers, etc.

So, this is not actually that surprising, given how the deal was negotiated. So, as I mentioned, it was negotiation for about seven years, it took a really long time in part because there was a lot of opposition – global opposition – to the deal. But it was basically negotiated in secret and so the public and the press and civil society were locked out of negotiations. For the majority of the time the TPP was in negotitions, U.S. members of Congress were locked out, too. And at the end, they received, after a lot of complaining, they received some kind of nominal access, where they could request or view certain parts of it. They couldn't talk about it, they couldn't take any notes, etc. But at the same time, as all of these actors were locked out, there were about 500 so-called advisors so the majority of them, representing industry interest, representing corporate interest, that actually had access to the text of the negotiations.

So, it's not surprising that the TPP would benefit these corporations over workers and consumers and when they finally released the text, we actually saw that it was worse than we thought it would be. There's a lot of concerns. For example, it includes the same kind of language that was in NAFTA that actually makes it easier for big corporations to offshore more American jobs. The TPP would also push down our wages for the jobs that are left, because it basically pits American workers more directly in competition – with, for example, workers in Vietnam who make less than 65 cents an hour – it includes monopoly rights for big pharmaceutical companies that raise medicine prices, would flood us with more imports of unsafe food, it also includes a very controversial investor-state dispute settlement which allows corporations to challenge public interest policies that they can say affects their ability to make a future profit. And there's concerns about Internet freedom, rolls back environment standards, really as you mentioned, there's kind of something for everyone to hate. And that's why there's an unprecedented number of organizations that are working against the TPP to try and make sure that Congress will reject it.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tell us about the candidates running for president, both on the Democratic and Republican side, and their support or opposition to the TPP, the Transpacific Trade Agreement.

JESSA BOEHNER: In no small part due to the large amount opposition to the deal, this has really become a politically toxic issue. And really, at this point, the TPP might not even be sent to the Congress for approval during this Congress, given that we're in an election year, and there's been enough pushback. There really isn't a clear majority of support, particularly in the House of Republicans. People that are in the presidential race that are running have really kind of felt the pushback from the American citizens that this is really not a popular issue that Americans are really opposing this. And because of that, the major people that are vying for the presidency have really had to come out in opposition to the TPP. So we have Hillary, (she) came out opposing the TPP as well as Bernie Sanders, so both of the candidates that are running on the Democrat side as well as many of the major candidates that are in the Republican race.

So, we're really seeing that this issue is one that is really, really politically toxic and for that reason, the movement to cede the TPP is alive and well, and it's not a sure thing that Congress would approve the TPP, or that it will even be brought up for a vote.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Jessa, lastly, are there any public opinion polls that have been done recently on public attitudes towards this proposed TransPacific Partnership?

JESSA BOEHNER: One of the things that tends to come out of polls or that people tend to kind of support the idea of free trade – but once you get started talking about the provisions that are in the trade deal, NAFTA, previous trade agreements and what the TPP will actually do, there's a lot of opposition to these NAFTA-style deals.

For more information on the battle to defeat the Trans-Pacific free trade agreement, visit Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch at

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