Gaius Publius: If Fast Track Passes, Anything Attached to a “Trade” Treaty Will Pass

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Yves here. Gaius has done solid spadework on the toxic trade deals, as well as on the nasties contained in the Fast Track bill that the Administration is pushing hard to get passed before a critically important round of ministerial meetings on the TransPacific Partnership that start on May 26. At that round, the other countries are supposed to table their supposed final positions so a deal can be hammered out. But they won’t do that unless Obama has Fast Track authority in hand. And the spectacle of a food fight in Congress is dampening the sense of urgency that the Administration was trying to create. The TPP “partners” assume that if TPP does not happen this year, Obama is not getting it done, between his lame duck status and the typical reluctance of Congresscritters to do anything controversial in an election year.

As we said over the weekend, please keep the heat on:

So your calls are critical to stiffening the spine of the rebels and letting the traitors know that voters will take their vengeance for a sellout in the next election. As reader Kokuanani pointed out:

As I’ve posted elsewhere with regard to contacting your Senators and Rep., NUMBERS COUNT. The staff members reading e-mails and answering the phones are only reporting the volume of incoming communication and which “side” it supports. Your fabulous essay on the evils of the TPP and Fast Track will never reach the voting member. So don’t waste your time writing it.

Pick one or two arguments [e.g., “secrecy”] and make them. Briefly. Like a sentence or two. Spend the rest of your time getting friends and family to contact Senate offices. The e-mail forms [links provided by Yves] make this ridiculously easy. All you need is a zip code showing you’re in the state. You can walk your pals through the process.

I don’t know how effective contacting the DNC would be, but it can’t hurt, and can alert them that they can’t rely on you for fund-raising or votes.

So please keep the pressure on next week, and get the word to friends, family, and other allies. Here are the Senate contact details and those for your Representative.

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, Americablog, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. This piece first appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.

We recently discussed the “Fast Track” method by which Dodd-Frank legislation can be overturned without going through anything like the normal Congressional process. Under Fast Track, “trade” bills cannot be filibustered in the Senate, can’t be amended in either house, are subject to limited debate and must receive a simple up-or-down vote.

As Russ Feingold says, it’s a rigged process.

The method that could be used to overturn Dodd-Frank — attach the rollback requirement to a “trade” treaty negotiated by the president alone, then fast-track it through Congress — could also be used to move anything though Congress, so long as it can be attached to a trade treaty, even a bilateral one between the U.S. and just one other country. Any other country. Togo. Nauru.

How to Fast-Track a Law You Don’t Like

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Say some U.S. president receives large campaign contributions from the imported meat industry — that’s a pretty big industry, by the way, so they have lots of what it takes to make large contributions with.

Now let’s say — in a completely unrelated development — this industry wanted to sweeten CEO income and industry sales by asking the U.S. president to get rid of “country-of-origin labeling” laws (called COOL in the world of acronyms). The thinking goes like this:

  • Many countries, like China, have weaker meat inspection laws than the U.S.
  • That makes their beef and pork cheaper to import and sell.
  • This means more profit for the importers.
  • But consumers are suspicious of imported meat, because they know about the inspection problem.
  • This means less profit for the importers.
  • So … just make it illegal to tell people where any meat is from.

How could a future president, who coincidentally supports the profit goals of this industry, get “country-of-origin labeling” laws overturned, almost by executive action? She could add a requirement to any trade treaty that these laws be repealed, then fast-track this treaty through Congress. No amendments, no filibuster, little debate, just an up-or-down vote on the whole treaty. Done deal. All she needs is Fast Track.

Fast Track legislation (so far) always “sunsets” (expires). This one is written to expire in three years, but could be renewed for another three. Simon Johnson thinks if this Fast Track bill passes, its renewal for the full six years is nearly certain; he notes that “terms of renewal are almost automatic.”

Six years is a fairly large window within which to make a president queen of all she surveys, so long as she can put it in a “trade” treaty.

Those Country-of-Origin Labeling Laws … They’re Already Gone

Actually I was being playful with my hypothetical “country-of-origin labeling” example. Those laws already exist, and they’re already set for repeal because of the trade treaty that established the WTO. From Food Safety News:

WTO Rejects U.S. Appeal of COOL Ruling

The World Trade Organization has rejected a U.S. appeal of its decision that country-of-origin labeling (COOL) on meat unfairly discriminates against meat imports and give the advantage to domestic meat products.

The final ruling launches a WTO process to determine the level of retaliatory tariffs Canada and Mexico can impose on the U.S., and the U.S. will have to revise or repeal the COOL law in order to avoid such sanctions. Opponents of COOL are hoping for a swift repeal, while proponents are saying it’s not yet time to act.

