Coalition Organizing to Stop Passage of TPP Free Trade Pact in Lame Duck Session of Congress

Posted Sept. 14, 2016

MP3 Interview with Melinda St. Louis, international campaigns director with Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, conducted by Scott Harris

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After the full text of the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal was released by the Obama administration in November, a broad coalition of opponents including labor, environmental and consumer groups asserted that the actual provisions in the pact were worse than originally feared. They cited an extension of intellectual property rights in the pact that will increase the cost and reduce access to critical life-saving drugs; the off-shoring of thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs to cheaper labor markets; and the flooding of the U.S. market with unsafe and unlabeled imported food.

Another divisive element in the TPP, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement regime, or ISDS, allows multi-national 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. These corporations can then demand taxpayer compensation for lost profits.

President Obama, who is strongly backing passage of the TPP, hopes to bring up the trade deal for a vote in the lame-duck session of Congress after the national election on Nov. 8, but before the new Congress and president are sworn into office in January 2017. But as things now stand, that may be difficult as GOP Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell announced recently that he would not schedule a vote on the TPP agreement this year. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Public Citizen's International Campaigns Director Melinda St. Louis, who discusses the organizing being done across the U.S. to stop a lame-duck session vote on the controversial free trade deal. (Rush transcript)

MELINDA ST. LOUIS: At the heart of the TPP are new rights for thousands of corporations to be able to sue the United States government – not in our courts – but before a panel of three corporate lawyers that can award unlimited sums of our taxpayer money, including for the loss of these companies' expected future profits. And, all they have to do is try to convince this panel of three corporate lawyers that U.S. policy violates the new rights that the TPP would grant them. And that's just one piece of this massive document they claim is about trade, but in fact, of the 30 chapters of the TPP – almost 6,000 pages – only 6 chapters deal with traditional trade issues. So we see these massive rights for corporations. We see expanded monopolies for pharmaceutical companies so they can block generic competition, keep drug prices high. We see further financial deregulation for big banks and so, for that reason, what we see is an unprecedented coalition of trade unions, environmental organizations, faith groups, seniors, young people, public health groups that have come together to say that this is not the model that we should be pushing and locking ourselves into for perpetuity because you can't change these agreements after they're locked in.

And so, there is massive opposition to this and it has translated into opposition from the presidential candidates from the Democratic side and the Republican side, and the elite consensus that's been pushing this free trade model has really crumbled.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Well, Melinda, tell us what's the status of the TPP, the Transpacific Partnership right now. I think many listeners will have heard stories about how President Obama is still pushing hard for passage in the House and Senate. I think the latest plan – it sounds like it's run into some obstacles – but the latest plan we were hearing about is that there was going be an attempt to hold a vote after the presidential election and before the new Congress takes office in January and that's called the lame duck session.

MELINDA ST. LOUIS: So the TPP, because it has been so unpopular and because actually, the negotiations took many years longer to complete than what they were hoping, because other countries were actually standing up to some of the most egregious over-reach – corporate over-reach that was being pushed in the TPP. But because of that, the TPP debate got pushed into the presidential election cycle, which helped those of us who have been wanting to put a spotlight on the secretive agreement for years so that the public could actually have a public debate. So that just started to happen, and what that's meant is that it's become more and more unpopular and now we're at the situation where no member of Congress wants to touch this, wants to take this kind of controversial vote. So, President Obama is pushing very hard and sees the only opportunity in the very unaccountable period after the election, but before the next Congress starts, so the recently fired or retired members of Congress come back and they have one more chance to vote when they're not accountable to the voters. So that's a dangerous period and that's the only window that the pro-TPP forces – which are the big, big companies that have been pushing for this, see as an opportunity.

So, the good news is that because of all the massive opposition, they do not have the votes to pass the TPP. And this is both Republicans and Democrats are not supporting this, while the Republican leadership collaborated with the White House to get what they call fast-track authority, which means that the TPP will only be voted up or down. There's no amendments, there's no way to fix it. So now, what activists and what citizens' groups are pushing all over the country, is to get every member of the House of Representatives on record before the election to say, "Where do you stand? Will you oppose a vote on this TPP before or after the election" – because we need to hold their feet to the fire while they're campaigning and many of them are campaigning against the TPP because they know that this is extremely unpopular because it's so harmful to their constituents.

Everybody will be touched by this. It affects our food safety. It creates more income inequality in the United States, pitting workers in the United States against workers in Vietnam who earn 65 cents an hour. Rolling back Wall Street reform and as I mentioned, jacking up the cost of medicine and corporate rights that are at the center, that allow corporations to be able to sue over our public interest laws. And the TPP would overnight double the number of corporations that could use this extreme mechanism of corporate power against our state laws, our local laws and our federal laws. And it's extremely dangerous and for that reason, citizens need to be contacting their member of Congress now and getting them on the record now saying they will not support this expansion of corporate power in the TPP.

For more information, visit Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch at citizen.org/trade and citizen.org/tpp.

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