The Arizona Republican editors are dead wrong about Fast-Track and the TPP

The editors of the The Arizona Republican had some advice for Arizona Democrats on Sunday, Arizona Democrats can’t afford to fight trade deal:

ArizonaRepublicanShowing support for this legislation constitutes a golden opportunity for Sinema and Kirkpatrick — Democrats whose districts include almost equal parts liberal and conservative voters — to establish their moderate bona fides once and for all. Both have worked hard to stake out reputations as issue-oriented lawmakers who vote substance, not party. When the trade bill returns to Congress, there will be no better opportunity for Sinema and Kirkpatrick to put weight behind their claim to the centrist’s helm.

The authority would allow the U.S. president to negotiate complicated trade deals with the partnership countries, all of which then would be put before Congress for a vote. Contrary to the concerns of “tea party” activists who fear awarding still more “executive authority” to Obama, Congress retains the final say.

Global free trade is happening whether the unions like it or not. The only difference will be whether the trade teams of the United States help write the rules for trade among the markets of the Pacific Rim, or whether China does.

It would approach economic disaster to assume that the U.S. should cut itself out of the fastest-growing sector of the world economy. And it would be the height of economic foolishness for Sinema and Kirkpatrick to sign off on such self-defeatism.

For labor unions to be turning against Obama on this issue represents an astonishing slap at the most pro-union president of the last 100 years. By his appointments, Obama virtually has turned over the National Labor Relations Board to union interests.

Siding with such special interests against this president would mean siding with the extremists. That’s not where these two moderation-minded lawmakers should be.

There are three takeaways from this editorial opinion. First, The Arizona Republican is celebrating its 125th anniversary this week, and its long and sordid history of anti-unionism continues unabated (this history is unlikely to be covered in this week’s self-congratulatory historical review).

Who are the members of unions? America’s working class. The Arizona Republican defines America’s working class as a “special interest” and as “extremists.” Think about the diseased mind of the editor who sees working men and women as “extremists” to be despised and vilified out of blind hatred for organized labor (a constitutional First Amendment right of free association by the way).

Second, The Arizona Republican remains the media arm of the Arizona Republican Party and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The editors are adherents of the Randian economic religion of the invisible hand of the free marketplace and free trade, a religious dogma not to be questioned by facts and observable results.

Those of us who are from the blighted ghost towns of the once prosperous industrial engine of America’s “rust belt” can attest to the awesome destructive power of free trade and corporate globalism. Voters who lost jobs to trade deals wary of more promises.

The editors of The Arizona Republican, of course, define free trade religious dogma as a “moderate” and “centrist” position. It is the position of the Arizona Republican Party and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, neither one of which should ever be confused with being “moderate” or “centrist.”

Which brings me to the third takeaway. Few, if any, members of Congress have actually read the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal being negotiated. I can state with 100% certainty that not one editor of The Arizona Republican has read the draft trade agreement. The editors are demanding that members of Congress vote for Fast-Track and the TPP trade agreement, sight unseen, out of blind faith in the Randian economic religion of the invisible hand of the free marketplace and free trade. “All kneel before the beneficence of our global corporate masters!

NPR reported, A Trade Deal Read In Secret By Only A Few (Or Maybe None):

[H]ow senators will vote on this bill depends largely on how they feel about TPP. And there’s one problem.

“I bet that none of my colleagues have read the entire document. I would bet that most of them haven’t even spent a couple hours looking at it,” said Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who has acknowledged he has yet to read every single page of the trade agreement.

Because, as Brown explained, even if a member of Congress were to hunker down and pore over a draft trade agreement hundreds of pages long, filled with technical jargon and confusing cross-references –- what good would it do? Just sitting down and reading the agreement isn’t going to make its content sink in.

For any senator who wants to study the draft TPP language, it has been made available in the basement of the Capitol, inside a secured, soundproof room. There, lawmakers surrender their cellphones and other mobile devices and sit under the watchful gaze of an official from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office while they peruse the pages. Any notes taken inside the room must be left in the room.

Only aides with high-level security clearances can accompany lawmakers. Members of Congress can’t ask outside industry experts or lawyers to analyze the language. They can’t talk to the public about what they read. And Brown says there’s no computer inside the secret room to look something up when there’s confusion. You just consult the USTR official.

Luckily, an expert on trade with a high-level security clearance has read the draft trade agreement and he cautions against its passage today in POLITICO Tiger Beat on The Potomac. Michael Wessel, a longtime Dem-aligned trade adviser writes, I’ve Read Obama’s Secret Trade Deal. Elizabeth Warren Is Right to Be Concerned:

“You need to tell me what’s wrong with this trade agreement, not one that was passed 25 years ago,” a frustrated President Barack Obama recently complained about criticisms of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). He’s right. The public criticisms of the TPP have been vague. That’s by design—anyone who has read the text of the agreement could be jailed for disclosing its contents. I’ve actually read the TPP text provided to the government’s own advisors, and I’ve given the president an earful about how this trade deal will damage this nation. But I can’t share my criticisms with you.