The WTO report released in October was the second time that body has ruled against the U.S. in the dispute. After passing mandatory COOL rules in 2008, the U.S. amended COOL in 2012 following an earlier WTO ruling against it.

Last November, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the 2014 National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention that there is no additional regulatory fix for COOL that would be consistent with U.S. law as it exists and would also satisfy the WTO.

According to Politico (no link; subscription required):

The WTO announced Monday morning that its seven-member Appellate Body found that a previous panel — investigating whether the U.S. had implemented a 2012 ruling on COOL — was mostly correct in its finding that the regulations give United States livestock producers an unfair advantage over producers from Canada and Mexico when it comes to doing business in the United States by imposing extra costs associated with separating animals. …

Geneva, Canada and Mexico will most likely act quickly to ask that arbitrators work to determine how much they can retaliate based on their losses, most likely by raising tariffs. A panel would then have 60 days to set the amount, though the two sides will likely discuss a settlement to preclude that from happening.

That means the United States has at least two months to determine its next course of action. However, for his part, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway said he is “not interested in waiting on the next step.”

Conaway said last week he plans to introduce a bill soon after the ruling to do away with USDA’s COOL requirements for beef, pork and poultry, saying he will introduce it “just as quickly as we can to get it out of legislative counsel.”

Domestic meat suppliers want the laws in place, but importers don’t and Congress is eager to respond to the WTO requirement — all in the name of “free” trade. This is what critics like Elizabeth Warren mean when they talk about “loss of sovereignty.” Repeal of these laws could happen before Memorial Day, according to the rest of the article. Who said DC was gridlocked?

Anti-TPP Rep. Mark Pocan’s statement in response (my emphasis):

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-02) issued the following statement on today¹s final ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO) against a popular U.S. country-of-origin meat labeling (COOL) policy, which requires labeling of pork and beef sold in the United States to inform consumers the country in which the animals were born, raised and slaughtered:

“Today’s ruling is a clear example of how bad trade agreements hurt America’s sovereignty and weaken consumer and environmental policies enacted to protect our health and well-being. From the roll back of U.S. Clean Air Act regulations to altered auto fuel efficiency standards and even possible changes to our financial regulations, bad trade deals negotiated in secret have consistently shown why it is important to get trade agreements done right, not fast.

“With the Trans-Pacific Partnership encompassing more than 40 percent of the world¹s economy we have to get it right and ensure we do not put the health and safety of the American people at risk. Congress should not grant fast track authority and rubber stamp the largest trade deal since NAFTA, when we don¹t know enough about the TPP and its potential consequences on our communities.”

The COOL policy was created when Congress enacted mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat in the 2008 farm bill and was signed in to law by President George W. Bush. Today’s ruling is not subject to further appeal.

“Today’s ruling is not subject to further appeal,” not in a U.S. court nor in any appeals court higher than the WTO. This could happen to any law attached to any trade treaty under Fast Track.

And lest we forget, recall where the original example got started — with the hypothetical push-for-profit of some industry leaders and their ability to … “discuss” their concerns with the president ahead of a trade deal.

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  1. Jesper

    Based on some recent precedents it might be time to change the label of ‘lame duck president’ to ‘soon to be ex-president looking for well paid corporate gigs’….

    Once upon a time a second term president might have used the second-term to push through unpopular but necessary reforms for the public good. Times have changed, a second term president is more likely to push through unpopular agenda to benefit his own post-president economic future. The checks and balances to stop that from happening would be completely over-ridden by an approved fast-track authority.
    Suppose the worst would happen, maybe there’d be some impeachments but the agreement would more than likely still be upheld….

  2. Jeremy Grimm

    That covers one of a myriad of horrors the passage of TAP would bring. Time to look into purchase of a large energy efficient freezer and start buying meats on-the-hoof or feather directly from the farm where the animal was raised. Better yet time to learn rabbit, turkey, duck and goat husbanding and the arts of gentle, respectful kills, bleeding, skinning and plucking, and clean butchering.

    Actually, it was already time to locate a freezer and a farmer or become one. The USDA inspections haven’t quite been what they used to be for some time now.

    Every time I buy a food product from China I remember the story of the Chinaman button, but it is all too easy to transport that story to make if the American button. I recall the Ferris wheel scene with Harry Lime posing his question to Holly Martins about the tiny dots he sees on the ground from the top of the old Vienna Ferris wheel.

  3. Jeremy Grimm

    If TPA passes it’s time for all of us, like Ko-Ko in the Mikado, to make a list of people “who would not be missed” — all the Senators and Representatives who voted for or helped TPA pass. Nevermore should any of the politicians on the list (or their minions if names be named) receive your vote. Vote instead for an exceptional third party candidate or vote but leave blank vote for the office of the offending party. Let them count undercounts.

