Over the past six years we and our Democratic colleagues in Congress have attempted to engage with administration officials to ensure that the specific terms of the TPP would be designed to create American jobs and raise wages here, while also ensuring that critical domestic environmental, consumer and other public interest safeguards would not be undermined by the TPP’s terms. We have sent scores of letters and held numerous meetings as we tried to partner with the Administration to create a TPP agreement and a trade authority process that we could support.
After six years, the TPP text is almost complete. Along with other colleagues, we have carefully reviewed the draft text of the TPP as it has been made available to members of Congress. Unfortunately, we are prohibited from publicly discussing the many specific serious problems with the TPP’s terms because of national security classification conditions. However, despite hundreds of Members of Congress writing to Administration officials requesting that the TPP include enforceable disciplines against currency manipulation, the Administration has refused to include such terms. These are needed to ensure the pact does not increase our trade deficit, damage U.S. firms and farmers and exacerbate American job loss.
Moreover, the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan bill would provide, for up to six years to whomever is president, a form of trade authority that Congress has only permitted for five of the last 21 years. This 1970s form of Fast Track trade authority is inappropriate for today’s expansive trade and investment agreements. Efforts by Democrats in Congress to improve trade authority and ensure proper congressional oversight and input into the trade agreement policymaking process have been repeatedly rejected. This most recently occurred when Chairman Ryan refused to even permit a vote on the substitute ‘Right Track’ trade authority proposal offered by Ranking Member Sander Levin in last week’s Ways and Means markup of the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan bill.
Our opposition to fast tracking the TPP is not grounded in our concerns over the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Rather, USTR has publicly stated that the 2012 US-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) was used as the basis for the text of the TPP itself. Congressional Democrats led by Ranking Member Sander Levin forced President George W. Bush, who signed KORUS in 2007, to include enforceable labor and environmental standards in the core text of KORUS and in his pacts with Colombia, Peru, and Panama pursuant to the ‘May 2007’ agreement on trade policy.
Democratic Members of Congress have been clear from day one of the TPP talks that USTR had to improve on this baseline. As December 2014 Government Accountability Office reports documented, conditions on the ground in the countries subject to these terms have not improved significantly.
Given that the TPP includes notable labor and human rights violators, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico, and Brunei, continuation of the Bush-era labor framework in the TPP will result in predictable, and unacceptable, results. This conclusion is further reinforced by considering the outcomes of the 2011 U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which not only incorporated the May 2007 standards but was supplemented with a Colombian Labor Action Plan that President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed in recognition of the dire conditions facing Colombian workers and unionists. Sadly, since implementation of the pact and the Labor Action Plan, the organization recognized in the Plan as the official monitoring agency reports that 105 Colombian trade unionists have been assassinated and several hundred have had their lives threatened.
Moreover, last year, Peru, a country subject to the same labor and environmental framework that is replicated in the TPP, enacted a package of policies that rolled back environmental and labor safeguards to attract greater foreign investment. Although the labor and environmental chapters of the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement explicitly forbid weakening environmental or labor policies to attract investment, USTR has taken no meaningful action under the agreement.
Our concerns are not limited to the replication in the TPP of the Bush-era labor and environmental chapters. The TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) terms are in need of serious reform. This March, an ISDS tribunal ruled in favor of an American corporation, Bilcon, which challenged Canada’s decision to deny it a permit to expand a rock quarry in Nova Scotia. As Congressman Levin has noted, in the case, Bilcon v. Canada, the ISDS tribunal interpreted the ‘minimum standard of treatment’ obligation in a manner that is not consistent with how the U.S. government has argued that the obligation should be interpreted. The U.S. has long argued that ISDS should not be a court of appeals for administrative or judicial decisions. However, the Bilcon ruling highlights the dangerous implications of ISDS under TPP. Over the course of TPP negotiations, U.S. negotiators have not clarified on the ‘minimum standard of treatment’ obligation. Bilcon and other recent ISDS disputes demonstrate the urgent need to do so. These disputes illustrate that the status quo on investment and ISDS is not acceptable.
In addition, the TPP would threaten the security of our nation’s food supply by simultaneously limiting the food safety, inspection, and labeling policies we may apply to imported food from TPP nations. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently inspects less than two percent of seafood now being imported into the U.S. and has found that TPP nations such as Vietnam and Malaysia regularly ship seafood that contains banned antibiotics and various contaminants. A 2013 study found that 100 percent of Vietnamese catfish farms used numerous substances that are banned by the FDA. The TPP seeks to harmonize our food safety regulations with the eleven other participating nations, many of whom, most notably Vietnam and Malaysia, have much weaker food safety protections than the United States.
In sum, the text of the TPP makes clear that the concerns congressional Democrats have raised have fallen upon deaf ears. What is most unfortunate is that we have now reached this stage of deep disagreement over the TPP text after trying to work with USTR since 2009. Yet, we are now being asked to delegate Fast Track authority to allow the President to sign and enter into this agreement with a guarantee that it will be considered by Congress within 90 days of submission and that Congress will be forbidden to make any amendments.
As the elected representatives of the American people, we would like to explain to our constituents the specific ways in which the terms of the TPP fail to measure up to our expectations and how, if implemented, it would be detrimental to the public interest and pose a serious risk to the security of their jobs and wages. We join Senators Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren in urging the Administration to release the draft composite TPP text.
The United States is the world’s leading economy, but we cannot and will not retain that mantel if we continue to implement trade agreements that repeat a model that has not served most Americans.”