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TPP: A Secret Deal Written By The Same Folks Who Shipped Away Jobs and Avoided Taxes

June 15, 2015

By Joe Rothstein

Confused by all the media reports about something called the “Trans Pacific Trade Partnership?” Wondering why congressional Democrats have revolted against their own president on what he considers a signature issue of his second term?

Let me help. Just stick with me through a few bullet points.

--For years the U.S. has been negotiating a trade agreement with 11 other Pacific Rim countries, most of them in Asia, including Japan, the largest trade guerrilla of them all.

--In addition to government negotiators, the proposed treaty language has been framed by leaders of most the largest U.S. multi-national companies, their trade associations, and their corporate lawyers.

--The American public has never been told officially what’s in those documents. But through WikiLeaks we’ve learned some unnerving details. (More on this later).

--Members of Congress are entitled to look at the treaty language, but only if they go to a private, guarded room at the Capitol, without any advisers. They can take no notes and can’t talk to anyone about any of the terms, even to get more informed, without breaking the law.

--The President wants what’s called “fast track authority” to complete negotiations of this secret document and send it to Congress for approval without any member of Congress having the right to propose any amendments. Congress would just vote “yes” or “no.”

With me so far?

No? Then let me rephrase the problem.

The same public spirited financial, pharmaceutical, agribusiness, insurance, and other corporate giants who have shipped millions of jobs overseas, avoided U.S. taxes, and driven down wages over the past few decades now want to codify business practices with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and others who comprise 40% of the global trade market. They’re telling us that this is in our best interests, but can’t tell us the details. Should we believe them?

It would help if we were able to take a peak at the wonderful deals they’ve negotiated for U.S. workers and consumers. Wouldn’t opposition melt once we all saw the bright new presents they’ve brought home? Experience with Nafta and the more recent trade pacts with South Korea and Central American countries should raise enough red flags to spell caution. On top of that we have the unnerving details from WikiLeaks I mentioned earlier.

For instance. Not every country is as dumb as the U.S., allowing the pharmaceutical companies to charge king’s ransoms for prescription medicine. Apparently the TPP language resolves that problem for the companies, allowing them to keep pricing uniformly high for everyone.

Another example. The TPP sets up arbitration courts to hear cases brought by private parties against governments. The verdicts from these courts could supersede any law on state or federal U.S. books. How do these work? A large majority of voters in Denton, Texas voted to ban fracking withing the town limits. Imagine if the State of Texas and the U.S. government both agreed to honor that ban but a private driller from South Korea claimed such restrictions were illegal under the trade treaty. And three corporate lawyers appointed to decide the case agreed. All beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. Unlikely? Such a scenario mirrors what actually happened in El Salvador, where local and federal governments tried to restrict a private company from excavating a huge gold mine next to a major town and river system and lost its case in Nafta arbitration.

One more (among many others). It doesn’t matter what tariffs governments agree to so long as they can manipulate their currency to make their exports more attractive and imports more expensive. As far as anyone can tell, there’s no language in the TPP that would address currency manipulation. Also as far as most people can tell, currency manipulation is standard practice among many of the TPP countries.

To read media reports about the TPP debate you would think it was all about President Obama’s legacy. The narrative from the mainstream media seems to be that everyone knows all global trade is good, so by definition, opposition to trade treaties are bad.

According to a recent N.Y Times/CBS poll “everyone” didn’t get the memo that we should be for fast track authority. In beating it back, House Democrats were voting the way 55% of the U.S. public would vote. Even more, 63% in the survey agreed that some restrictions on foreign trade were needed to protect domestic industries.

The public may not be conversant with all of the details of the TPP negotiations, but apparently they can sense which side is the home team. While the media is focused on the Obama legacy the majority of Americans are more concerned with hanging onto their jobs.

Would TPP help or hurt? After decades of false trade promises “trust us” isn’t a good enough answer.

(Joe Rothstein may be contacted at

Joe Rothstein is a political strategist and media producer who worked in more than 200 campaigns for political office and political causes. He also has served as editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anchorage Daily News and adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA. Mr. Rothstein is the author of award-winning political thrillers, "The Latina President and the Conspiracy to Destroy Her," and "The Salvation Project."