The Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement: NAFTA for the Pacific Rim?
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The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a massive new international trade pact being pushed by the U.S. government at the behest of transnational corporations. The TPP is already being negotiated between the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and most recently, Japan — which together cover approximately 40% of the global economy. But it is also specifically intended as a “docking agreement” that other Pacific Rim countries would join over time, with the Philippines, Thailand, Colombia and others already expressing interest. It is poised to become the largest Free Trade Agreement in the world.
The Obama administration’s embrace of the Bush-negotiated Korea, Panama and Colombia Free Trade Agreements leaves many worried that the Trans-Pacific Partnship will become nothing but a massive new NAFTA-style agreement. Indeed, while none of the negotiating text for the FTA has ever been officially released, it is already clear that trade negotiators are using past free trade agreements as their basic starting point for this one. The leaked text of several chapters, in fact, show rollbacks from the Bush years on topics like access to medicine and zero progress on investment.
The ongoing, multi-year negotiations over the TPP are supposed to conclude this year, and as such, the window of opportunity for preventing the FTA from becoming a new “NAFTA for the Pacific Rim” is rapidly closing. Here are some of the questions yet to be answered:
- Labor rights: Will the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA include labor standards based on International Labor Organization conventions, and if included, how will they be enforced?
- Investment Provisions: Will the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA include so-called “investor-state” provisions that allow individual corporations to challenge environmental, consumer and other public interest policies as barriers to trade?
- Public Procurement: Will the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA respect nations’ and communities’ right to set purchasing preferences that keep taxpayer dollars re-circulating in local economies?
- Access to Medicines: Will the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA allow governments to produce and/or obtain affordable, generic medications for sick people?
- Agriculture: Will the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA allow countries to ensure that farmers and farm workers are fairly compensated, while also preventing the agricultural dumping that has forced so many family farmers off their land?
If labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith, immigrant rights, human rights and other social justice advocates don’t force Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations into the public light, the answers to these questions aren’t likely to be ones we’ll be happy with.
International trade policies can be designed to lift labor, environmental and human rights standards and living conditions at home and abroad — but only if we demand it.
Trans-Pacific Trade Negotiations: We Need a Fair Deal or No Deal
See photos from actions outside the Leesburg round in September 2012
See photos from the National Days of Action in July 2012
See photos from actions outside the San Diego round in July 2012
See photos from actions outside the Dallas round in May 2012
See photos from actions outside the Chicago round in September 2011
See photos from actions outside the southern California mini-round in January 2012
See photos from actions outside the San Francisco round in June 2010
More Background Info
(see the home page for the latest information)
See the New Labor Forum article “Trading Away the Future” from September 2013
See the AFL-CIO Resolution on the TPP & Fast Track from September 2013
See the letter signed by over 2/3 of House Democratic freshman from June 2013
See the letter to Congress from 400+ U.S. organizations from March 2013
See the AFL-CIO Executive Council statement from February 2013
See the letter from 24 Senators on commonsense job creation measures from December 2012
See the letter from 132 House members requesting transparency from June 2012
See the leaked investment text and analysis from June 2012
See the leaked IP, drug formularies and regulatory coherence texts and analysis from October 2011
See the October 2011 civil society letter urging transparency in the negotiations
See our September 2011 Background Memo on the Trans-Pacific FTA
See our 2010 CTC Letter to President Obama on the Trans-Pacific FTA
In 2009, 350+ groups sent a letter to USTR on the Trans-Pacific FTA
Make or Break: Obama Officials Start TPP Talks Today Global Trade Watch, March 15, 2010
Trans-Pacific Partnership Opportunity to Fix Broken System Teamsters, January 26th, 2010