    TPA and “trade” should be the acid test for progressive votes. Many stances deserve censure. The current “trade” annexation of our liberty stands apart from all other progressive — I want to say Socialist — concerns.

    And we need another list of all the corporations and their affiliates and subsidiary corporations. Nevermore should we in any way deal with these corporations, buy their products or services. To help others — outlets and corporate sites should be marked with a spray painted Raven in Sad Panda style wherever they have stores or outlets.

    Direct confrontations will fail and result in needless injuries and death. What goes on “below-the-rose” can defeat even the greatest Army, as proved again and again in our endless foreign wars.

    1. skippy

      The USDA does not do inspections as it once did –

      “But food safety advocates, members of Congress and even some inspectors contend the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which now employs 7,500 meat inspectors nationwide, is in disarray.

      The problems grew out of one of the most far-reaching changes in U.S. meat inspection history, in which federal regulators this fall will allow poultry plant employees — instead of USDA inspectors — to help determine whether chicken is wholesome and safe to eat.

      It’s a move critics see as a “privatization” of meat inspection that they fear could spread to beef and pork processing plants.”

    2. Carla

      Why would you wait to make your list? Make it now and stick to it. But good luck finding candidates for vote for, Jeremy. The system ain’t set up for that.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        @Carla — Don’t you mean start my list now? The House of Representatives hasn’t voted yet. At the end of it all, I don’t expect to find many candidates to vote for. I will vote and vote for at least one thing on the ballot. The rest can be undercount — the best we can do for now as far as a ‘no’ vote and better than not voting at all.

        1. Vatch

          Many members of Congress are already on record in support of trade promotion authority (fast track) for trade deals such as TPP and TTIP. Those people need to be pressured now, not after the vote has already occurred. Here’s a letter with the names of 23 Representatives who support fast track (I posted this information to NC on March 10):

          If your Representative signed this letter, please contact him or her this week.

      2. Oregoncharles

        Perhaps you should run.

        I’m utterly serious: finding good candidates is one of the greatest challenges for 3rd parties. So in that sense you’re right. But the solution is for more people to step up.
        For instance, we’re presently lookin for the strongest possible candidate to run against Ron Wyden, TPA Betrayer.

  4. LucyLulu

    This feature, the ability to attach an unrelated amendment, may be the most onerous one of the TPP. It’s surprising it has received so little press. One would think a party, having built its reputation on blocking any legislation that has Obama’s name written on it, would be having a field day spinning yarns of doom and gloom resulting from another attempt at executive overreach. There goes Obama, stealing authority granted to the legislative body again. Off with his head! Or at the least, impeach him! Instead….crickets. Pro-treaty Congressional critters, would be forced to choose between voting to pass the amendment or voting to table the trade treaty.

    Obama’s dilemma is that without fast-track authority, Congress can and will pass amendments to make changes to any trade treaty he has negotiated. The trade partners will know that the US’s terms of any deal hashed out will change, possibly in very significant ways, post-agreement. They must first agree to the treaty, before they can read the US proposal. Unless they send Pelosi, the deal is dead.

    1. hunkerdown

      The error is in assuming that the parties play for keeps. They don’t. Why else, when the Democratic Party has a real chance of losing the Presidency next year, would the TPA extend throughout the next President’s term, without them being in league with one another?

  5. John Yard

    The DNC is sending out fund raising appeals ( just received one ). I agree that just telling the DNC your opinion does nothing, but returning a fund raising appeal with the notation that you are not donating because of TPP will have an impact . The DNC cares nothing for your opinion, but cares a lot about fund raising.

    1. hunkerdown

      I suspect they care about their entitlement to ballot access in all 50 states and getting big money they don’t have to work for. The appeals for cash seem more about inspiring psychological investment on the part of the rank and file, and soaking up their surplus dollars lest they do the Devil’s work.

  6. Susan the other

    There’s more to this than trade. Why are the Pacific Rim countries all so unwilling to sign on until the US ratifies the explicit conditions? (because we always screw people?)… Maintaining product standards and fairness is no big deal. But suddenly it becomes almost a bribe on our part to eviscerate our standards – to entice partners to come with us. We’ll eat your shit and your radionuclides and anything else you package and send to us if you will just buy our tanks and armaments and bombers, and oh yes, reject going into an exclusive trade agreement (no matter if it is better for people and the planet) with China. Sounds like a big close-out sale.

  7. Oregoncharles

    So WTO rulings have a different enforcement mechanism: retaliatory tariffs. The US can’t stop that, though it could retaliate in turn (probably violating the agreements, but again, who’s to stop us?). The disadvantage is that this mechanism can start a “trade war,” which even I think is a bad thing.

