Corporations are notorious for sneaking things into laws and regulations before the public can find out and rally to stop it. And we know from the conservative Supreme Court arguments against the Affordable Care Act that even what amounts to a typo can be used to change the obvious meaning and intent of a law.
These are reasons we need to see the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership before Congress votes to preapprove it with fast track trade promotion authority (TPA). They are pushing what is literally a pig in a poke on us. We the People need to open that bag and have a good, long look inside before fast track buys the TPP pig in our name.
Negotiated in secret by corporate representatives, it is probable that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is loaded with things the big corporations have snuck in. We already know from leaks that TPP contains provisions allowing companies to sue our government in “corporate courts” if they feel a law or regulation is cutting into their profits. What else is in there?
Will TPP Force Privatization?
As if we needed yet another reason for the public to see the text of TPP before Congress preapproves it with fast track, here is a question: Does the TPP contain provisions that corporations can use to force us to privatize “public” things like our Post Office, public schools, public roads etc., so they can replace them with profit-making enterprises that provide a return only to the wealthy few?
We need to see the provisions of TPP that are designed to regulate “state-owned enterprises” (SOEs) and see them now.
It is possible that the giant corporations have slipped language in that section that would force mass privatization of public services. This certainly is the kind of thing corporate/conservative ideologues would want to do if they could. And with the rigged process that is putting together TPP, they certainly have the opportunity to do this.
The U.S. Trade Representative website says TPP will have “groundbreaking new rules designed to ensure fair competition between state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and private companies.”
We are also pursuing pioneering rules to ensure that private sector businesses and workers are able to compete on fair terms with SOEs, especially when such SOEs receive significant government backing to engage in commercial activity.
… Commitments ensuring SOEs act in accordance with commercial considerations and compete fairly, without undue advantages from the governments that own them, while allowing governments to provide support to SOEs that provide public services domestically; and Rules that will provide transparency with respect to the nature of government control over and support for SOEs.
Will TPP enable the privatizers to declare things like our beloved U.S. Postal Service, schools and roads to be “commercial activity” that competes with private companies? How about our parks, libraries, public pensions, and other public services?
Today corporations and investors consider our highways to be “commercial activity” and are competing to turn such roads into private business. There is a corporate movement battling to privatize our public schools and turn those into corporate profit centers. Private companies are trying to get (and many have gotten) the right to deliver our water instead of publicly owned municipal systems. Many municipalities have already turned over garbage collection to private companies, thereby impoverishing the workforce. Would it be a surprise to find that the corporations have inserted provisions into TPP demanding privatization of the Postal Service, schools, roads and anything else the public currently runs?
Ask any conservative and they will likely tell you that anything a government does to make people’s lives better only interferes with “the market.” They will tell you our public, “government” schools should be privatized. They will tell you that the Post Office needs to go away. They hate Amtrak, public broadcasting, the Export-Import Bank and, public transit. They certainly hate public health care. Many will even say that we shouldn’t have public parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone. They have even privatized prisons.
We the People need to take a good, long look at the text of TPP, run it past experts, let legal scholars tell us if the working might be interpreted in sneaky ways – before Congress votes to preapprove it with fast track. (The Senate has already voted to do this.)
FedEx, UPS And Our Post Office
I was on Nicole Sandler’s show, Radio or Not on Wednesday and she referenced a chart showing “all donations that corporate members of the U.S. Business Coalition for TPP made to U.S. Senate campaigns between January and March 2015, when fast-tracking the TPP was being debated in the Senate.”
Along with Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, there were FedEx and UPS at the top of the list. The same FedEx and UPS that have been lobbying to strangle the Post Office so they can get the business for themselves.
TPP is reported to have provisions regulating “state-owned enterprises.” (We don’t know for sure what it says because it’s secret.) UPS and FedEx are top donors to a campaign to pass the TPP. Uh Oh. Does this mean TPP contains provisions designed to kill our Post Office?
Why were FedEx and UPS giving money to senators just before a vote on fast track preapproval of TPP? Could it be because they have been able to sneak a privatization mandate into TPP? We don’t know because TPP is still secret. If fast track passes the House, we won’t be able to fix it when TPP comes up for a vote because the fast track law would prohibit Congress from making any amendments to the agreement.
Note that the AFL-CIO position on SOEs says the AFL-CIO “does not oppose SOEs and does not seek to privatize them.” But because the U.S. does not have “a comprehensive manufacturing strategy or adequate governmental support for manufacturing, without strict disciplines on anti-competitive behavior by SOEs, U.S. workers and producers remain at risk from those entities.”
In other words, when companies owned outside of the U.S. get government assistance helping them to force closure of U.S. production, this affects working people in a negative way.
Need To See The Text Before Preapproval Happens
The coming vote in the House of Representatives to fast-track trade deals essentially preapproves TPP before we can see what is in it. No less a source than the right-wing Breitbart states it perfectly, in “Two Members of Boehner’s Leadership Team Openly Refuse to Admit if They’ve Read Obamatrade“:
While they’re technically correct in asserting that TPA [Fast Track] is different from the specific TPP, there is essentially no way to stop a trade deal once it has been fast-tracked. Since fast track was created in the Richard Nixon administration, not one trade deal that started on fast track has been thwarted. As such, a vote for TPA is a vote for TPP, since passing TPA will all but guarantee the successful passage of TPP.
Even if the intent is not there in the current negotiations over TPP, a misplaced word or comma could be interpreted later to call for privatization of our schools and roads. Seriously, look at the argument the conservatives are making – and the Supreme Court might be buying – to destroy Obamacare. They are using what is literally a typo, regardless of the clear intent of those who wrote the law, to obtain a ruling that many of us can’t get health insurance subsidies.
Are there similar miswordings in TPP? We don’t know, and if fast track passes before we are allowed to examine the text for ourselves then it is too late – because fast track means we can’t fix it. We have to accept it as is, with only an up-or-down vote while the corporations are running the biggest bribery lobbying/PR/pressure campaign we have ever seen to get Congress to pass it.
The public needs to know what is in TPP before fast track makes it a done deal. Release the text. If there really is a reason it has to be negotiated in secret so countries will “make their best offers,” then just release the parts that all parties in the negotiations are privy to and the parts that are already negotiated.
We need to see the text of TPP before they vote to preapprove it with fast track. Is there a privatization mandate in TPP? We need to know the answer.
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Dave Johnson (Redwood City, CA) is a Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future, writing about American manufacturing, trade and economic/industrial policy. He is also a Senior Fellow with Renew California.
Dave has more than 20 years of technology industry experience including positions as CEO and VP of marketing. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. And he was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.