See the USTR TPP Statements and Actions to Date
News & Opinion
Host U.S. under pressure in Asia-Pacific Trade Talks Reuters, June 13, 2010
US environment groups urge inclusion of Lacey Act language in TPP Inside US Trade, June 4, 2010
US Tries to Build Consensus for Trans-Pacific Trade Talks Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2010
Aiming for a trade agreement that breaks with the past Human Rights for Workers, May 13, 2010
Global Union Leaders: Open Trans-Pacific Trade Talks AFL-CIO NOW Blog, May 12, 2010
Must be told Wellsboro Gazette, May 12, 2010
Trading away financial stability Guardian, May 4, 2010
Malaysia could join Asia-Pacific trade talks – US Reuters, May 6, 2010
Kagen says trade deal could make or break U.S. dairy industry Wisconsin Ag Connection, April 29, 2010
TPP as backdoor to Colombia FTA? Eyes on Trade, March 23, 2010
Trade unions in TPP countries call for a fairer trade framework friendly to working people CTU Media Release, March 15, 2010
Proposed Pacific trade agreement must deliver for workers, jobs and the environment, say unions Australian Council of Trade Unions, March 15, 2010
Don’t trade away health, labour, cultural and environmental policies AFTINET, March 14, 2010
Thirty US Senators warn US Trade Representative Ron Kirk about Dairy Provisions in TPP March 11, 2010
House Trade Working Group Requests Meeting with USTR on Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA Office of Congressman Mike Michaud, January 21, 2010
Levin Argues Against Fast-Track Trade Authority CQ Politics, December 15, 2009
Trans-Pacific Partnership Announcement Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, December 14, 2009
Obama Tells Congress U.S. Will Pursue Asia Trade Bloomberg, December 14, 2009
Kirk says U.S. will work with Congress on Pacific trade pact Bloomberg, November 14, 2009
For trade, Obama doesn’t look South Miami Herald, October 19, 2009
U.S. Wants Japan, Malaysia, South Korea to Join Talks Bloomberg, December 18, 2009
Obama boosts hopes for free trade in Asia-Pacific Associated Press, November 17, 2009
In March of 2009, our national, state and local affiliates, representing well over sixteen million combined members, and 350 individual organizations in the trade reform movement, agreed that many of the most serious problems of the previous trade agreement model were replicated in past FTAs, and that the initial reforms made to labor and environmental standards and medicines patent rules required further improvements.
For a prospective TPP to be successful, it cannot merely mirror past U.S. agreements, including those negotiated with Peru, Colombia, Panama and Korea. The FTAs negotiated under the previous Administration do not represent an acceptable trade agreement model. Indeed, a majority of House Democrats voted against the Peru FTA. However, specific improvements made to some of those pacts’ terms in 2007 with respect to labor and environmental standards and patent rules related to medicines are a starting point from which a prospective TPP agreement must achieve more progress.
If the TPP if it is to represent a more balanced way to expand trade, and garner broad support from the public, labor and civil society organizations and thus Congress, it must address the core issues below which are also central to the TRADE Act.
- Labor and Environmental Standards. The Peru FTA and the three leftover Bush FTAs require countries only to implement the vague terms set forth in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and they explicitly do not refer to the ILO Conventions, with their associated jurisprudence and protections. The labor standards of a prospective TPP agreement must require signatories to enforce the core International Labor Organisation’s (ILO) standards as set forth in the ILO Conventions. Requiring in the TPP that countries implement in their domestic law the ILO Convention standards will be a historic accomplishment for international worker rights. Indeed, all future U.S. trade agreements must include a requirement that countries implement in their domestic law the ILO Convention standards.
- Enforcement. They must also include provisions stating that the failure to enforce or the weakening of such policies would constitute a violation of a trade pact provision, for which the consequences will be just as stringent as commercial violations. The record of implementation of the Peru FTA demonstrates why better enforcement of trade pact labor and environmental terms must be a goal of a prospective TPP. Despite inclusion of the 2007-revised labor and environmental language, the Peru FTA was implemented in 2009 without Peru fully implementing its labor commitments as required and after its government rolled back existing environmental protections. Given the disconcerting labor rights records of Vietnam and Brunei, the issue of enforcement will be a critical one in the TPP negotiations.