    This is an excellent explanation of why “Fast Track” is bad in and of itself – and a reminder that Obama, whatever you think of him, won’t be President forever. Personally, I think the chances are very strong that the next president will be a Republican, because that’s the pattern. And also because I think the major parties have a little deal and just trade the presidency back and forth, two full terms at a time. In fact, that’s been the norm since the 50s, with only a few exceptions (Carter, Bush I). (I’m arguing here that the details – who gets nominated, etc. – are largely irrelevant. So no, I don’t know how the Republicans will pull it off.) Of course, that’s barring some sort of electoral rebellion. We can always hope.

  8. Narciso Lopez

    The labeling laws are the definition of protectionism. It demands that meat be labeled not just where its slaughtered and inspected but where the “meat” was born and raised. Like it matters where meat was born and where its “raised” basically precludes any movement of animals otherwise the label is going to have multiple origin labels. Its profitable to move young cattle from Mexico to the US to get fattened and slaughtered in the US and plenty of American Ranchers want to end all imports to force up prices for themselves. Its obvious that Cattle are being moved quite a bit in North America due to demand changes and the large differences between the cost of raising, fattening, and slaughtering cattle.

    Its the same thing with the dolphin safe labeling that ignores that aggregating devices are now leading to the extensive killing of slow growing species like sea turtles instead of a much smaller impact on dolphins which are not endangered.

    There are trade offs in everything we do and its obvious that labeling laws are basically being used by left wingers to feel better about themselves while they help to support industrial fishing and animal husbandry that are causing extensive environmental damage. Its basically the way upper class whites and upper class people in general feel superior to the rest of humanity by pretending that when they eat dolphin safe tuna/shrimp, and locally raised produce (farm and animal products) they are somehow not responsible for the damage industrial societies is having on the entire planet.

    Its like how so many commentators whine about the global warming scam aka now global climate change (since, its scientifically clear that we are no longer warming) or whine about overpopulation, etc while ignoring that their ecological impact is a multiple of third world peasants that are half starved.

    Doesn’t matter how many solar panels you put up or if you are eating local the pathetic reality is that if you are living in a “first world” nation your ecological impact cannot be offset with fraud like paying for tree planting in a third world country (the goats will eat the young trees before they every reach any appreciable size) or with special labeling laws.

    The worst thing about so called “environmentalist” is the blatant hypocrisy that their bs solutions to their pet causes are motivated by anything but their own desire to feel superior to other people. The dolphin labeling scam, global warming hysterics (people having been predicting the imminent melting ice caps for decades now; fact, the sun and geologic processes like volcanism are the major factors that control our climate not planet food like CO2), and lets not forget the “overpopulation” nonsense that’s supposed to have led to wide spread starvation since the mid 1800’s.

    Global warming frauds pretend that taxing energy won’t end people’s access to affordable electricity, heating, or ability to drive for the lower classes. Global warming is basically the same sociopaths that whined about global overpopulation necessitating that we bump off 70-90 percent of humanity so that “nature” can be enjoyed by the lucky 10-30 percent of the “chosen.”

    Trade deal are overwhelmingly bad for the poor and lower classes but not because consuming imported goods is bad but because trade deals are used by the wealthier nations to force open poor nations economies while refusing to allow them policy space to industrialize or even attempt to improve local conditions. Its just now that wealthier nations have decided to inflict everyone with the same straightjacket of freezing all regulation or reversing all social policies that are not geared toward serving the global aristocracy.

    1. TedWa

      I was starting to glance through your post and my attention was drawn to this : “Its like how so many commentators whine about the global warming scam aka now global climate change (since, its scientifically clear that we are no longer warming)”

      Are you even aware of how climate change works? Do you think because you can’t see it it isn’t there? FYI, 90% of the warming gets absorbed by the oceans and reefs are dying as well as species. 7% gets absorbed by the polar ice caps (they are melting at an alarming rate). Just 3% is getting absorbed into the atmosphere and our weather patterns which is why you are not seeing dramatic climate change effects around the world, but we are seeing isolated instances. The build-up of heat in the oceans and the total melting of the polar ice caps will change the equation, to my best guess, 30% or more is getting absorbed into the atmosphere. Hello hell on earth.

    2. Merf56

      Mr Lopez, You are all kinds of confused about a number of issues. I suggest you study the data on climate change more carefully or enlist someone who understands science to simplify it for you. Similarly with overpopulation which is a very serious problem. I suggest three trips to take – start with India ( hit all the major regions) , move on to China and finish up in Indonesia( Sumatra ). If you cannot grasp the seriousness of over population after that I fear you are blinded by your own decision to favor your pet theories over reality.

  9. Cofer Black

    Well then tack the Rome Statute onto it. Then anybody who votes for it will wind up decomposing in a gym bag in his bathtub.

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