Op-Ed: It’s Not Too Late to Right TPP’s Wrongs

By: Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Louise Slaughter (NY-25), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Brad Sherman (CA-30), Dan Kildee (MI-05), and Jan Schakowsky (IL-09)

For the last few decades our country has felt firsthand the negative impacts of major trade agreements. Repeated patterns of domestic job loss, environmental destruction, and crumbling labor protections paint a clear picture of the results we can expect from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal as it exists today. We must learn from the past, and not repeat those same errors in judgment as we work towards a stronger future. If we are going to develop a map for global trade, and “write the rules of the road,” we must ensure it supports people and the planet.

There are many flaws that lie within the more than 5,600 pages sitting on the table, waiting to be signed this week.

First, a trade agreement of this magnitude demands transparency and justice for everyone. The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process gives enormous power to foreign corporations and negates our domestic rule of law and democracy. Foreign corporations should not have rights in any country that supersede the rights of local citizens and the law of the land. A tribunal of three trade lawyers who have the power to make judgments about the legitimacy of sovereign environmental, public health, or national security law and decisions goes against the foundation of our democracy.

In the last few months alone, we have seen evidence of the danger of ISDS: Last year the Administration chose to reject the Keystone Pipeline XL on environmental grounds. Now, using ISDS, TransCanada is suing the U.S. Government for more than $15 billion to compensate them not only for expenses, but also projected profits. Best case scenario: The U.S. wins this suit after spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars defending ourselves, making it much harder for future administrations to make courageous environmental decisions. Worst case scenario: We lose the case, taxpayers fork over $15 billion, and our sovereignty and domestic rule of law is completely undermined. Future leaders will be forced to think twice about rejecting a corporate project on environmental grounds.

Second, it does not include a strong and enforceable plan for environmentally-friendly green trade. We have yet to see ANY meaningful environmental standards enforced from previous trade agreements. Indeed, the degradation of the environment has only increased because of these trade agreements. 792 million people live in the TPP zone. They deserve more than a few unenforceable environmental recommendations. Incentivizing trade without strong environmental protections creates a race to the bottom that rewards competitive advantage over public health and wellbeing.

Third, it promises free trade while compromising fair trade. At least 5 million American jobs were lost in the last decade as a result of currency manipulation by our trading partners. A few months of unfair currency practices can decimate an entire U.S. industry. The American steel, aluminum, and auto manufacturing sectors cannot survive another shock from aggressive foreign currency devaluation. The United Auto Workers estimate that US vehicles cost up to $5,000 dollars more in certain markets because of currency manipulation.

We cannot allow this agreement to forsake the American middle class, while foreign governments are allowed to devalue their currency and artificially prop-up their industries. Foreign government-supported industries are already dumping huge amounts of artificially cheap steel into the United States, causing American steel companies to struggle to survive. This is not just about changing economies. This agreement will allow foreign governments to openly cheat the system, while we tell American workers to “retrain” and find another line of work.

It’s not too late to right these wrongs. As the Roosevelt Institute states in a recently published a report: “Strengthening unions and improving the trade system are integral to the collection of policies that would be most effective to address inequality, grow the economy and raise incomes. We cannot rewrite the rules and level the playing field without taking on these issues.”

Instead of rushing to sign this deeply flawed and incomplete Trans-Pacific Partnership just to get it done before the next Administration, let’s work with our fellow Americans and our trading partners to develop strong judicial systems with transparent and enforceable investment laws that will protect the middle class and small businesses everywhere. Let’s write an agreement for the future that doesn’t just have an “environment chapter,” but rather has protection and promotion of the environment woven into the very fabric of the agreement. Let’s refuse to allow currency manipulation to go unchecked.

​ The American people deserve better. Free trade doesn’t cut it. We deserve transparent trade, green trade, and trade that empowers our middle class and domestic economy. The American people deserve fair trade.