I can tell you that Elizabeth Warren is right about her criticism of the trade deal. We should be very concerned about what’s hidden in this trade deal—and particularly how the Obama administration is keeping information secret even from those of us who are supposed to provide advice.

So-called “cleared advisors” like me are prohibited from sharing publicly the criticisms we’ve lodged about specific proposals and approaches. The government has created a perfect Catch 22: The law prohibits us from talking about the specifics of what we’ve seen, allowing the president to criticize us for not being specific. Instead of simply admitting that he disagrees with me—and with many other cleared advisors—about the merits of the TPP, the president instead pretends that our specific, pointed criticisms don’t exist.

What I can tell you is that the administration is being unfair to those who are raising proper questions about the harms the TPP would do. To the administration, everyone who questions their approach is branded as a protectionist—or worse—dishonest. They broadly criticize organized labor, despite the fact that unions have been the primary force in America pushing for strong rules to promote opportunity and jobs. And they dismiss individuals like me who believe that, first and foremost, a trade agreement should promote the interests of domestic producers and their employees.

I’ve been deeply involved in trade policy for almost four decades. For 21 years, I worked for former Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt and handled all trade policy issues including “fast track,” the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization’s Uruguay Round, which is the largest trade agreement in history. I am also a consultant to various domestic producers and the United Steelworkers union, for whom I serve as a cleared advisor on two trade advisory committees. To top it off, I was a publicly acknowledged advisor to the Obama campaign in 2008.

Obama may no longer be listening to my advice, but Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren might as well be. Warren, of course, has been perhaps the deal’s most vocal critic, but even the more cautious Clinton has raised the right questions on what a good TPP would look like. Her spokesman, Nick Merrill, said: “She will be watching closely to see what is being done to crack down on currency manipulation, improve labor rights, protect the environment and health, promote transparency and open new opportunities for our small businesses to export overseas. As she warned in her book Hard Choices, we shouldn’t be giving special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers.”

On this count, the current TPP doesn’t measure up. And nothing being considered by Congress right now would ensure that the TPP meets the goal of promoting domestic production and job creation.

The text of the TPP, like all trade deals, is a closely guarded secret. That fact makes a genuine public debate impossible and should make robust debate behind closed doors all the more essential. But the ability of TPP critics like me to point out the deal’s many failings is limited by the government’s surprising and unprecedented refusal to make revisions to the language in the TPP fully available to cleared advisors.

Bill Clinton didn’t operate like this. During the debate on NAFTA, as a cleared advisor for the Democratic leadership, I had a copy of the entire text in a safe next to my desk and regularly was briefed on the specifics of the negotiations, including counterproposals made by Mexico and Canada. During the TPP negotiations, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has never shared proposals being advanced by other TPP partners. Today’s consultations are, in many ways, much more restrictive than those under past administrations.

All advisors, and any liaisons, are required to have security clearances, which entail extensive paperwork and background investigations, before they are able to review text and participate in briefings. But, despite clearances, and a statutory duty to provide advice, advisors do not have access to all the materials that a reasonable person would need to do the job. The negotiators provide us with “proposals” but those are merely initial proposals to trading partners. We are not allowed to see counter-proposals from our trading partners. Often, advisors are provided with updates indicating that the final text will balance all appropriate stakeholder interests but we frequently receive few additional details beyond that flimsy assurance.

Those details have enormous repercussions. For instance, rules of origin specify how much of a product must originate within the TPP countries for the resulting product to be eligible for duty-free treatment. These are complex rules that decide where a company will manufacture its products and where is will purchase raw materials.

* * *

State-owned enterprises may, for the first time, be addressed in the TPP. But, once again, the details are not clear. Will exemptions be provided to countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, all of which could be heavily impacted by such a rule? What will be the test to determine what is or is not acceptable behavior? Will injury be required to occur over a substantial period of time, or will individual acts of non-commercial, damaging trade practices be actionable? Again, it’s impossible to say for sure.

Advisors are almost flying blind on these questions and others.

Only portions of the text have been provided, to be read under the watchful eye of a USTR official. Access, up until recently, was provided on secure web sites. But the government-run website does not contain the most-up-to-date information for cleared advisors. To get that information, we have to travel to certain government facilities and sign in to read the materials. Even then, the administration determines what we can and cannot review and, often, they provide carefully edited summaries rather than the actual underlying text, which is critical to really understanding the consequences of the agreement.

Cleared advisors were created by statute to advise our nation’s trade negotiators. There is a hierarchal structure, starting with the USTR’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy & Negotiations at the top—a committee that includes people like Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga, Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson and Jill Appell, co-owner of Appell’s Pork Farms. Then there are specific Committees covering subjects like labor, the environment and agriculture that make up the next tier. The last tier consists of the Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACS), which focus on individual sectors such as steel and aerospace. At last count, there were more than 600 cleared advisors. The vast majority of them represent business interests.