- Foreign-Investor Rights and Private Extra-judicial Investor-State Enforcement. The TPP must not include the same foreign investor terms included in NAFTA, CAFTA and the Bush FTAs that led many Democrats to oppose these pacts. These past rules afford foreign investors operating here with greater rights than those enjoyed by U.S. investors. The past FTA investment provisions also allow foreign investors and corporations to directly enforce their special FTA investor rights and privileges by suing governments in foreign tribunals to demand cash compensation. President Obama cited these investment rules as problematic during the campaign. The past FTAs’ investor rights terms create incentives for U.S. firms to offshore their U.S. production to foreign jurisdictions where they can operate under privileged FTA foreign investor status rather than be forced to deal with that country’s regulatory policy and courts. They also subject our domestic environmental, zoning, health and other public interest policies to challenge by foreign investors in foreign tribunals.
- Food and Product Safety. NAFTA, CAFTA and past FTAs contain language requiring the United States to accept imported food that does not meet our domestic safety standards and limiting import inspection of food and products. In all future U.S. trade pacts, the right to send food and products into the United States must be conditioned on meeting U.S. safety and inspection standards.
- Procurement Provisions. Past FTA procurement rules subject many common federal and state procurement policies to challenge and directly forbid other common procurement policies. These procurement rules continue the NAFTA/CAFTA ban on anti-offshoring and many Buy America policies, and expose U.S. renewable-energy, recycled-content and other environmental safety requirements to challenge. These terms must be changed in the TPP to provide the policy space for exciting “Green Economy” proposals needed to get our economy back on track.
- Service-sector deregulation. Future U.S. trade pacts must not limit domestic policy regarding the regulation of health, energy, and other essential services. As well, the financial crisis has shown the perils of locking in deregulation of banking, insurance, and other financial services, as has occurred in past pacts.
- Agriculture Provisions. Past FTAs contain the NAFTA-style agriculture trade rules that have simultaneously undermined U.S. producers’ ability to earn a fair price for their crops at home and in the global marketplace. Multinational grain-trading and food-processing firms have made enormous profits, while farmers on both ends have been hurt. If this model is continued, hunger is projected to increase, along with illicit drug cultivation, and undocumented migration. Failure to establish new agriculture terms would intensify the race to the bottom in commodity prices, pitting farmer against farmer and nation against nation to see who can produce food the cheapest, regardless of labor, environment or food-safety standards.
- Access to Medicines. While the most egregious, CAFTA-based terms limiting access to affordable medicines were removed from the last four Bush FTAs, the texts still include NAFTA-style terms that undermine the right to affordable medicines that were contained in the WTO’s Doha Declaration. The TPP negotiations must build on the 2007 reforms on medicine patents rules.
We look forward to working with President Obama to create a new American trade and globalization policy, starting with the process of reviewing our old trade agreement model and formulating a new approach which can be debuted in the context of the TPP process. It will be challenging to remedy the considerable damage that our past trade policies have wrought, however we are confident that working together, we can replace the failed trade policies of the past with those that deliver broadly shared benefits and thus earn broad support.
Comments on the TPP
Executive Committee of Citizens Trade Campaign
Comments Concerning an Environmental Review of the Proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environmental Investigation Agency, Friends of the Earth US, Sierra Club, June 2, 2010
National Farmers Union
President Hoffa, Int. Brotherhood of Teamsters
Teamsters Will Support Trade Pact That Protects Workers
Public Citizen’s Detailed Comments
Global Trade Watch on the TPP Trade Agreement
350+ groups to USTR on how to structure a new TPP March 18th, 2009
Comment from David Frengel, Penn United
Comment from Steve Neubeck, Jobs With Justice
Comment from Humane Society International
Comment from International Fund for Animal Welfare
Comment from US Wheat Associates
Previous Comments from Public Citizen on the TPP March 9, 2009