In an effort to diminish criticism, USTR is now letting cleared advisors review summaries of what the negotiators have done. In response to a question about when the full updated text will be made available, we’ve been told, “We are working on making them available as soon as possible.” That’s not the case overseas: Our trading partners have this text, but the government’s own cleared advisors, serving on statutorily-created advisory committees, are kept in the dark.

How can we properly advise, without knowing the details?

Questions pervade virtually every chapter of the proposed agreement, including labor and the environment, investor-state, intellectual property and others. The answers to these questions affect the sourcing and investment decisions of our companies and resulting jobs for our people. Our elected representatives would be abdicating their Constitutional duty if they failed to raise questions.

Senator Warren should be commended for her courage in standing up to the President, and Secretary Clinton for raising a note of caution, and I encourage all elected officials to raise these important questions. Working Americans can’t afford more failed trade agreements and trade policies.

Congress should refuse to pass fast track trade negotiating authority until the partnership between the branches, and the trust of the American people is restored. That will require a lot of fence mending and disclosure of exactly what the TPP will do. That begins by sharing the final text of the TPP with those of us who won’t simply rubber-stamp it.

On Monday, Senator Elizabeth Warren released a report prepared by her staff—Broken Promises: Decades of Failure to Enforce Labor Standards in Free Trade Agreements—which points out that promises made by past administrations and the current one about robust protections of workers and the environment in trade agreements have not been kept:

…the history of these agreements betrays a harsh truth: that the actual enforcement of labor provisions of past U.S. FTAs lags far behind the promises. […]

Again and again, proponents of free trade agreements claim that this time, a new trade agreement has strong and meaningful protections; again and again, those protections prove unable to stop the worst abuses. Lack of enforcement by both Democratic and Republican presidents and other flaws with the treaties have allowed countries with weaker laws and standards and widespread labor and environment abuses to undermine treaty provisions, leaving U.S. workers and other interested parties with no recourse.

Read the entire report, and ignore the damn fool editors of The Arizona Republican. Then contact your senators and members of Congress and let them know how you feel about Fast-Track and the TPP.

 

4 responses to “The Arizona Republican editors are dead wrong about Fast-Track and the TPP

  1. Frances Perkins

    All that whining and crying from McConnell and Graham and the rest of them dumb GOP Senators on how they couldn’t read the health care law because it was too long. Well at least it was accessible and could be discussed, if long. With this trade bill you can’t read it, it,can’t be discussed, it’s top secret, what the hell is that? Nonsense, vote no unless everyone can see it and debate it. First time in history I agree with the tea party on anything,other than metadata sweeps.

  2. So the unions represent the working man and woman, h-m-m? Then why do unions in the United States represent only 11.3% of the work force? That hardly constitutes “the voice” of the working people. It does seem they are more like a special interest because the demands of unions often put themselves out of business. And in doing so, they earn the title “extremists”. I will grant you that unions often do good things for the work force, but they just as often don’t know when to stop and they are quite willing to kill the golden goose in their arrogance.

    Having said that, I agree completely that NO trade agreement should be ratified unless it has been thoroughly reviewed in the light of day and the ramifications of the Agreement made clear. Especially if it originates with the Obama Administration. Why would the Administration put such an emphasis on secrecy unless he was planning on doing something further to hurt the United States?

    I don’t expect my Senators or Representatives to read the bills. There are too many bills and I don’t believe they are that intelligent. I expect them to have staff to read it and advise them. So if they don’t read it I don’t think that is much of a loss, but I DO expect them to have their staff brief them on it.

    This bill never needs to be passed.

  3. American Vendetta

    This is scary stuff. What is this a CIA intelligence committee on the location of our nuclear subs? The editorial of the AZ repuklic was expected. They are the shining example of what has gone wrong in american media today. To fully endorse this agreement without any knowledge of what it contains while criticizing labor and the tea party shows who they are held accountable to. Anyone who opposes the corporate interests of the state are traitors and extremists! They are so loyal to this mentality they support Obama 100%, whole cow!

    There are valid concerns on both sides of this issue. The only people drinking the kolade are those who receive money and influence from the corporate industrial complex. Congressmen, the President, the media, etc. This is an example of how corrupt things have gotten. I sincerely believe (because I have not read or been allowed to see the agreement) that TPP will be the final nail in the coffin for the middle class american. Those pushing TPP know this and it is why nobody is allowed to know what is in it but the special interests that put it together.

  4. Frances Perkins

    How can ANYONE vote on a trade deal that no one has read, cannot be discussed, and that the public cannot be a party to? What is this, Putin’s Russia? Qatar on labor conditions?